Conflict resolution and mediation specialists help people solve disputes outside of court. Their job title may be mediator, arbitrator, or conciliator. The types of hearings over which they preside typically do not have the same formality as a judicial court, and nothing from that hearing may be used as evidence in court if any subsequent litigation occurs. Mediators simply serve as neutral parties in disputes typically when the people involved don't want to completely destroy their relationship, since mediators only make suggestions, and traditionally don't give binding orders.
In mediation the two parties must reach an agreement themselves, and if they don't then they can move on to a formal hearing. Many individuals and businesses have come to prefer this less formal process rather than going through the expense and infamy of a drawn-out legal trial.
One step up from this is voluntary arbitration, in which the arbitrator does give a binding decision. Compulsory arbitration is more similar to mediation, in that either party can reject the arbitrators' suggestions.
Career Training: Conflict Resolution and Mediation Degrees
Prospective mediators can choose from a wide level of career training options, from certificates to master's degrees. Also, various state agencies and professional organizations award certifications in conflict resolution, including the American Arbitration Association. Independent mediation programs, national and local mediation membership organizations, and postsecondary schools all offer training in this field. Helpful fields of study to further your career include public policy and law.
Online and traditional degree programs in social science in conflict resolution and mediation can teach you the following skills:
- Negotiation: learn the fine art of leading people to a compromise by using neutral language, asking questions, and writing agreements
- Conflict analysis: find out how to step outside of a conflict to analyze it objectively
- Mediation theory: study the many different schools of mediation theory and learn about the common ethical issues that arise during conflict resolution and mediation, such as impartiality, informed consent, and confidentiality
- Handling cultural diversity: discover how to approach conflicts and misunderstandings with an eye toward today's culturally diverse world
Licensing requirements vary widely among the states, with some requiring law experience for arbitrators to others without certification programs. You should check with your state to make sure the degree and training you're receiving will qualify you for any necessary exam.
Conflict Resolution and Mediation Career Prospects
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators earned a median annual salary of $48,840 in 2008. Some of the top paying industries in conflict resolution and mediation include (annual mean wage):
- Legal services ($69,010)
- Medical and surgical hospitals ($66,290)
- Federal executive branch ($109,490)
- State government ($60,080)
- Universities ($68,350)
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that conflict mediators should experience a steady job-growth rate of 11 percent through 2016, which is about equal with the national average for all occupations.