If you’re the kind of cooler head that prevails when arguments arise between friends and colleagues, you could have a career ahead of you in online mediation.
Mediation is the last line before the law. It’s a final chance to settle a dispute privately before everyone lawyers-up and heads for court. Seeing as mediation is also much cheaper than paying for the services of a judge to decide who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s in (just about) everyone’s interest that private mediation is as accessible and flexible as possible.
Mediators don’t need any formal qualifications, and states don’t require them to be licensed or hold any special public office. What’s more, if you’ve got a solid internet connection, a good webcam, and a Skype connection you don’t even need a brick-and-mortar office on Main Street to start offering your services in dispute resolution. In fact, mediation via Skype is a faster, cheaper version of mediation that’s perfect for the digital age.
To make it as a mediator, however, you’ve got to win the trust of those searching for resolution.
Remote Mediation via Skype
A mediator must consider more than just the facts. They need to be able to take the heat out of a dispute and help the feuding parties get past their negative emotions. They must hold in-depth conversations with all concerned, find what each is hoping to achieve, and even come up with potential repercussions and alternatives no one had considered. And they must remain impartial throughout.
That process can take many, many meetings to evolve. In the case of divorce mediations, the process can take months. That’s where the flexibility of video conferencing comes into its own as a mediation platform. In a traditional, in-person format every meeting, every follow-up and cross-reference is another trip downtown to an office building, more time out of the day away from home or work. Or worse, it becomes a series of emails and phone calls–eBay is still searching for a suitable alternative to its automated and email dispute resolution process.
Online, however, meetings are easier to attend as no one must travel, and they’re easier to schedule as they can take place wherever there’s a strong internet signal. There’s also the added bonus that none of the aggrieved parties need to share a room, a fact which can be extremely beneficial if one party is intimidated by the other.
Recent research has also demonstrated that the same trust and reputation-building visual cues that make an in-person meeting work can be replicated over a video connection.
Building Trust by Video Conference
Research published by the International Journal of Online Dispute Resolution (admittedly, hardly an impartial source) shows that the non-verbal communication available during a face-to-face video call is good enough to make remote meetings work. These conscious and unconscious cues include making and maintaining eye contact, mirroring and mimicking the other video caller’s movements and gestures, and the facial expressions that accompany our words and reactions.
While video calling is the closest way to replicate a natural in-room conversation, it does take a little practice to make the most of a webcam setup. For starters, there are the different angles of the image received on screen, and the image sent by the camera sitting on top or beside the screen. It takes time to teach yourself to stare into the void of the lens, rather than solely at the face on the other end of the call. To help with this, the researchers suggest framing your webcam so that it crops the top of your hairline and comes down to the midsection of your chest. This way some background is visible, there’s space for your hands to be seen at about neck height, but there’s still enough zoom on your face to show all the subtle movements that convey emotion.
You’ve also got to dress to impress and sit in professional surroundings to tap into all the unconscious preconceptions people have about how a person of integrity should look. There are even video conferencing apps that can replace your background to clean up your home office environment. These apps and other technical advantages are what gives video calling medication its unique blend of the digital and the personal.
Life as a Skype Mediator
That duality is what makes video mediation potentially so powerful. Should you want to become a Skype mediator–and there are sites such as Mediate.com in existence already–you’ll have to get comfortable not only with the personal side, but also the technical. In addition to the “meet anywhere” incentive, you should also be able to offer clients advantages like the following, all of which can be found on a free service like Skype:
- File sharing: Any digital document can be instantly shared through a built-in messaging feature, and Skype’s messaging feature can even handle files too big for an email service like Gmail (as we mentioned in our post on Skype tips and tricks).
- Translation: Skype translator is still a work in progress, but it supports 9 spoken and 50 written languages.
- Screen and multimedia sharing: Now standard among video calling apps, sharing digital media such as videos makes it possible to give more evidence and context during a mediation session.
- Group video calls: If need be, you should be able to accommodate witnesses, experts, and advocates on a call without making anyone share a webcam.
- Digital whiteboard: You’ll need to add this service via a third-party app, but it offers a shared, real-time shared, real-time writing and drawing surface to the conversation
- Record meetings: Again, you’ll need a third-party add-on to do this with Skype, but having a video record of every word uttered in mediation could be crucial, especially if the case does end up going to court.
By adding these digital niceties to your person-to-person trust-building visuals, you can create a modern version of mediation that is more dynamic and flexible than an in-room meeting, but robust enough to find a solution and keep everyone out of court.