The A-Z of Mediation: Non-Maleficence

Posted on: February 12th, 2024

Even the simplest of conflicts can drag out and rumble on for some time. During this time, they can become particularly harmful, causing stress and significant trauma for those involved.

It is for these reasons that we recommend mediation, especially when the first signs of conflict become apparent. Simply by having a facilitated conversation at the early stages of conflict, participants can have their say, build some understanding and empathy, and resolve the issues before they begin to spiral out of control.

That’s not to say, however, that every dispute is appropriate for mediation. And there are circumstances where an attempt at resolution may actually make things worse, particularly if the person facilitating is not trained in conflict resolution. Mediators must therefore abide by the principle of NON-MALEFICENCE.

Put simply, the mediator, during their well-intentioned efforts to help the participants, must not make matters worse: ‘above all else, do no harm’.

It goes without saying that they must not inflict intentional harm, but they must also be aware of actions or situations that could also risk harming the participants. Due to the highly-charged and emotional nature of interpersonal conflict, this could be the threat of physical violence, or perhaps the possibility of psychological harm.

After all, mediation is an inherently stressful process: conflict is often scary to address, and the thought of sitting down in a room with an ‘adversary’ can understandably induce anxiety. Mediators can alleviate some of this by utilising side meetings (where appropriate), taking regular breaks and time outs, and abiding by the key principles of mediation (voluntariness, impartiality, and confidentiality).

Mediators must also know when to quit. Sometimes, the mediation process can just be too much for people (especially if they are not in the right state of mind), and persevering through the process can cause further unnecessary harm. Accomplished conflict resolvers will know exactly what point to call it off for the benefit of those involved, and instead signpost them to other sources of support.

Provided it is appropriate, mediation is an excellent tool for resolving interpersonal conflict. It is important, however, for mediators to be aware of the participants’ safety, and to not leave the situation worse than it was when mediation started.