Arbitration vs Mediation vs Negotiation: Understanding the Differences

Do you know the differences between arbitration, mediation, and negotiation?

Do these words immediately put you to sleep?

If so, stop reading. This ain't for you.

Still here? Then read on!

These three types of conflict resolution are often confused, but they each have unique advantages and limitations. As experts in conflict resolution, we're here to drop some knowledge on these three approaches.


In arbitration, a neutral third party makes a decision on the dispute after hearing both sides of the argument. The decision made by the arbitrator is often binding, meaning both parties must abide by it. This process is often used in legal disputes and is used as a more formal method of conflict resolution.

Some advantages of arbitration include:

  • Speed: the process is quicker than going through the court system
  • Expertise: the arbitrator is often an expert in the field in which the dispute is occurring.
  • Less formal than court: the arbitration process is generally less formal than a court trial.

However, there are also some limitations to consider:

  • Cost: the cost of hiring an arbitrator and the location for the arbitration process can be high.
  • Limited discovery: the information available during the arbitration process may be limited when compared to a court trial
  • Pre-Agreement: you need to agree on who will handle arbitration well before you ever need it.


Mediation involves a neutral third party who works with the conflicting parties to facilitate conversations and find a mutually acceptable solution. The mediator does not make a decision and instead helps the parties involved come to an agreement, which may not require legally binding.

Some advantages of mediation include:

  • Confidentiality: the mediation process is confidential, meaning both parties can speak freely without worrying about what they say being used against them.
  • Less expensive: the cost of mediation is generally lower than arbitration or court trials.
  • Flexibility: the mediation process is flexible, and the mediator can adapt to the needs of each case.

However, there are also some limitations to consider:

  • Limited enforcement options: the agreement reached in mediation may not carry the same legal power as a court ruling.
  • Required agreement: the parties involved must agree to participate in the mediation process for it to be effective.


Negotiation involves the parties involved coming to a mutual agreement without the assistance of a third party such as an arbitrator or mediator. It can be a less formal option for conflict resolution that can be used to reach an agreement quickly.

Some advantages of negotiation include:

  • Flexibility: the parties involved can adapt the negotiation process to suit their needs.
  • Control: the parties involved have control over the outcome, and there is no need to have a third party interfere.
  • Cost-effective: negotiating can be the most cost-effective approach to conflict resolution.

However, there are also some limitations to consider:

  • ....none!

More seriously, negotiating does not require any outside resources and places the responsibility on the two (or more) parties to come to an agreement. Negotiation could be the most effective conflict resolution / problem solving technique in the world. The only limitation is the willingness for both parties to negotiate the deal themselves. With the right skills, this outcome is likely to be much better for all parties when compared to other methods of conflict management.


When it comes to conflict resolution, each situation is unique, and no single method is perfect for all situations (but we are biased). By understanding the basics of arbitration, mediation, and negotiation, you can make an informed decision that works best for your situation. If you feel you need further guidance or information on which method to choose, don't hesitate to reach out to an expert in the field. Understanding these methods is an essential tool for navigating conflicts in the workplace, so take the time to learn and use them to your advantage.

Aligned DEMYSTIFIES what successful negotiation looks like