When not being in the room together, helps: The benefits of online mediation
In the past, the idea of not being in the room together during mediation may have appealed to parties in dispute but was not especially favoured by mediators. And then a global pandemic happened and the ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ approach favouring face to face mediations had to be reconsidered. The pandemic has led to a new familiarity with life online which in the case of mediation, has revealed a range of benefits.
A safe and familiar space puts parties at ease
Nobody escapes the stress and anxiety of entering an unfamiliar environment to sit at a table and face someone they are in serious dispute with. While it’s a lot better than the archaic formality of a court room, it’s still intimidating. For some people, this experience can produce a hormonal reaction from a part of our brain called the amygdala that makes our bodies release cortisol – stress hormones that are a neurological response to fear. That response can trigger emotionally vulnerable parties even further, impacting communication abilities and rational decision-making. The safety, comfort and familiarity of home can go a long way to alleviating this type of stress. Feeling safe and less vulnerable can lead to a calmer mindset where parties can regulate their emotions. Better decision-making often flows from a less intimidating and more level playing field.
Online mediation is more accessible and convenient
Any inconvenience and cost associated with geography is solved with online mediation. The mediator and each party can be in different cities and attend the mediation without the difficult negotiation of deciding on an appropriate location that is fair to both parties, or the inconvenience and cost of one or both parties needing to travel. Holding an online mediation is more cost-effective than face to face, as there is not the added cost factor of room hire. There is also greater likelihood of the mediation running to time – as scenarios like heavy traffic or difficulty finding a park do not apply. Without the constraints of geography, parties can research a wider selection of mediators Australia-wide rather than be limited to a choice of mediators around a particular location.
Communication between parties becomes streamlined
In emotionally charged disputes, or disputes where parties have polarizing perspectives, the temptation for one party to interrupt the other is frequent. Constant interruption by one party of another is a challenge that every mediator must face when facilitating heated disputes. In an online mediation, however, the mediator has full control of the digital environment and can simply mute one party while the other is talking, (say for example, when one party is delivering their opening statement), rendering it impossible for parties to interrupt one another. At the commencement of the mediation, the mediator will explain the mute button rule as standard procedure – so no one feels they are being singled out or muted unfairly. Key to mediation being a success is the ability for parties to allow each other to speak without interruption – the mute button guarantees this. Zoom also has helpful functionality including the provision for breakout rooms, digital whiteboards to record agenda items and screen sharing. When parties can view themselves on screen, they become more aware of their body language and facial expressions, which helps keep emotions in check.
Online mediation can be more productive
Mediation is a facilitated discussion following a structured process. In an online environment, the mediator has more ability to control this. If someone needs a coffee or tea, a bathroom break or a pause in proceedings to consult their lawyer, it is much more streamlined and takes much less time – the home kitchen is a lot more conveniently located than a café in an unfamiliar location.
A few final things to keep in mind about online mediation
Zoom fatigue is a real thing and video chat can be intense and exhausting. Mediators conducting online mediations are aware that the up-close screen environment can be draining on the eyes and will ensure regular breaks are taken, be clear about the process (especially regarding the mute button) from the outset and will control screen sharing and breakout rooms where private and confidential discussions take place with the mediator at different phases of the mediation. And finally, the mediator will have a strong understanding of the technology and how to get the best out of it. In the unexpected case of an internet outage, the option to continue via phone will always be a back-up.
The benefits around cost, convenience, comfort, and safety are strong indicators that online mediations will continue to be an increasingly preferred option for parties in dispute and an alternative to face-to-face mediation, long after restrictions driven by the pandemic have lifted.
To help you prepare for mediation, we have created a library of helpful information including checklists, tips and added detail around the process of mediation. For useful and relevant information you can download for free, we encourage you to visit our resources page.
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