26 Mar 6 Tips To Make The Most Of Virtual Mediation
If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you are working from your home office. In the midst of a pandemic, most of us are observing social and physical distancing regulations in place in Ontario, throughout Canada and around the world. Since mediation is typically a face-to-face process, we must find different ways to mediate to try to achieve some sort of normalcy.
Virtual mediations have existed for some time and new technologies are improving the user experience all the time. While we are not suggesting that video conferencing is on par with traditional face-to-face mediations, it is certainly a close second. It’s intuitive and easy to use. For litigants who have already waited years to get to mediation, Cooper Mediation believes a virtual mediation may be a better option than the alternative – postponing or cancelling the mediation.
If you’ve never been part of a virtual mediation before, it may seem daunting. But with six simple tips, we hope this blog will help you feel more at ease as you navigate mediating virtually in these challenging times.
1. Make Sure You And Your Client Are Both Prepared And Comfortable With The Technology
Download and practice using the program in advance of the mediation to work out any kinks or spot accessibility challenges. Cooper Mediation’s clients will likely be using a video conferencing platform called Zoom. It is a secure application that can host up to 100 participants in group meetings and breakout rooms. Before the mediation, familiarize yourself and your clients with this technology. For example, Zoom has instructions on Joining a Meeting. You and your clients should join a test meeting to ensure that all computers are compatible (https://zoom.us/test). Instructions explaining how to join a meeting will be based on the user’s operating system.
If you need help with the technology, please let your mediator know. We will be happy to assist you in setting up a test session and doing a practice run with you.
2. Make Sure You and Your Client Understand the Mediator’s Virtual Mediation Process
At Cooper Mediation, virtual mediations follow a similar process as in-person mediations. We start the virtual mediation meeting as a group. The mediator will open the mediation by outlining the agenda and explaining protocol. After each party gives their opening remarks, we then move to breakout rooms which simulate caucus meetings. These are private meetings between each party and their counsel and, when allowed into the room, the mediator. When negotiations begin, the mediator will move from room to room with offers, messages from the other party and work with the parties toward resolution.
3. Don’t Get Caught Up In The Technology
Facial expressions, body language and vocal tone all still matter. Remember, technology is just a means to an end. Like all mediations, the goal should be to negotiate thoughtfully and help your client to make an informed decision about their case. Participating using audio and video is a great way to simulate a face to face mediation but it doesn’t pick up everything. Typical cues you may notice in person may not come through over video-conference. You will need to pay close attention and pause before speaking in order to avoid interrupting.
Participating remotely does not mean there isn’t a real person receiving your comments. Remember, physical separation does not give you the green light to say things you wouldn’t say face-to-face. As always, try to use neutral language, make “I” statements and don’t presume to know what another person is or was thinking. Impulsive remarks can derail a mediation so hit the mute button if you need a moment to compose yourself. Draw on the novelty of the situation as a source of humour if you feel there’s a need to break tension that is building.
4. Spend Less Time Talking And More Time Negotiating
People have a hard time paying attention for more than 10 to 20 minutes at the best of times. It’s also difficult to stare at a device screen for very long before having to look away or take a break. Long openings in a virtual setting are likely to get lost. Communicate your opening remarks clearly, concisely, and effectively; then get down to business. In general, less is more.
5. Stay Focused
While this point also applies to in-person mediations, there is an extra level of discipline required in virtual mediations. You will have to fight the urge to check emails, the stock market and sports updates (never mind about the last one).
6. The Work From Home (WFH) Mullet
Even if you will be working from a home office or spare bedroom, don’t roll out of bed and join the video-conference. It’s still important to look professional – at least from the waist up. Now is your opportunity to wear a suit jacket and slippers while channeling your inner news anchor. The WFH means business up top and relaxation down below. Just make sure you are free of any disruptions that may cause you to stand up!
The medium may be different, but the principles of mediation have not changed. As you become comfortable with the technology, you will find virtual mediations are a wonderful way to keep your practice operating and allow you and your client to make thoughtful and informed decisions regarding potential resolution of their matters. Cooper Mediation is getting great results and feedback from the virtual mediations we have completed thus far. We are happy to supplement virtual mediations with teleconferences as needed. In the most difficult of times, it is imperative to keep some semblance of normalcy. Will you take the opportunity to resolve your client’s matter?
I’ll leave you with something funny to help pass your time. Make sure little ones, if you have any, are prevented from entering your home office space. Watch this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh4f9AYRCZY).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan Cooper joined the Cooper Mediation team in November, 2017 and now devotes 100% of her professional time to mediation.
Contact Logan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (416) 726-1344. Alternatively, you may view Logan’s Online Calendar to book a mediation: www.coopermediation.ca/logan-coopers-online-calendar/.