THE BLOG

Online Mediation - Why I Believe In Face-To-Face Mediation

27/07/2017 14:02

We know poor communication is at the heart of misunderstandings and causes conflict. Understanding and managing this conflict is vital to mediation and resolving disputes. Digital communication impedes what mediators do, making it impossible to use many mediation techniques. Face-to-face, people can read nuances of expression, voice and body language. Trying to establish a rapport with someone online significantly hampers understanding, interpreting dynamics and in the mediator's case assessment and explanations are harder. I think savings from online mediation or MIAMs are a false economy and the concept is flawed.

Whilst online mediation and assessment for mediation can work for simple complaints and disputes - such as faulty goods, agreeing a refund and simply providing a neutral post-box for communication between disputants to resolve something simple. Most cases are not that simple and need the full range of mediation interpersonal skills. Occasionally, the only way to sort things out may be via Skype - if people are in different countries, for example. However, it is much harder and if a meeting is possible, why would you not mediate in person and have those advantages?

Frequently people think they are arguing about a specific issue or point of law. More often the root of the problem is emotional, fear and mistrust. In family cases, with their complex dynamics - remote electronic mediation is a poor substitute for meeting your mediator. Whilst it can reduce costs (specifically rent, time and travel) you are less likely to find it satisfactory. It is less likely to work. So when it is important to sort something out - why ask your mediator to try and do it with one arm tied behind their back and a patch over one eye, if not both? It's like going to the gym and sitting in the changing room with your coat on, refusing to meet your coach except via a screen. Why would you?

I will mediate online in limited circumstances - not because I can't do it, because I can and have helped people online when they are abroad, or a long way away, but it is not ideal. I don't advise to use online mediation because it does not help people access what they most need, which is our full and present attention to them and their problems - and how best to resolve them face to face. Then all senses, instincts and intuitions can be engaged and documents can be explained and handed over, with notes made during a conversation where two minds can meet without difficulty.

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