Online mediation is not some silver bullet to save time and money. We do not see working with Internet and online systems as any different from mediating in the “traditional” way, face to face. Online mediation is simply about making the best of simple technology. It can work well.
How technology helps us to provide a better service
The best procedure is one which provides:
- maximum relevant information available to both sides and to the Mediator.
- time for the parties to confer with others and consider their position, threats and opportunities
- maximum understanding of each other’s position by reading not only text, but body language, tone of speech, and so on.
- an atmosphere where both parties are comfortable. (We refer to that as a “level playing field”)
- a fast and efficient outcome
- as low a cost as reasonably possible.
The advantages of Internet and Internet-telecon
Travel is expensive.
As many disputes arise in cross-border trade as at home.
Some form of electronic communication provides a means of cross-border mediation.
Out goes the stress and cost of travel arrangements, venue cost, timing, car parking, travel time and travel cost.
Add the cost of senior management time and the saving is enormous.***
There is less to diarise; less to arrange. You are in charge. Take it as fast or as slowly as you like. The Mediator is the intermediary, informing, cajoling, suggesting and evaluating, until you have a deal or time is up.
We all write more precisely than we speak. That is largely because we have the opportunity to fine tune what we write.
we use the same process for every mediation – whether it is concluded with a live meeting, a teleconference, telephone discussions, or via the platform.
Internet arrangements are flexible. Internet messages can be replied to when convenient, or delayed while you confer with a colleague or discuss with your solicitor. That means a party can be more relaxed, more confident in moving to the next step.
What is more, as against a final, live meeting, Internet mediation could be concluded either urgently, over a short period of time, or could be allowed to spread over some days, or even weeks. There are many possible reasons why one or both parties should need that extra time.
No need to meet face to face
We have explained the advantage of face to face communication. There may be a downside. If you simply cannot bear to look your opponent in the eye, or you have felt threatened in the past, the ability to negotiate remotely and via the Mediator, can be a great relief to you.
Choice of final stage
The Mediator will draw every mediation to a close at the appropriate time. You may be able to settle your dispute before your time has expired or you may decide to assume your mediation will end with a telecon via Skype or Zoom.
The disadvantages of Internet mediation
- With no physical presence and therefore no face to face communication, it is psychologically more difficult for the mediator to influence the parties. However, using communication software overcomes this to some extent.
- Because there is no physical meeting, there is no sense of “coming together for a purpose” that might help to induce ideas or concessions that could lead to settlement.
- Internet mediation may require a fixed appointment time when both parties are available to exchange messages with the mediator or confer in a telecon. In that situation, the parties might get bored by inactivity and soon feel imprisoned while waiting for the next call.
- A conflict party might just be impossibly busy. We might hear the question: “Have we time to fix a refreshment or stretch our legs?” “Maybe we can just make a few short calls?” People do. The result is that the procedure gets extended unreasonably, while we all wait for the “short call” to be over. The mediator has ways to avoid that, but it is still an issue.
Up close and personal
In a face to face mediation, it is usual for the parties to meet at the start and for mediator to outline plans for the day and provide an immediate opportunity for each side to set out his case. How long that meeting lasts is an important issue. After that, it is not usual for the parties to meet again until the negotiation is largely over - whether because time is up or a deal has been broadly agreed.
Here are the principal advantages of face to face mediation.
Body language improves communication
The human race has evolved to recognise body language whenever we communicate face to face. It is said by psychologists that body language is 75% of a communication. Whatever the percentage, it is self-evident that we understand body language intuitively. So, to communicate in any way that is not face-to-face puts both sides at a disadvantage.
Trust, and the mutual desire to settle
The parties have agreed to get together to try to settle their dispute. That alone creates an atmosphere where settlement is likely to happen under the guidance of the Mediator. Alone in their own home or office, the anger and resentment aroused by the conflict is unabated. Talking to the Mediator and hearing him relay proposals and test your ideas and preconceptions leads to realism and release of the awful stress of conflict.
Your conflict party is a public organisation
Government and to a lesser extent, governmental organisations, must make almost all information public when called upon to do so. It is therefore easier for them to talk openly about settlement proposals than to exchange Internet messages which will be available to anyone who asks.
The Mediator’s skill
The mediator can use his status, experience and knowledge to identify ways in which the parties have a common interest in resolving their dispute and routes to a settlement not previously considered by the parties.
Choosing your mediation process
Online mediation is particularly well suited to the following situations:
- any conflict where a party wishes to use time between steps in the mediation process to consult or obtain authority, or simply to consider options;
- multi-party cases and multiple cases consecutively;
- “Litigation on hold” cases;
- employment disputes;
- cross-border disputes;
- you wish to avoid a face to face meeting with the other at all cost;
- you are physically far apart or distant from the Mediator;
- you simply prefer to use online mediation to talking around a table;
- you are not physically able to manage the usual face to face procedure;
- there are many documents so that you have to take time to dig into them frequently.
***Note: there is no saving on the actual mediation time. The Mediator is as careful, thoughtful and thorough when dealing by Internet and telephone as when dealing in person.
- face to face mediation engenders a sense that the occasion should result in a settlement, so it is marginally more likely to give you a settlement.
- you may want Internet-only mediation because you have had all the personal interaction you can put up with, OR maybe one side tries to bully the other OR one side fails to realise he/she has no case;
- some of the mediation meeting time can be saved by extending the Internet part of the process so far as it is more efficient than sitting bored, in a some meeting room.
- as a very rough yardstick, if your dispute is “worth” £100,000 or more, go for traditional face to face. Conversely, if the value is lower than £25,000, Internet only or Internet-telecon is the simplest and cheapest way forward. Between those figures, we have no comment.
- If you need a tough referee, go for face to face.
- If you are dealing with an organisation to whom its public face is important, they are more likely to follow “the rules”, so you may be safer to go for Internet mediation.
- the Mediator’s fees: whatever way you choose, our fees are based largely on time spent.
- multi-party mediation works best when the mediation concludes with a physical meeting of the parties.