Pros & Cons of Online Mediation (Part 1)

By PracticeForte advisory affiliate member Christian von Baumbach & Susan Tay, founding partner of OTP Law Corporation and co-founder of PracticeForte. This article was first published by PracticeForte.

Cons of Online Mediation

If you are reading this article, then you are likely already a believer of mediation? Perhaps have heard enough good things about mediation to want to understand more?

Nonetheless, it is still worthwhile to laud mediation. It is after all, THE modern, flexible, and effective process for solving disputes and making joint decisions in important matters. Through mediation, family members, colleagues, business partners – basically everybody who has an interest in respectful cooperative relationships – can potentially have meaningful discussions, gain a better understanding of each other’s perspectives and regain mutual trust. The goal of each mediation should always be to find enduring solutions that are in the best interest of everybody involved.

Generally, people meet physically in one room for a mediation. But what to do if large distances lie between them? Not always is it possible to travel for a meeting to another city or even country. In such cases online mediation might be a suitable option.

PracticeForte Advisory and its affiliates provide professional online mediations, and in the next 2 articles, we would like to highlight some of its challenges but also its advantages.

Challenges

2 Dimensional : The biggest challenge probably comes from the fact that virtual space is less dimensional and therefore hinders our verbal and nonverbal communication. The sound of the voice is altered. We usually cannot see the whole body. It is also more difficult to perceive subtle gestures or facial expressions. Therefore, it is harder to assess the emotional state. This can make it very difficult for us to evoke empathy for each other. It may also be easier to misunderstand each other.

We can improve the situation by using better tools, like high-quality microphones, cameras, and lighting, but we can never recreate the naturalness of a physical meeting.

Security: The technical environment is a risk to privacy and confidentiality. No network connection is 100 percent safe, and it is easy to make voice or video recordings of an online meeting.

All of this makes it more challenging to establish a secure environment and trustful relationship; whether  between the mediators and the parties or between the parties themselves. Trust is vital for every human relationship and therefore a core aspect of each mediation.

Attentiveness/ Distractions:

Videoconferencing fatigue is real. We tire much quicker if mediation is online than in person. Staring into the screen at faces and remaining fairly immobile for more than 1 hour can mean an intensity  that is beyond normal. This is magnified when you are also looking at your own face.

We thus experience fatigue quickly and get quite inattentive. It does not help when distractions are also much easier online than in person. You can be staring at a different screen or if you are looking down, you can be playing a game on your mobile phone. It is not easy to call someone out for being inattentive during mediations online as both the mediators and the parties want to keep the atmosphere cordial.

Conclusions On Cons

It is often shared that settlement rate for mediations conducted online are not as high as when it is in person. Our mediation experiences do testify to that.

Yet, we cannot deny that videoconferencing in such a big way is nascent, started only when Covid hits the world in 2020. In a generation when more and more are using the internet for communications, play and business, online mediation will be here to stay and flourish.

And as more and more online mediations enable parties to resolve their disputes, with no concerns over travel restrictions, geography, time and exorbitant costs, the statistics will also shift favourably toward more resolved cases.

In our next article, we will write about the advantages of online mediation which in our view, outweigh the cons.