Learn from Harvard, Facebook and the Virtual Mediation Lab

Learn from Harvard, Facebook and the Virtual Mediation Lab

In this post from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation Katie Shonk shares how Facebook is trying to resolve issues with on line with mediation.   In mediation the parties work with a neutral third party to try and resolve issues based on the interests of each party.  The article points out that the parties using Facebook’s approach miss out on body language.   Trying to mediate with a chat is like having an argument with a text message. What is missing?  Tone, facial expressions, body language, sharing documents, being able to see photos, diagrams and charts just to mention a few items.  This can lead to miscommunication, misunderstandings and frustration.

I am no expert on what Facebook is trying to do, but I could not agree more that if the mediation is being conducted by a chat or on line without being able to see the other party, it has too many shortcomings.  Only 7% of our communication is via the actual words.  There are those that take exception to this statement, but clearly the tone of the words, our facial expressions, our body language, and other visual elements contribute greatly to the conversation.  

That having been said this a great time to plug the Virtual Mediation Lab run by Giuseppe Leone in Hawaii.   They have over 500 mediators in over 50 countries that mediate disputes using Zoom technology.  You can sign up for Zoom for free.  Zoom is used by the Virtual Mediation Lab because it has several advantages.  From my new book Peaceful Resolutions and from my video of key concepts from the book I offer information related to Zoom.  Here is a quote from my book on Zoom and the Virtual Mediation Lab.

“Leone has adopted Zoom software for virtual mediations because

Zoom software offers:

1. Better Video and Audio Quality

2. Better Protection of the Parties’ Privacy

3. Better Support of Mobile Devices – IPad, IPhone, Android


4. Annotation Capabilities

As indicated above, parties involved in an online mediation

may want to share pictures, documents (contract or proposal,

payment receipt) or videos to clarify and support their position.

With Zoom software they can draw the mediator’s and the

other party’s attention to something specific using simple and

intuitive tools like spotlight, highlighter, or pen.20

Zoom software does not require participants to sign in and

become members. This feature allows users to maintain their

anonymity and hence privacy. Zoom software has greater

technical capability with a clearer picture than other software

and has less break-up during presentations which allows for a

clearer continuous picture.


The technology underlying virtual mediations will continue to

evolve. Although the technology is important the skill of the mediator

is even more important. Ultimately the skill of the mediator

is what makes technology worth considering.”

So even though Facebook’s approach is a good first step, not everything can be done without interpersonal interaction.  If you need help with conflict resolution and the parties are geographically separated, seriously consider obtaining help though virtual mediation.

I am a mediator and negotiator. Only once in my career did I try mediating between two parties via a telephone connection.  I polled everyone on each side of the issue. All agreed to the resolution.  “It was a successful mediation”.  However, two weeks later one of the six members of one side to the issue indicated he did not agree.  He told me if I had been in the room with them and I had seen his facial expression and body language it would have been very clear to me that he did not agree although he said yes.  I could not tell that over the phone by his tone.  I also offered if anyone had any concerns they needed to bring them up at that time.  He did not. If I have been there in person, I would have likely seen his body language and expression and that would have prompted me to push harder regarding any reservations on his part.    Since then, I have not conducted another telephone mediation.  Learn from my experience and have a face to face negotiation or mediation as a first alternative.  If that is not possible, consider a virtual mediation using Zoom technology.

The article from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation, shared the concern.  I am taking this to the next step and offering a constructive alternative.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]