Conflict Resolution Or Mediation: What’s The Difference?

By John Trombley
The Village Business Institute

Someone recently asked me to explain the difference between mediation and conflict resolution. The short answer is that mediation is just one of many possible conflict resolution strategies.

Mediation is a process that involves a mediator (a neutral, third-party facilitator) who listens to both parties involved in a conflict in order to gain an understanding of some of the root causes of the conflict. Then, the mediator helps the two parties come to a clearer understanding of the world from the other person’s perspective. Based on that mutual understanding, the mediator brokers agreement between the two parties regarding how they will relate to each other from that point forward.

At the risk of oversimplification, I believe that at the root of virtually every conflict is some facet of miscommunication and/or misunderstanding. I like what Stephen Covey says about how we view truth; “We don’t see the world as it is, but as we are.” In other words, it all begins with us as individuals. How we see situations, circumstances, other people and ourselves, is dependent on the filters through which we see the world. Those filters are never as clean and pure as we think. At best, they are foggy; at worst, they are completely clogged or skewed so badly as to prevent us from seeing the world from anyone else’s perspective save our own.

When I think of conflict in all its various forms, I see it basically as an expression of strained or broken relationships due to poor communication and clogged filter systems. I realize it is much more complex than that, especially when you consider issues of power, authority, cultural belief systems and the like, but even then, I keep coming back to the same central issues of communication and relationship.

In order for mediation to be successful, the parties in conflict must be willing to explore their own version of the truth about the issue, be willing to hear and understand the other person’s truth about the issue, and be open to agreeing to change the way they will relate to the other person in the future.

As I said before, mediation is just one of a variety of conflict resolution strategies available. When done well, by an impartial and unbiased mediator, I have seen mediation to be very effective in improving the ability of people to live and work together in harmony.

About the blogger:
John E. Trombley, organization development consultant and training with The Village Business Institute has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and a Master of Management degree from the University of Mary, Fargo. Prior to founding his own organization development company, John served as a Command Pilot, Squadron Commander, and senior staff officer in the USAF and Air National Guard—he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel with over 6,200 flying hours.

With over 16 years of experience in providing consulting services and training programs, Trombley has a passion for group process facilitation and corporate training in areas including leadership development, change management, leadership transition processes, managerial coaching, and personality assessment workshops. He is registered with the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota as a Qualified Neutral mediator, is trained in Critical Incident Stress Management Group Crisis Intervention, and is certified in Internal Investigations by the Council on Education in Management.

For more information, contact The Village Business Institute at 1-800-627-8220 or