What Challenges Do Mediators Face in Virtual Conflict Resolution?

    Authored By

    Mediator Experts

    What Challenges Do Mediators Face in Virtual Conflict Resolution?

    In the realm of virtual conflict resolution, professionals, including a Mediator & Communication Coach, encounter a spectrum of unique challenges. While industry experts provide insights like 'Navigating Online Dispute Resolution,' we also present additional answers that highlight the diverse hurdles faced in these settings. From the complexities of maintaining confidentiality to ensuring equal participation, discover the multifaceted challenges of mediating disputes in the digital world.

    • Navigating Online Dispute Resolution
    • Maintaining Confidentiality Online
    • Accommodating Technological Disparities
    • Interpreting Virtual Non-Verbal Cues
    • Planning for Connectivity Issues
    • Fostering Equal Virtual Participation

    Navigating Online Dispute Resolution

    About 12 years ago, I was part of a university group that tested and strongly resisted online platforms due to the usual concerns about client safety and what we might be missing in terms of body language outside the camera's view. In family mediation, especially if there was a high level of conflict, we were particularly tentative. But of course, the pandemic thrust us all online and into a technical, personal, and professional learning curve about 'ODR'—online dispute resolution.

    I've learned to love what's good—being always 'face-to-face' with your clients, easily sharing files, quick access to a breakout room when needed for sudden triggers and/or privacy, and of course, the low overhead.

    But alas, the most feared thing happened in a 14-person online Restorative Circle early in 2021. The individual images were, of course, smaller than usual, and something was triggered for one participant—a highly withheld and controlled young woman who didn't move a muscle when it happened... but maybe did in her jaw or eye movement. I'd like to think that if we were in person, with my keen empathic nature and experience, I would have immediately seen and felt the shift in her energy. But neither I nor my co-mediator caught it. We did, of course, follow up, discovered what happened, and she was able to express her pain and move forward.

    Like all tests, it was a powerful learning experience and, happily, the only one of its kind I've experienced in the otherwise surprisingly rich online mediation platform.

    Mardi EdelsteinMediator & Communication Coach, Spectra Mediation

    Maintaining Confidentiality Online

    Mediators employing virtual platforms for conflict resolution are tasked with ensuring that all communications remain confidential and private, just as they would in a traditional face-to-face setting. This challenge becomes more complex online where data breaches and unauthorized access by third parties are tangible risks. To maintain confidentiality, mediators must utilize secure platforms and clearly communicate to participants the importance of conducting conversations in a private environment.

    Ensuring such privacy also helps in building trust among the parties involved. Educate yourself on the most secure platforms and insist on their use for any virtual mediation to uphold the integrity of the process.

    Accommodating Technological Disparities

    Another difficulty mediators face in a virtual environment is the variance in technological proficiency and access among participants. Some individuals may lack the necessary equipment or skills to engage effectively in virtual mediation, potentially impacting the fairness and balance of the process. Mediators must be prepared to offer support and alternatives that can accommodate these disparities, such as providing straightforward instructions or choosing platforms that are user-friendly.

    Addressing this issue is crucial to ensure that technological barriers do not impede the path to resolution. Seek assistance if you're facing technological challenges to ensure your voice is heard throughout the mediation process.

    Interpreting Virtual Non-Verbal Cues

    In virtual dispute resolution, mediators often struggle to interpret non-verbal signals, which can be crucial in understanding the emotions and intentions of the parties involved. Video calls can limit the view to primarily facial expressions and possibly restrict the ability to perceive body language, physical distance, and other subtle cues that provide context in face-to-face interactions. Being adept at picking up on these limited cues can aid a mediator in navigating the virtual environment more effectively.

    Training and experience can help in discerning subtle indicators of mood and intent. Take the time to become more aware of the nuances of digital communication to better articulate your stance in a virtual setting.

    Planning for Connectivity Issues

    Virtual mediation sessions are prone to interruptions caused by unpredictable connectivity issues. Such interruptions not only disrupt the flow of discussion but can also lead to frustration and misunderstandings if communications are cut mid-conversation. Mediators need to plan for these eventualities and have contingency plans in place, such as a protocol for re-establishing connection or a secondary method of communication.

    Ensuring that all parties understand how to handle potential technical problems can help minimize their impact. Remember to check your internet connection before joining a virtual mediation to reduce the chances of connectivity-related interruptions.

    Fostering Equal Virtual Participation

    Facilitators of remote conflict resolution are presented with the challenge of encouraging equal participation from all parties, despite the physical distance and the impersonal nature of virtual interaction. This can be difficult when individuals may feel less engaged or less inclined to contribute due to the screen barrier. It is vital for mediators to develop strategies to involve all parties, such as actively soliciting input from quieter participants and setting clear expectations for turn-taking.

    Creating an environment that promotes balanced participation can foster a more collaborative and inclusive mediation process. Be proactive in seeking to contribute to the conversation to ensure your perspective is fully represented.