It goes without saying that conflict is an inevitable part of everyday life. Many of us think of conflict as a destructive force, but it can also be a catalyst for positive change—the trick is knowing how to manage conflict constructively. But for some, it’s easier said than done. That’s when a trained mediator can step in and help.

“The mediation process really works,” said Terry Tolman, former chief staff executive of the Realtors® Association of Maui. “I’ve seen it firsthand.” Four years ago, Tolman signed up for a basic mediation training through Maui Mediation Services, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that provides alternative dispute resolution, facilitation and training to residents on Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Tolman says it didn’t take long for him to see the magical quality of mediation. “I was blown away by the process,” he said. “It really works.”

In fact, Tolman was so impressed that he accepted an invitation to join Maui Mediation Services’ board of directors. Then, three years ago, he became the board’s president. “It’s a great organization and I’m glad to be a part of it,” he said.

Simply put, mediation is a voluntary, confidential process that offers a cost-effective way for those in conflict to settle disputes, as it eliminates the need to go to court. Here’s how it works: During a mediation session, individuals entangled in a dispute meet face to face to find a mutually acceptable solution to their problem. Each party is assisted by an independent and impartial third party, called a mediator, who facilitates the process. Mediators do not give legal advice or determine who is right or wrong; instead, he or she works as a go-between, helping the parties get to root of the problem, find common ground, explore all options and negotiate a win-win outcome. All mediation sessions are private; any information exchanged during the session cannot be used in court. However, if the parties come up with a workable solution, a signed agreement can be used in court.

At the end of the day, a successful mediation is entirely dependent on the willingness of both parties to listen to one another and reach consensus. Tolman, who has facilitated several mediations, says the process can have a positive, lasting effect, regardless of the outcome. “Even if there’s not an immediate resolution, it opens up the channels of communication,” he said. “It gets people to start listening to each other. That’s the real magic of mediation.”  

Like Tolman, Maui Mediation Services’ volunteer mediators are community members who have completed specialized training in conflict resolution and interpersonal communication. These volunteers handle a range of disputes, including, but not limited to, divorce; child custody; landlord/tenant; consumer/merchant; neighborhood; real estate; and workplace conflict. (The organization notes that there are situations in which mediation is not appropriate and will not work, such as cases involving domestic violence or child abuse.) As for the cost, fees are based on an individual’s annual income and range from $60 to $350 per party, per session; Maui Mediation Services will not turn anyone away for inability to pay.

If you have a knack for turning problems into solutions, you may want to consider contributing your time and talent to Maui Mediation Services. The organization sponsors four-day, hands-on basic mediation trainings that teach participants to manage and resolve conflict, improve interpersonal and professional communication and work effectively with parties involved in disputes who need help. These skills and techniques are beneficial tools, even if you don’t have your sights set on becoming a mediator, Tolman said.  “These are skills you can use every day,” he explained. “At home, at work, with your family, friends and kids… all areas of your life.” 

For those in conflict, Tolman recommends giving mediation a try. “It’s amazing how it works,” he said. “Maui Mediation Services makes a big difference for a lot of people.”

For more information about Maui Mediation Services, to schedule a mediation session or to learn more about basic mediation training, visit or call 244-5744.


By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – April 1, 2017

Photo Caption

Terry Tolman serves as the president of Maui Mediation Services’ board of directors. “It’s a great organization and I’m glad to be a part of it,” he said.

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