Mediation means different things to different people, which is a source of conflict within the mediation community itself. Along those same lines, a great deal of conflict stems from misunderstandings.
To me, mediation is a problem-solving process through which a third party (the mediator) helps people to discover and correct misunderstandings (if any), improve communication, de-escalate conflict, and build or rebuild trust. Empathy is the key to conflict resolution or management.
A great many conflicts can be effectively managed, even though they can't be resolved. Doing so requires actively listening to each other's perspectives, ideas, backgrounds and experiences in order to gain a clear understanding of the disagreement and the reasons behind it. This requires perspective-taking, which is the core of empathy.
For a bit of perspective, it has been found that 69 percent of conflicts within marriages are unresolvable and yet, from understanding gleaned through dialogue and acceptance of each other's differences (even differences in deeply held values), couples can have happy and healthy marriages.
It would be a mistake to believe that this reality is somehow limited to marriages and relationships of a romantic nature, considering that the research on couples' relationships has been successfully applied to workplace relationships.
"Empathy is one of the most important skills to develop and practice. It allows us to understand the world as others see it, is a key component of compassion, and is incompatible with shame and judgment. Absent empathy, critical thinking is impaired because not all perspectives are considered, which precludes a deeper understanding of problems."
The deeper the understanding of the problem(s), the better and more effective the solution. I described this reality in my article titled What's "Best" Varies, Depending upon the Needs Involved: How do you assess what's best, absent a clear understanding of the exact needs?.
Through mediation, parties are able to resolve their conflicts and disputes on their own through mutual consent.
Disclaimer: This answer was provided by an attorney selected to Super Lawyers, and is intended to be an educated opinion only. This answer should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.