Preparation and planning are essential for success with anything that we do in life. You have prepared yourself for the mediation (if you haven’t you can review these steps here: Preparing for Mediation), but have you prepared yourself for being online?
Before the pandemic in 2020, in-person meetings and events were considered the only method to manage work processes productively and effectively. In the aftermath of the global shutdown, online platforms and virtual events have become the primary, and in some cases the preferred, method for conducting business. Though many of us now feel we are experts when it comes to Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, etc., it is never a bad idea to review some basic tips and information when preparing for an upcoming mediation conducted online.
Before You Go Online
Know which platform you will be using
Though many platforms are similar in regard to what they offer, there are differences that can affect how you participate effectively in an online setting. The common platforms which I utilize for online mediations is Zoom and WebEx. If you are unfamiliar with either platform, be sure to take some time prior to the first mediation session to “play” with them.
For additional information about Zoom, click here.
For additional information about WebEx, click here.
Usually, for scheduled online mediation sessions, you will not be required to create a new account but many of these platforms allow you to sign up for free accounts if you are so inclined.
Determine the device you will be using
Most platforms allow the use of smartphones, tablets, and computers, but consider what you will be doing while in that online mediation. Will you just be discussing options, or will you be reviewing the Settlement Agreement? It is hard to read a document on a phone. Make sure whatever device you use will be appropriate for what you will be doing while in that session. If you are unsure, ask the mediator. Whatever device you choose, ensure that it has a functioning camera and microphone.
Choose your location
Where it can be understood that for most online meetings and events you need to be in a quiet location, for online mediation there are additional considerations when choosing an appropriate location for online mediation which includes:
The location needs to be quiet, private, functional, comfortable, and safe. Remember, mediation is a confidential process, so where you choose to attend the session is crucial to the success of the mediation process as well as complying with this fundamental principle. You should be alone in whatever location you choose. Attending the session while in a Starbucks, outside in a busy park, or in your car while driving are NOT the best choices. As well, in many mediation sessions the parties like to have their information, paperwork or ideas readily available, this requires being situated at a table or desk where you can write or take notes. Using headphones or earbuds can help as well, but remember active participation means you will be talking so the location you choose should allow you to speak without being heard.
The location needs to be separate from the other party. If you and the other party are still living together, determine how you will both be participating to ensure the most productive process.
The location should have limited distractions. Understandably, there might be instances where you may need to do this or that, but your commitment to the mediation process starts with being in the session and actively participating.
The location needs to keep children outside of the process. Some of the issues discussed in a mediation session are just not appropriate for children to hear. Unless the children will be participating in the process (this does not happen very often, and if so, would be more likely with older children), they should not be subjected to the contents of the mediation sessions. The divorce process can be difficult enough to understand, to then hear mom and dad discussing who gets to see them when can be very detrimental to young children. If possible, have a babysitter or someone else watch the children while you are in session or try to schedule sessions when they are not around.
The location should allow for an appropriate background. Sometimes limited space can mean a less than ideal background. Be aware of this when choosing a location or be prepared with a virtual background that is not too distracting.
During Online Sessions
Many of the below are common sense etiquette, but they shouldn’t be overlooked:
- Make yourself look the way you want to feel. If you want feel good, make sure you look good. Be aware of the lighting, the background, your posture, the placement of the camera, etc. Check yourself out in the camera before joining the meeting and adjust where needed. It is not a beauty contest, but how you present yourself can make a difference in how you interact during the session. Also, make sure to go to the bathroom, eat a snack, etc. before the mediation begins. Most online sessions are not that long so it is best to use the time as efficiently as possible.
- Speak clearly and slowly. It can sometimes be difficult to hear other people when you are in the same room, add internet connectivity and background noise and it can make it almost impossible.
- Gesture naturally and productively. Given that you and the other party are in mediation it can generally be assumed that there are issues where you do not agree with each other. Eye rolls, heavy sighs, and other expressive body language to communicate how you feel about something being said is unnecessary and could be counterproductive. Be aware of these reactions and how they can be perceived.
- Keep your camera and microphone on. Even if you are not speaking or directly interacting at the time, keeping the camera and microphone on will help with the flow of ideas and communication throughout the session as well as ensure your participation and understanding of what is going on.
- If you need a moment, let the mediator know. Sometimes taking a moment in an online breakout room with the mediator will help to refocus the discussion and better manage the emotions which could otherwise stifle productive dialogue.
- Pay attention. Turn off or silence your phone and other devices. Do not start answering emails, shopping online, or watching television. Active participation is needed and that means your full attention.
- Let the other party speak and try not to interrupt. This can be the most difficult thing to do during an in-person mediation session, let alone in an online session. But as we know, the best way to be heard is to show our willingness to hear others. Show respect and courtesy while the other party is talking so that you can receive this back when you are talking.
- Do not eat during the session, though having a beverage (non-alcoholic) is completely acceptable.
- Come to the session appropriately dressed. We have all heard the videoconferencing disasters where someone wasn’t wearing pants and the camera caught it. Yes, you can only see so much of a person on camera, but to ensure the proper attitude and mood for the session, being appropriately dressed helps to focus you on the task at hand.
- Be yourself. Mediation is not the time to try to act like something you are not. You will neither impress anyone nor influence the process by being anything other than yourself. The best method for a successful mediation is coming into it without any hidden agendas.
To download or print the above information, click here.
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