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What is the Difference Between Conciliation and Mediation?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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Though the two terms have a number of similarities, there are also some differences between conciliation and mediation, no matter which definition is used. In both cases, a neutral third party seeks to help two, or possibly more, opposing sides find a suitable resolution to a conflict. In some cases, the differences between these two processes will determine how that neutral third-party acts. No universal definition currently exists for these alternative forms of dispute resolution, but there are still some distinct differences.

In some cases and jurisdictions, the differences between conciliation and mediation is determined by the amount of power the third party has. In mediation, the mediator will facilitate a discussion between the parties, and may or may not offer opinions on the strength of each side's argument. When no opinion is offered, it is called facilitative mediation. In cases where an opinion is offered, it is evaluative mediation. Overall, no matter which method is chosen, the mediator still does not have the right to impose his or her will on the two parties.

This could be the major difference based on some definitions of conciliation and mediation. For example, a conciliator will not only offer an opinion on the relative strengths of the case, but also issue a binding opinion, if the parties agree to that ahead of time. The opinion offered is likely to be based on the law, but may factor in other less concrete considerations if the parties agree. This type of dispute resolution process is often more formal, simply because the decision will be binding, at least on a temporary basis.

In some localities, the difference between conciliation and mediation is the same as the difference between facilitative mediation and evaluative mediation. In other words, under this definition of conciliation, the conciliator can still offer an opinion, but that opinion has no legal weight, though it may be based on legal concepts. Therefore, unless the parties agree, the conciliator's opinion makes no difference, but it may be used by one party or the other in court to bolster a case.

No matter what definition is used, the major difference between conciliation and mediation ultimately is the power of the third party. In all cases, conciliation gives slightly more power to the third party than the mediation. Conciliation or mediation may be ordered by the court system as a way of resolving disputes and relieving some of the pressure on court calendars. This is especially true in the case of marriage dissolution in some countries, though it could also be used for labor disputes, or nearly any type of contract disagreement.

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Discussion Comments

By anon938518 — On Mar 09, 2014

Does the order of the ADR methods matter?

By discographer — On Nov 22, 2013

In legal terms, mediation is getting a third person/party to help two disagreeing parties to come to an agreement. Workplace mediation is a good example.

Conciliation is similar, it's when two disagreeing parties are brought together for an agreement. But it doesn't have to be done by one single person and it's usually the last step before a dispute is taken to court.

So I guess we could say that conciliation is the more official and serious form of mediation.

There is also a term called reconciliation, and that's when two parties are encouraged to come to an agreement for the second time after a dispute.

By ysmina — On Nov 22, 2013

I think that the Dayton Peace Agreement was a case of conciliation. The US played a very important role in getting the parties to the war to come to an agreement. It wasn't just conflict resolution and mediation though. The US not only gave an opinion, but also put a lot of pressure on the participants to resolve their issues.

The Dayton Peace Agreement was signed at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. I don't think it would be exaggeration to say that Serb, Croat and Bosnian leaders were literally stuck on this base until they came to an agreement. If the US had simply acted as a mediator, an agreement would have probably never been reached.

By SteamLouis — On Nov 21, 2013

Is the Dayton Peace Agreement for ending the Bosnian war an example of conflict mediation or conciliation?

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