ITUNA is one approach or process that a mediator may use to mediate a dispute. A mediation, basically, is a process where two sides involved in a conflict enlist the assistance of a neutral, third person uninvolved in the dispute to help the parties come to a resolution about their dispute. ITUNA is an acronym used to describe the five main steps in facilitating mediation, namely, (1) information, (2) talking and being heard, (3) understanding, (4) negotiating, and (5) agreement.
The information stage of the ITUNA process is aimed at providing the parties with information about the mediation. Some questions that may be asked and answered as part of this phase include (1) how the process will be conducted, (2) how much the mediation will cost, (3) how often mediations end in agreement, and (4) information about the mediator’s qualifications.
The second stage in the ITUNA process, talking and being heard, focuses on the parties expressing their points of view as well as the opposing party hearing what the other side is saying. Many mediators believe that conflicts arise out of poor communication and as a result much of the mediation process focuses on allowing the parties to vent and hear the other side’s perspective. Mediator style in this stage can range from being active and having an interactive conversation with the party telling their side of the issues or being passive and allowing the party tell their side of the issues without interruption.
The third stage in the ITUNA process, understanding, aims to make parties less positional. By reframing the issues raised in the previous stage, the mediator seeks to help the parties get a better, more complete understanding of the situation. Most importantly, perhaps, to get an understanding of the other side’s point of view. In evaluative mediation, a form of mediation where the mediator provides his or her opinion in the matter, this stage is minor if it exists at all. In traditional mediation, where the mediator provides no opinion on the issues involved, understanding is often the key component in having a successful mediation. The understanding phase often culminates in listing out the relevant issues of the conflict.
Negotiating is the fourth stage of the ITUNA process. Here, the parties negotiate each issue identified in the understanding phase. Parties will generally go back and forth as to what terms they are and are not willing to agree to. Mediators will typically help parties consider all potential options for reaching an agreement, including innovative options. Negotiation techniques abound and are often based on perceived notions of power.
The final stage of the ITUNA process is agreement. Ideally, if all other stages were successful, the parties will be able to reach an agreement. Parties may choose to put the agreement to writing to help ensure its enforceability.
Mediations are usually not as simple and straightforward as ITUNA, especially in party-centered mediations—where parties determine the process. Often, a stage is not completely dealt with before going to the next stage. As a result that stage may be repeated. The stages also may be addressed in a different order than listed in the acronym. Information for example, may come after the talking and being heard stage.
While ITUNA is one approach to conducting an entire mediation, it is also the approach to addressing interpersonal issues. In fact, many recommend ITUNA as an effective process for resolving disputes or conflicts that arise in regular, daily life.