It is difficult to reflect just how much has changed in the unprecedented circumstances surrounding Covid-19, in both the way we conduct our personal and professional lives.
If I had been told four months ago I would be conducting mediation sessions remotely from the comfort of home, I would have no doubt been equally apprehensive and skeptical. How could this be? Mediation is based on the benefits of face to face communication, body language and a very personal experience. How could this possibly be replicated on a screen? I would no doubt of asked the question, what is Zoom?
In a situation where it became clear the prospect of face to face meeting were likely to be several months away, and with people facing a whole host of issues arising as the impact of lockdown continued to take its toll, the concept of remote mediation became the “next best thing”. Rather than wait for weeks or months, it gave appropriate cases a safe forum to support clients moving forward with decisions to be taken in respect of their futures.
As time has passed by and we’ve all got used to the different emojis and backgrounds, it has struck me for some, it’s not the ‘next best thing’; where it is suitable it can actually be better! Clients have commented how they feel more relaxed, not as daunted by the prospect of travelling to an unfamiliar office.
Coupled with the extent of the delays the court system is facing with cases facing months before hearing dates can be found, remote mediation is becoming a favoured option in resolving all issues arising from relationship breakdown.
Writing about a recent mediation undertaken during lockdown, a client gave invaluable insight as to his experience of the mediation having been undertaken remotely:
“All of our mediation meetings were conducted over zoom. From a personal point of view, we found the “digital buffer“ presented by zoom allowed the parties to more freely express their feelings and concerns and avoided what might otherwise have been a very hostile physical interaction/environment (by comparison to conventional “in person” meetings).
In addition, the way in which zoom software works means that only one person can speak at any one time and it is technically quite difficult to interrupt someone once they “have the microphone“. Whilst this can have the disadvantage that one party can ‘hog the microphone’, it does allow parties to express their views without interruption and accordingly improves listening.
Finally, the fact that parties can participate from home is likely, in my view, to mean they are slightly more relaxed and therefore more able to engage constructively. For anyone, a divorce mediation in a strange office must be an intimidating experience.”
People will often ask me, what is the difference between having a lawyer and going to mediation? How will mediation feel? Whilst I endeavour to provide them with an explanation of the key differences between the roles, I feel the best insight comes from those who have experienced the process first hand as highlighted below:
“My thanks and appreciation for your help and support in mediating the financial settlement. I think that you played an important role in supporting us to reach a settlement. I thought your personal style and approach quickly built trust and confidence and you handled matters sensitively and thoughtfully. Given how difficult divorce is and how sensitised the participants are – this is a skill that is especially important.
I thought the way in which you established the context for the mediation in the first main mediation meeting was important and built my confidence in the process. More specifically, you explained that the advice given to clients by divorce lawyers can often focus on the best possible outcome for those clients, rather than a compromise position – inevitably clients entering mediation might benchmark their positions by reference to the advice they have received – but you were clear that the purpose of mediation is to seek to reach an agreement between the parties which was palatable to them, rather than representing their best possible outcome.
In terms of the mediation meetings themselves, I thought your style and way of interacting with us gave us both trust and confidence and allowed both parties to explore the issues openly.”
So, whatever the new “normal” is in the weeks and months ahead, one thing is for sure Zoom mediation will be a significant part of it, as a meaningful option for suitable cases for people starting their mediation journey.
If you think mediation can assist you, or anyone known to you, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karen Beevers is an Accredited Mediator and Professional Practice Consultant able to undertake Child Inclusive Mediation.
Karen is also a Partner at Evans Derry and practising Collaborative Family Law Solicitor.