Online Mediation: The Good, The Bad, and the Nebulous

The Ins and Outs of Online Mediation

Mediators are increasingly adopting online mediation for alternative resolution dispute.

Though such techniques have been around since the late 1990s, and millions of mediations have been conducted online since, improved and more ubiquitous technology is pushing online mediation to the tipping point.

In case you’re unfamiliar, online mediation takes two forms: video and text through instant messaging. That means participants can talk anytime, anywhere. Parties in the UK and US can work together in seconds; someone in Zambia can negotiate with someone in Portugal just as quickly. It’s wonderful, and I’ve had great success with online dispute resolution, specifically via the easy to use website Zoom.

There are considerable advantages to using Zoom and other forms of online dispute resolutions.

One, online mediation often costs less. Participants no longer have to account for travel expenses. They can simply log in on their computer or smart phone and begin.

Another benefit of online mediation: it saves time. In addition to saving on travel time — someone in Zambia can work with someone in Portugal in seconds, rather than hours — online mediation saves the hassle of coordinating schedules.

Along the same lines, we’ve seen that there’s often less posturing or bluster in online mediation. The dynamics of sitting in a conference room, debating positions and resolutions, can lead people to think they have to volley back and forth, a tactic that’s exhausting and unnecessary. Online mediation often cuts through that game, saving time and energy.

And Zoom makes it easy to have side conversations, too: Users simply create a new secure room, pop in to chat, and pop back to the mediation proper.

But, all that said, there are a few drawbacks to online dispute resolution. Not being in the same room can rob mediation participants of the emotional resonance that makes mediation such an effective tool for dispute resolution.

This distance is felt even more if participants opt for written exchanges. While written exchanges do allow participants to think through responses before sending, recipients miss the facial expressions, tone, pitch, and subtleties inherent in oral exchanges, which can lead to misunderstandings. And written exchanges can be difficult for mediators, robbing them of the oversight to keep mediations running smoothly and effectively.

Or, conversely, the distance of online communication can, in rare cases, lead to more casual hostility, like we sometimes see on social media.

Regardless of where one stands on online dispute resolution, the tech is here to stay. It will be interesting to see not just how it evolves vis a vis mediation, but in other legal realms, as well. It’s not uncommon for judges to decide bail issues over video conferencing. Is it possible entire trials could one day be conducted online?

Ask a Question