Participating in a condo mediation can often mean taking time off work or giving up an evening. And truly, the most challenging aspect of mediation is often finding a date and time that works for everyone to come together.
This is especially a challenge when it comes to condominium disputes. Typically, there are more than just two people involved in the conflict who need to participate in a mediation (e.g., property management, legal counsel, board members, etc.), and more people involved means greater scheduling challenges. This can introduce delays in the process and give rise to growing resentment because the mediation is ultimately scheduled at a less-than-ideal time. Moreover, when you consider that those involved in a condominium conflict tend to remain in close proximity to one another throughout and beyond their dispute, these frustrations can erode trust and fuel tensions.
More and more mediation stakeholders are using technology to overcome some of these challenges. Video conferencing, for example, can allow participants to avoid travel time or asynchronous processes that do not require everyone to participate at the same moment. It’s technologies like these that can bring flexibility to the mediation process and accommodate each participant’s individual circumstances.
Not everyone is ready to bring technology into the process. Perhaps the loudest critics are those who hold tight to traditional views of mediation. For instance, some believe in the value of locking quarreling parties in a room together until they sort out their differences where, in fact, separating feuding parties during mediation is often a better way to find a resolution.
There is also the perception that adding technology loses the value of face-to-face, in person mediation. Many believe that people are more likely to express compassion and empathy to one another if they see firsthand how another person is affected by their statements and actions. Indeed, several studies indicate that a vast amount of communication is made non-verbally and that certain technologies risk removing the opportunity to take in tone, body language, and other cues that are offered beyond words during in-person exchanges.
Against this, we must consider how society has evolved in the face of technology. Today, so much information is available to us at our fingertips. It only makes natural sense for dispute resolution to be added to the long list of things that we accomplish with technology. And despite how we make jokes about teenagers and how they communicate, when we accept that emojis and texting acronyms have replaced tone and body language as contextual cues, we can begin recognizing that we are not losing these hints altogether; they are just being presented differently.
Upgrading the process
Instead of looking at what may be lost in a mediation that does not take place with everyone in the same room at the same time, we can consider what can be gained. Often, people who are involved in a dispute would prefer not to spend time in the presence of one another and are more comfortable not having to be in the same room together as they work through their issues. This is so much so that there has been an acknowledged trend in the alternative dispute resolution community of some mediations doing away with traditional “joint session” and starting with the parties separated. This begs the question as to the value and purpose of everyone coming together to be apart.
As much as traditional mediation can allow for momentum to be built toward resolution, emotional outbursts in the course of real-time exchanges can hinder the process. A mediation structured to offer time, reflection, and advanced consideration of the words that are selected can support more thoughtful exchanges.
Ultimately, the most important aspect of structuring mediation for success is to ensure that participants are as comfortable as possible. Many of us in this day and age are more comfortable communicating through technology rather than in person. Why not leverage this to make the most out of the mediation opportunity?
Rather than try to force a square peg into a round hole, consider what aspects of addressing conflict are difficult for you and keep in mind that mediation can be flexible. It need not even come down to selecting one mediation platform over another, the beauty of the private mediation process is that it can be adjusted to best suit those making use of it.
Marc Bhalla is a mediator and arbitrator with a focus on condominium conflict management. This article originally appeared in the August 2019 edition of CondoBusiness.