I am one of a group of 6 university friends who travel 40 miles to meet once a month to play diminishing whist (for pride not money) and to take the mickey out of each other. We have now had to accept that for the first time in 35 years (bar August which we have allowed ourselves off for holidays) this current crisis will prevent us from meeting. Not to be deterred from our monthly fix, we have found an online card game application to keep the tradition going.
The point of sharing this story was to say how it struck me that playing cards online was like mediating online. If I am honest, it was great to see my friends online and to have some banter - we even managed to play a full game, but it was not quite the same. We did not have a break while someone dealt with the social niceties, as the application had a new set of cards in front of us within a second of finishing the previous round. It was an enjoyable experience but not quite the same. For example, it was much more difficult to see who was bluffing and these were friends who I have known for the majority of my life.
We all went away saying how much we had enjoyed ourselves and that we would carry on until the restrictions were lifted and this is what I’d like to persuade you for online mediation.
In a similar manner, mediation depends on the personal and communication skills of the mediator to establish a rapport and to develop the necessary trust with all of the participants. This enables the mediator to have credibility with the parties so that they will accept the challenges to the strength of their case and listen to the advantages of achieving a settlement.
Equally important to the mediator are the clues given by the participants as they discuss their case. It is sometimes the non-verbal cues, such as their facial expressions and body language or even the tone of their voice, that are most important to the mediator.
Just as online diminishing whist does not truly replicate the interpersonal skilled card game, so too online mediation is not the perfect substitute for a mediation around a table, but while the restrictions remain in place it is a way for litigants to resolve their cases.
We have to accept online mediation has its deficiencies but as well as enabling a mediation to take place with the current Government Regulations it also has some advantages. For example:
- It avoids the time and cost of travel.
- It eases the strain on people’s diaries and enables them to participate.
- It provides greater flexibility in how the mediation is structured.
- It does not leave people stuck in their break-out rooms for hours of the day
- People do not have to devote the whole of their day to the mediation as they can be working out of their own office when not participating.
- The parties still have the opportunity to discuss matters amongst themselves while the mediator is online with the other side
- The opportunity still exists for reality testing or for you to pose questions to the other side through the mediator, which you hope will make them reflect on the merits of their case.
- It still allows for the personal touch and mediators can see some of the body language on screen
The online tools such as Zoom do make this a very credible alternative and I invite you to try it. I am sure you will have much more success than I did at cards!!