Mediation is a conversation between two parties in conflict, structured and assisted by a neutral third party, the mediator. The structure of a mediation session allows both parties to move beyond their initial positions to discover their own and the other party's underlying interests. The parties can then generate options to address their needs. When mediation is successful, the parties review and select the best options, and conclude with a written agreement.

Mediation is typically voluntary, though in some cases conflicting parties can be encouraged by persons with authority. Because the parties do come to the session willingly, the typical rate of successful resolution is extremely high. And, because the parties themselves created the solution, it is typically a long-lasting solution.

Mediation is confidential. Even in cases where two parties may be encouraged to participate in mediation (as in the case of a supervisor referring staff members to mediation to work out a problem, the only information that is disclosed would be that the parties did indeed attend a mediation session and that they did, or did not, reach agreement.