Mediation is often used as an alternate method of conflict resolution. Mediators are looked upon as crises responders swooping in at the last minute to disarm an explosive situation. In some cases this is true—news outlets often carry stories of union and management settlement mediations that go on through the night and resolution coming about at the eleventh hour just before a strike starts. However, the perception that one needs to be engaged in a hostile conflict or about to be embroiled in a lawsuit in order to make use of mediation is not accurate.
In the work we do, our mediators are problem solvers who utilize their professional training and experience to guide the parties’ search for a resolution. They bring the necessary parties together, ensure that they are well prepared to engage in a constructive dialogue, and facilitate a discussion aimed at solving the problem.
In the agriculture mediation field, most often producers are not involved in an active “conflict”—but are just trying to resolve the kinds of problems that everyone else deals with: paying the loans and bills on time, fixing equipment that has broken down, dealing with regulations, and making ends meet. The difference is that producers sometimes have to accomplish a lot with very few resources at their disposal. It seems to be true that once a major thing goes wrong on a farm and a farmer’s attention shifts toward trying to fix it, all of the sudden several other problems crop up at once. There may be no actual ongoing conflict but instead the usual problems that have escalated to a larger issue that needs to be resolved.
Being an effective problem solver involves taking the time to understand the big picture, listening to the parties, ensuring that the parties have the information they need, providing organization and structure, and being creative in working though options that could lead to a resolution. Our mediators all have many years of experience working with producers and some have farmed themselves. Understanding some of the common challenges within the agricultural community helps our mediators ask the right questions so that we can understand the producer’s circumstances and help the parties solve the problem.