By: Donald L Swanson
“All your assumptions on this are wrong.”
–A visionary, back in 1999, on why video communications will work.
It was nearly a decade ago, when I suggested participating in a mandated and far-away mediation by Skype. The Judge said, “No, because face-to-face communication is essential to mediation.”
It was nearly a year ago, when I first mediated a dispute where one party participated by telephone. I was afraid it wouldn’t work—but was wrong. It worked well.
It was only a few weeks ago that I informed attorneys for an upcoming mediation that it would be held by Zoom . . . for obvious reasons. They agreed. It happened. And it went well. In fact, it went so well that Zoom may now be my newly-preferred way of mediating . . . especially when distance is involved.
And my Zoom experience is common: mediating by Zoom has worked well for many. [Note: I’m using the word “Zoom” as shorthand for all similar apps.]
What follows is an attempt to describe how I muddle through a first-for-me Zoom mediation. The purpose is to provide encouragement to others who might want to step into the Zoom realm too.
As necessity is the mother of invention, so the pandemic has birthed Zoom mediations.
It’s not like anyone said, “Zoom would be a cool way to mediate.” No, it’s more like, “Waiting for a return to the in-person routine is not an option.”
My biggest Zoom mediation fear was whether I could use the technology. For example:
- How is a meeting scheduled?
- How does everyone get invited and placed into the meeting?
- Is it possible to accidentally put someone into the wrong meeting room?
- How does the host enter into and leave separate meeting rooms?
- Once everyone is in their separate meeting rooms, how does the host get them all back into joint session?
- Is it possible to accidentally let one meeting room hear what’s going on in the other meeting room?
During this distancing time, I’m working from my basement.
Generally speaking, I try to keep up with technological developments but am still an old dog in the new tricks adage.
So, the initial plan for this Zoom mediation is to go into the office for the mediation session and have assistance from one of our tech people. But that doesn’t seem right. So I try to figure Zoom out by getting tech assistance via email and telephone, participating in Zoom conferences as a guest, and setting up test-run Zoom meetings with my wife.
The new plan is to go it alone from my basement.
Fortunately, two of the attorneys in the upcoming mediation offer to do a practice run.
So, I schedule a Zoom meeting with them, and we all join at the scheduled time.
They help me figure out technical details, like:
- setting up separate meeting rooms,
- putting the right people in each,
- moving back and forth between the groups as host,
- bringing everyone back into joint session,
- returning them back to their separate rooms,
- using the chat feature,
So, the mediation time arrives. Scheduling is accomplished, guests are invited, and everyone shows up on time.
From there, it works just like we’d practiced:
- everyone starts in joint session,
- everyone moves to their separate rooms,
- I bounce back and forth between rooms as host,
- everyone comes back together for joint sessions,
- everyone goes back to their separate rooms,
- etc., etc.
I manage to muddle through the technology, without major glitches—but also receive significant grace and understanding from all participants.
More important, the communications in this mediation work well. There is no drop-off in quality and depth of communications between this Zoom experience and prior face-to-face mediations. In fact, the Zoom distance, during joint session, may even be better than in-person.
The entire process works well. I like it a lot!
Which shows that, with a little practice, anyone can do it.
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