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When there really are no perfect answers, try mediation

10 August 2018

When problems arise in a business or close relationship, reaching a compromise whilst preserving goodwill is no simple task. But resolutions are possible without court action. Far from being the ‘soft option’, mediation can be more powerful than people may think, and can be a lifeline for family businesses in conflict. Nick Cox, partner and experienced mediator, explains more.

Most small businesses value their time because, as the saying goes, time is money. Anything that wastes time leeches away profits, and for a business where the margins may be tight, that could be disastrous.

So when a problem arises with a supplier or a customer, with a neighbour or with an associate, the time that will need to be spent to resolve any issue is like money down the drain.

This can be hard as it might mean that a relationship that has taken time to nurture is at risk. Conflict resolution in family businesses can be particularly tricky, given the emotional ties involved. Efforts to smooth things over, especially where the two parties are in roughly similar situations, can result in a good old-fashioned compromise, designed by the parties themselves.

But what if these efforts fail? Do you walk away (not so easy when the other party is a family member) or threaten the big stick of court action? One could mean a big dent in profits or loss of a contract; the other could involve expense, risk and end up damaging a family relationship, or losing out on an existing business relationship that might have been really useful.

Well there is another way. Perhaps taking a lead from employer-employee relations, where conciliation and mediation has long been a compulsory part of the process of employment disputes, various bodies realised that there were positive benefits of involving a third party, to assist in facilitating a resolution. And so the concept of a professional mediator was born.

Isn’t mediation just a soft option, you may ask?

Not to the three parties who took part in a mediation in which I was involved some years ago. Beginning at 8.30am the binding three-way deal was signed off at 2am the following morning. And it resolved so much more than the nominal issues in dispute. As have many mediations in which I have been involved over the last fifteen years.

And in almost half, the parties have shaken hands at the end, and sometimes even hugged! Relationships can be maintained, and acceptable and inventive solutions found, in a way that suits all parties.

Perhaps most importantly in the commercial sense, the parties can set their own timetable and waste little time in setting up the meeting. And wasted time, as we know, is never recovered.

Nick Cox, partner in our dispute resolution team, has over 30 years’ experience in the field. Nick is a highly regarded and experienced civil and commercial mediator, and also has expertise in commercial contract disputes and contentious landlord and tenant work.

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Nick Cox LLB (Hons)
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