Doing things differently; reflections on mediating online. By Dionne Dury

April 21st, 2020

We are all being challenged to do things differently and to work in ways that may be unfamiliar to us. We have had a good hard look at the way we have traditionally provided services, challenged our own thinking and now provide all our services remotely; including mediations.

We are well used to using remote or virtual platforms for carrying out coaching sessions, interviews for Neutral Assessments or investigations and in some cases pre-mediation meetings. However, we have always been cautious about carrying out mediations online and been of the view that there is real benefit to doing this face to face.

At the current time we clearly cannot do this. So, to provide our clients with an option of addressing potential conflicts should the need arise, we have been trialling online platforms and carrying out mediations online. I wanted to share some of my reflections on using a virtual platform for mediations, the potential pitfalls and things to consider / ways to overcome these and our experience and reflections on how this can work well.

I am certainly no IT expert and like many of us, have been forced to use some of these platforms in different ways for the first time and I am pleased to say that my experience so far, despite the odd technical hitch, has been a positive one!

Be familiar with the technology and things to think about in advance

As the mediator we need to be confident in using the technology, understand the best settings, how to set up/use the camera and lighting, appropriate room settings/backgrounds, security controls etc. We also need to think about being prepared as to how best to manage the situation should we lose connection or need to speak to individuals separately.

We recognise that some people will be unfamiliar with using video calls and that this may add to the stress of the situation. We have therefore put together some guidance on this to help manage and limit such concerns and to ensure that all involved can communicate in the best way possible.

Pre-Mediation meeting

As a mediator, a key part of our role is to establish trust and rapport with the parties, in particular during the pre-mediation meeting when we meet 1-1 with each person separately and in turn. We use a variety of skills to do this, including empathetic listening. Eye contact and paying attention to non-verbal communication with individuals is important here.

This is more difficult in a remote meeting; however the following will help:-

  • Good lighting and camera set up so that we can see and pay attention to facial expressions and that individuals feel that eye contact is being maintained.
  • Ensuring that we really listen to the words and tone of voice and accurately reframe or summarise what we have heard. In our experience parties can still feel that the mediator has understood and is demonstrating empathy when using video.

Joint Mediation meeting

In a joint session, we pay attention to both individual’s body language and how they are reacting and responding to things being communicated by the other person. This is undoubtedly more difficult on a virtual platform as you cannot see the whole body, for example, you may not be able to see someone clenching their fists or leaning forward in the same way that you would if in person.

This means that it is necessary to:-

  • Concentrate more on facial expressions and tone of voice and pay real attention to any changes or variations.
  • More regularly check in with individuals to check understanding and progress.

Communication

Communication is different online and there is a need to adapt to it. In particular, as mediators, we need to be aware of the slight delay in the verbal communication and ensure that we do not inadvertently interrupt the flow of what a party is saying. This means that we need to slow things down and allow longer pauses in between speech. This is no bad thing as one of the powerful things with the mediation process is that it slows communication down and allows the space for the individuals to express themselves in a safe environment.

Confidentiality

One of the key principles of mediation is that it is confidential, and it is important for all parties involved in the mediation to adhere to this.

When we are going to an organisation’s premises to carry out a mediation, we always check that the space being provided for the mediation is confidential i.e. away from where the parties’ normally work and free from distractions e.g. glass fronted rooms with people walking past / being able to see in.

With a virtual platform and the vast majority of people currently working at home, it is more difficult for us to control the space being provided for the mediation and also the space that we, as the mediator, are working out of. I have two young children and despite my best efforts to keep them away from the space in which I was mediating, my eight-year old son still entered the room at one point in the day! Luckily, the parties saw the funny side to this, however, it is important to consider the space you are using and that it is as free from distractions and as confidential as possible.

Conclusion

Online mediation has proved to be more successful than we anticipated. It is certainly different, and we need to adapt the way that we communicate, work harder at certain aspects and manage the process in different ways. However, the fundamental principles and skills (other than the technical stuff!) remain the same and we are able to provide an environment and a process that empowers individuals to improve their working relationships and wellbeing, which may be particularly important at this difficult and challenging time for us all.

If you have a situation that requires mediation or simply would like some more information about online mediation or any of our services, please contact us [email protected] or 08000 489235

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