To Zoom or Not-Zoom in Mediation?
Over the last year literally everyone has had to make changes in how they communicate with others not in their “bubble”. Face-to-face meetings now have a different meaning than they did and are often held using Zoom or another visual communication platform.
Concurrently, stress and conflict have skyrocketed. Folks are struggling. Therapists have never been busier. As mediators, we’ve wanted and needed to help people work through family conflict, separation, and divorce, but haven’t been able to be in-person with them. After an initial lull in mediations as we figured out how to maneuver online mediation with our clients, it is currently the preferred mode and the only kind of mediation I’ve done since early 2020.
Personally, I’ve not appreciated this. There is so much going on in a room when you are “live” with other people. The ability to sense and read body language is invaluable because the whole tenor and direction of a conversation can hinge on understanding that unspoken language.
When someone is tapping their foot, or wringing their hands, it’s obvious when you are sitting across from them in a real room but is completely out of site on a virtual call. Using all my senses to read and intuit each person is what I believe is necessary to be most effective and helpful.
A positive argument for online mediation is that because people are not in each other’s space, they are able to mediate from an emotional distance, which for many is helpful. The technology even allows them to mediate from separate rooms, not on the same screen, with the mediator speaking privately with each to propel the mediation forward.
For sure, the time efficiency of online mediation is a big positive. Parties don’t need to drive, park, wait. Sometimes they don’t need to pay a sitter for the children, if children can be tucked away from hearing or seeing the online mediation.
We Have Options
The world has changed mightily due to COVID-19, and the need to help people through conflict has not diminished. That online mediation has been broadly adopted in this short time means that, even when we can meet together in offices again, virtual mediation will be a viable and often desired choice for mediators and their clients, which is probably a good thing.