Online mediation is increasingly popular as a way for disputants to resolve conflicts without a court process. Typically conducted via e-mail, phone and videoconferencing, it can be used for any dispute where the parties are located in different places. While it can be a challenging form of negotiation, many mediators and services report that they are able to achieve positive results in online cases.
One of the most obvious advantages is that it allows for greater flexibility. Mediations can be held in participants’ homes or another quiet place where they can focus on the proceedings. The time savings are significant. Even a two-hour in-person mediation can require a considerable amount of time to drive, fight traffic and find parking. Meeting online means that both parties can attend from the comfort of their own homes and avoid travel-related stressors.
The use of e-mail and other technology in mediation can also reduce costs, as compared to traditional mediations in which the mediator’s time and expense is incurred. It is also possible to mediate with more than one person at a time, allowing for more productive discussions. Using the same platform for all of the sessions can also simplify the process, making it easier for participants to remember the details of each meeting.
In addition, online mediation can provide the added benefit of anonymity and privacy. It can be difficult for disputants to open up in a room full of strangers and the ability to remain anonymous may help them express their true thoughts and emotions without fear of retaliation. It is also much harder to “flame” each other in a discussion over e-mail as it is in a face-to-face conversation and this can result in more forthright and candid discussions.
However, despite the obvious benefits of online mediation, it is important for all parties to be prepared for the session. They must ensure that their device is fully charged or plugged in, and they should be in a quiet place free of distractions such as music, children’s voices, etc. It is also important that all participants have a good internet connection. A good quality headset can help limit distractions and allow participants to hear each other clearly.
Finally, it is vital that all parties understand the confidentiality of their communications in an online mediation. If there are concerns, it is important for the mediator to communicate them early in the process so that the parties are aware of what is at risk if they do not comply with the confidentiality rules.
For many, the biggest challenge to online mediation is overcoming the initial anxiety and discomfort that comes with trying something new. However, after the first few sessions most people find that they adjust to the format well and are able to communicate just as effectively as they would in a face-to-face session. With skilful interaction by the mediator and careful preparation by the parties, it is entirely possible for a successful outcome to be achieved in an online mediation.