The practice of online mediation

July 20, 2020 

The practice of mediation, like other professions, evolves and grows. Online mediation can be a valuable tool for people to access dispute resolution services in a flexible way.

There are some advantages to online mediation:

  • you can do it from a distance, in real time and in a cost-effective way
  • the parties don’t have to commute or drive to mediation sessions

Online mediation is new to some mediators and clients, but it has actually been used for quite a few years now by many others. The coronavirus pandemic has led more mediators to adapt their skills to provide their dispute resolution services online. 

Getting familiar with the technology that will support you

A first step for mediators is to choose a technology platform (whether Zoom, Microsoft Teams or some other) that is accessible to participants and become comfortable with it. The mediator is responsible for managing the administration of online meetings and this can be done with a small investment of time. 

The mediator should have computer hardware of sufficient quality (a desktop or laptop with a large enough screen, good microphone and bandwidth to accommodate video streaming). Mediators also need to be prepared to accommodate the participants for technological blips; and inform participants of what the back-up plan is. For example, in the event any of the participants cannot access a scheduled video conference, the meeting could be switched to a telephone conference instead. 

Protocols for Online Mediation

The mediator should inform participants about the protocols for online mediation. Confidentiality is a fundamental element of all mediations. This has several implications for online mediation:

  • there are to be no audio or video recordings of mediation sessions. 
  • clients should understand that there can be no one present or listening who is not a party to the mediation. 

Promote awareness of basic Zoom etiquette

Prior to the mediation, the mediator should introduce, or remind,  participants of a few of the basics of “Zoom etiquette”:

  • ensure there are no, or very limited, distractions at the location of each participant during the meeting;
  • remind participants to give themselves a few minutes in advance of the scheduled time to enter a meeting I.D. and password; and to keep these confidential.
  • keeping the microphone muted when not speaking.

And of course, the mediator should log in to his or her account to open the meeting, ready to greet the parties at least five minutes before the scheduled time to ensure the parties are not anxiously waiting.  

Adapting Mediation Skills for Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)

One consideration for mediators to keep in mind is that an important element of in-person mediation is missing – body language. Body language often provides the mediator information about the mood of participants. We have to make up for this and there are a few techniques to enhance the online mediation experience. 

Because we are missing information from body language, mediators really need to pay attention to the “dynamics of the listening cycle”. Mediators can compensate for that by using lots of open-ended questions to solicit information about the issues and by employing our professional listening skills. 

More generally, the mediator requires substantive expertise and great analytic skills for online mediation. You need to be curious and also do a lot of decoding.  Decoding means to monitor gestures and body language as these can reveal various emotions such as anxiety or anger. 

And finally, it is paramount for the mediator to have “presence”; meaning to project confidence, to be clearly managing the process and to be fully attuned to each party as they tell their stories and concerns. 

William Cornet

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