After I posted a message about the 3 options that Virtual Mediation Lab now offers to face-to-face mediators for learning what online mediation means, how it works, and how to add online mediation to their practice, a mediator asked me:
Body language is an important part of communication. That's missing in mediation which is not face-to-face. How can on-line mediation compensate for that?
Here is my response:
Body language is certainly an important part of communication in any mediation.
And, as you can see in this simulation with participants in the USA, UK and Greece, when you mediate online body language is "limited" compared to when we are face-to-face --online we can only see the parties' face and upper part of their body. View a video here for more information on the non-verbal discussion.
Leaving aside the question as to whether that "limited" body language is sufficient or not for doing our job, I believe that while for us mediators body language is a key factor, from the parties' perspective it is not the "only" factor. For them, there are other important factors to consider. For example:
1 - Parties' Safety - Some parties dislike the idea of being across the table or even in the same building with the other party, especially in highly contentious cases. For them, the opportunity to participate in mediation online from the safety and comfort of their home or office is actually a big plus, compared to meeting face-to-face in our office. Not surprisingly, when parties participate in an online mediation, they feel less tense than when they are face-to-face. Why? Because they are in total control of their physically territory.
2 - Convenience - Parties can participate in an online mediation when it is most convenient to them; when they are in their best physical and mental condition, from wherever they are - at home, in their office, on the road.
3 - Cost - Online mediation can save parties a lot of time and money, because they don't need to drive or fly to the mediator's office.
In short, my point is that, ideally, we mediators should be able to do our job equally well in both settings (face-to-face and online) and, depending on each case, perhaps carry out certain mediation stages online, and others face-to-face.They way I see it, the key point for mediators is gaining the parties' trust: when they feel at ease with us; they feel heard and understood by us; they feel in good hands. Once we have gained that trust, we can leave up to parties to decide how they prefer to meet -- face-to-face or online.