Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Working through Conflict in the Zoom Room -- A New Era for Mediations


(Working Through Thick Paint)

“Zoom” – which before the last year mostly meant to “move fast” – has taken on a whole new meaning. Prior to the Pandemic, thirty to forty percent of my work with clients was via Zoom. When the Quarantine hit in full force, naturally, 100% of my work pivoted to Zoom. Video conferencing became one of the most talked about topics among colleagues. I attended several (Zoom) meetings about whether we “could” and “how to” hold Zoom mediations. I felt lucky – it was already a platform that I’d been using and I felt pretty comfortable at it.

               A year later, as we contemplate some sort of return to in-person work, I have been thinking about the look of my “new office” – virtual, in-person, a hybrid? Part of my cogitating has been about what face-to-face mediations looked like before the Quarantine, and also about how Zoom mediations have offered different, useful, perspectives.  I haven’t done an empirical study (after all, I’m a mediator, not a scientific researcher) but based on anecdotal observations, what I have noticed is that when I’m helping people work through some difficult conflicts, when emotions are very high, working in the Zoom Room actually seems to be more effective than working face-to-face in my (lovely) office setting. When Zooming from different rooms – brought magically together through the video conferencing platform – in the safety and comfort of their own spaces, people seem to be able to access their emotions much easier than if the “source of the conflict” is sitting three feet away from them, breathing the same air, taking up the same space. The distance afforded by the Zoom Room seems to give people greater tolerance for the emotional spikes that are inevitable – both for the other person and in themselves. I have noticed that as difficult emotional conversations are unfolding, people in the Zoom Room seem to be able to breathe and hear the words which the other person is speaking, instead of simply reacting to the words (which is of course a very common human behavior). Perhaps that nanosecond delay in the video conferencing software provides some literal breathing room, which helps defuse emotional tensions….

               I’m still evaluating what the “post-Pandemic” reality of my mediation practice will look like. Of course, I will be taking into account the prevailing public health recommendations (which at this point are not wholly embracing fully unrestricted in-person meetings).  I am going to also be very mindful of how video conferencing might actually offer something better than in-person, old style, mediations. At the very least, I think that video mediations have provided an effective – unexpected – benefit that can be very helpful to clients. And, as this last year living through the Pandemic has taught us in no uncertain terms…the future is hard to predict and is wide open with possibilities….

If you have any questions about how mediation might work in your situation, please reach out to me: karen@karenjusterhecht.net or 510.210.3796…and in the meantime, I hope that you are staying well and feeling hopeful about your future!


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