Differences In Online Mediation

Mediating remotely is not only essential during the Covid-19 pandemic, but it also is a consideration for the future. The process we have outlined here allows you to do in the virtual world what you previously did face-to-face. Is it different? YES! But these differences include many benefits. Online mediation allows you to work with your participants in their own comfortable environment. The process feels less formal as it is not in a traditional setting such as an office or conference room. It fits extremely well with the informal system of self-help mediation (MTI’s models of Third-Party Resolution and Successful Conflict Conversations).

The advantages of this new format outweigh the disadvantages of remote mediation. The most difficult challenges you as the mediator face include picking up on the visual cues that are prevalent in face-to-face mediation and building trust. Although technology concerns can be an issue for both you and your participants, they are easily overcome by following a few simple steps.

Outlined below is a comparison of the face-to-face model versus online mediation and tips you may consider doing in the new virtual environment.

What’s different?

What can you do?

Technology

Online mediation works best with proper equipment:

  • All parties should ideally have a laptop or PC with a microphone and camera. Smart phones will work; however, they are not ideal.
  • A strong secure internet connection is required.

As the mediator, you need to make sure that your chosen video conferencing service (Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, etc.) has the following functions:

  • Secure technology with end-to-end encryption (Require a unique or private meeting number for each mediation and a password to enter the meeting.)
  • Flexibility in time limits (Ensure the meeting will not time out or close down after a certain length of time.)
    Waiting room (Holds all participants until the mediator is ready to open the call.)
    Breakout rooms (if using an outside caucus)
  • Lock-the-meeting function (once all parties have joined the meeting)
  • White board function (easy place to take notes or a parking lot of ideas)

HAVE A BACKUP PLAN! Let the parties know how to join if their audio is not working, or they get disconnected.

Note: As the mediator, you will need a business account or a paid account. For example, Zoom meetings only last 40 minutes and do not have the security functions needed for mediation. Attendees do not have to have a paid account but should log-in and test that they can use your chosen service before the meeting.

Mediator Professionalism

Mediator presence is critical to establish trust and professionalism.

You should consider the following:

  • Background – It must be tidy, professional and neat. Look behind you for any distractions. Participants will be able to see you only from the waist up.
  • Lighting – Play with this to make sure the participants can see your face. Bright light or windows behind you may make it difficult to see you.
  • Framing – As a rule of thumb, your head should take up 60- 75% of the screen. Keep your hands in your lap or on the desk in front of you, and make sure you are not too far or too close.
  • Screen Sharing – Make sure you clean up the desktop on your device. If you decide to share documents, you will want to avoid revealing anything except links to relevant documents.
  • Technology – Know your technology! It is imperative you are able to use the technology flawlessly.
  • Eye Contact – Look directly at the participants. You may have to play with your camera to ensure this happens.
  • Don’t look at your screen – the camera is your focal point for eye contact.
  • Distractions – Wear headphones and a microphone to make sure that outside noise is not a factor or a distraction to the process.
  • Building Trust – You may want to consider using the CDP to open up dialogue with each participant in the preliminary meeting.

Environment

Different senses come into play.

You will have to listen more, ask open questions and read between the lines occasionally. The majority of what we communicate face-to-face is nonverbal, so we must use new skills.

Listen for the tone of the message. Tone is even more important to meaningful dialogue in a virtual setting since we lack nonverbal cues. Be mindful of enunciation. Ask clarifying and information-gathering questions when needed.

Feedback comes at a different pace. You may not see or sense when someone is disengaged or upset. You will need to check in more often with the participants. Reflective questions work well – be the mirror.

Timing

Most workplace and informal mediations last approximately 90 minutes and can proceed as they would normally with an in-person mediation

If breaks are needed, make sure that your parties rejoin from the waiting room. The same rules apply as an in-person mediation. If participants need a break, let them have 10 minutes as appropriate.

Ground Rules

You may have to over-emphasize the ground rules that you would normally put in place such as no walk-aways (distancing reflex) or power-plays (coercion reflex). You should establish these in your preliminary meetings and again in the joint session.

Creating any additional rules jointly in the mediation will help build trust.

These may include the following:

  • Privacy – Ensure that the parties agree that they are the only individuals to attend your meeting.
  • Recording the meeting – Disable this function on your video conferencing settings. There is no need for anything to be recorded.
  • Use of phones or email at the mediation – Just as in an in- person mediation, these should not be allowed. Have the participants turn off their phones and messaging on their computers.
  • Invitations – Send an invitation to each participant when the meeting is scheduled (well in advance) and another 15 minutes before your meeting.
  • Addressing Participants – It may be difficult to let someone know you wish to hear from them as you do in-person, so agree that you will address the parties by name, and they should also do the same.

Managing Communication

Managing communication is more difficult in an online mediation than in person, and you need to indicate more clearly whose opportunity it is to speak.

Using questions that promote dialogue between the parties and are addressed to each party equally will help you facilitate the process.

Examples:

  • “What did you hear Party 1 saying?”
  • “If you were in Party 1’s shoes, how would you react?”
  • “Would you please explain to Party 2 what it is like for you when he/she says/does ____?”

Helping participants identify their interests and articulate what outcome is important and why (positions) is vital to all mediations. Asking questions in the preliminary meeting and preparing the parties is critical when working in the virtual mediation setting. It may be helpful to provide a series of questions that both parties can answer ahead of time. These perspective-taking questions may include asking each party to “think about yourself,” “think about the other person,” “and think about both of you.”

The Process

It is more important than ever to have a process that you will follow in your mediation.

Remember, YOU are the process leader.

Create a checklist and use it.

This may look very similar to your in-person list, but make sure to include the following:

  • Decide to mediate
    • Make an informed decision…
    • Will online mediation work?
    • Is the business problem resolvable between these two parties?
  • Schedule the mediation
    • When, where, participant or mediator technology concerns?
  • Host the preliminary meeting
    • Will you use CDP or any other type of pre-work (like a perspective taking worksheet)?
    • Explain key information – the business problem to be solved.
    • Hear each person’s side of the story.
    • Explain the process and rules of engagement – all key information.
    • Explain roles of each party.
    • Secure the commitment to attend.
  • Before the mediation session begins
    • Send out a reminder and any pertinent information about the session after your preliminary meeting.
    • Set the mediation up for success which might include sending out the mediation map, issue statement recap, rules of engagement and any other reminders.
    • Send a second reminder 15 minutes before the session begins.
  • Opening the mediation
    • Thank the participants.
    • Make sure that all can hear and see one another.
    • Ensure you cover rules of engagement and a business issue statement.
    • Invite a party to start.
  • During the mediation
    • Keep parties engaged in the essential process.
    • Support conciliatory gestures.
    • Nudge as needed, reframe-reframe-reframe.
    • W.A.I.T.
  • Making agreements that last
    • Make sure agreements are written, balanced and behaviorally specific.
    • Determine how you will get this document to each party (Google docs, other methods).
    • Decide upon follow up, and include who, what, when, where and for how long.
  • Schedule and keep follow-up on track to support the deal.

The Mediation Training Institute now offers our Conflict Resolution Training online. The Certified Trainer in Workplace Conflict Resolution and the Certified Workplace Mediator and Trainer certifications now include information on transitioning your Managing Workplace Conflict training and mediations to an online format.

Terry Marschall, Senior Faculty Consultant, Mediation Training Institute (MTI)

About Terry Marschall

Terry Marschall has been active as a mediator of workplace conflict for more than three decades. In her capacity as a certified mediator and as a master trainer for Mediation Training Institute, she has guided hundreds of people in resolving their differences in the workplace, creating collaborative and productive environments, and preserving the employer’s bottom line. Terry’s success in resolving conflict flows from a deep understanding of the complexity and dynamics of workplace relationships and their impact on the organization as a whole.

Ms. Marschall has held numerous corporate and regional positions with top companies such as the Target Corporation, Woodward & Lothrop/John Wanamaker, Mervyns and the May Company. She held positions as a Divisional Vice President, Regional Human Resources Manager and Stores Director in these Fortune 500 companies.

Terry is certified as a Senior Human Resources Professional (SPHR) by the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI), and Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Terry holds dual Bachelors’ Degrees in Business Administration and Fashion/Textile Design, with post-graduate studies in Human Resource Development.