Online Family Mediation: How to Put Your Best Foot Forward: Part 2, Eight Tips
Showing Yourself in the Best Light During Online Mediation
Family mediation is an opportunity to come up with a plan so that you can move on to a new version of your family life. You may have very little to do with your current spouse once a divorce decree is granted; or, if you share young children and financial responsibilities, you may have a great deal of interaction with your current spouse for many years to come. Regardless of whether you are trying to cultivate a healthy long-term relationship in your new family roles or plan to cut ties, how you conduct yourself during online family mediation matters.
Creating an impression that you are reasonable, sincere, and a good communicator can have a big impact on how a judge might rule your case. The parties to mediation will be impacted by your ability to create a good impression during online family mediation as well. In the last article: Online Family Mediation: How to Put Your Best Foot Forward, Part 1-Focus on the Alternative (redwoodmediation.com), we discussed why it is important to make a good impression during family mediation. You may be thinking, "that is easier said than done!" and we agree. Participation in family mediation can be stressful and unfamiliar, and even the most rational and composed parties to mediation are bound to make some missteps along the way. In this installment, we’ll give some concrete advice for how to come to online family mediation prepared to put your best foot forward, and aware of pitfalls to avoid.
Consider the following tips for putting your best foot forward during online family mediation:
#1 Keep your eyes and attention in the meeting. Clues that you are distracted may undermine your position, so you’ll want to signal that you are focused, engaged, and serious about the process. Fiddling with a phone or other device, expressing boredom or indicating that your attention is elsewhere may give the impression that you are not serious. If you have a question or need clarification, ask the mediator to meet separately (or “caucus”) rather than texting, or muting to conduct a separate conversation. Even if you spend a good portion of the session with the mediator alone, your focus and sincerity (or lack thereof) will be apparent to all who participate.
Additionally, be aware that your camera and your screen are not in the same spot and give appropriate eye contact. Give the other parties an opportunity to focus on your words. If, for example, you are one to hold your phone under your chin, be aware that you may be giving the other parties, attorneys or mediator a distracting view of the underside of your chin or nose.
#2 Avoid driving during your online family mediation session. The mere fact that you are taking the time to read this article indicates that you care about having a good online family mediation session and that you care about its outcome. Driving during a session will relay the opposite impression. For your sake, and for the sake of any children and other family who might need you in their lives, please block time so that you can give your full focus to the mediation session, and drive safely beforehand or afterward.
#3 Remain patient and calm. Maintain a mature and professional tone in both your spoken and written words. If you have access to a chat feature during your online family mediation session, we recommend that you direct your comments and questions to the mediator only, and avoid sending messages to the chat box to “everyone” or to the other party. Waiting to caucus with the mediator is the best option.
#4 Respect the Rules – Silence on Social Media. Even if you are not expressly cautioned against posting on social media during mediation, don’t. In the moment, posting may seem justified or necessary, but using social media to vent about or even just to update others what happens in online family mediation will not serve you well. A great deal can hinge on your ability to show discretion during this time of family transition. Not only is posting in poor form, it is easy to discover, and will reflect just as poorly (or worse!) on the one who posts as is does about the person described by the post. If you have concerns or believe that your circumstances are being portrayed unfairly or inaccurately, reach out to the mediator to relay those concerns and the facts as you understand them.
#5 Participants should be seen and heard. When appropriate you or the mediator may mute your microphone or set the screen so that the parties cannot see each other during an online family mediation session. At Redwood Mediation, we have observed that some parties have an easier time expressing thoughts to the mediator with their cameras turned off. That is a perfectly acceptable option in many circumstances, and you should not hesitate to request this accommodation if you believe it will help you to relate your needs and position more effectively during online family mediation. This is not to say, however, that you should sit in the dark during then entire session. While your camera is on, make sure that you are well lit and that you can be heard and understood.
Backlit participants are difficult to see.
When it comes to lighting, the most common mistake made during online mediation has to do with backlighting. Make sure that the light source emanates from in front of you rather than behind you. If you are near a window or bright light, please make sure that the camera is between you and the window so that the light will shine on your face.
Good sound is also very important. Your skills as a communicator will be less of an advantage to you if the sound quality is poor or background noise is distracting. Set yourself up in a quiet space and consider testing your sound before your online family mediation session. For more about choosing a good space, see our previous article: Online Family Mediation: Preparation and Good Spaces for Successful Mediation Sessions. BLOG | redwoodmediation
#6 Speak up for yourself --- and focus on what is most important to you. You should come to online family mediation with a vision for your future and a list of what you’ll need to realize that vision. Of course, mediation involves compromise, and parties who arrive at online mediation with a cooperative attitude are much more likely to leave with an agreement. To ensure that you have the best possible outcome, spend some time prioritizing your wish list and thinking carefully about which items could be omitted.
In an online mediation setting, when parties are meeting from the comfort of their own homes and offices, they may be tempted to dig their heels in on items of lesser importance to them. While it may seem as though waiting out the other party is a viable strategy, it seldom pays. At Redwood Mediation, we see time and time again that parties who are candid with their mediator about which items are an absolute must for an agreement and which might be conceded, have a better chance of leaving online family mediation with a satisfactory solution.
Plain backgrounds work best.
#7 Filter the filters and fancy backgrounds. While the opportunity to meet online using a laptop or phone affords us many useful options such as volume control and subtitles for those who need those accommodations, it also provides a myriad of distracting temptations. The most notable of these are filter apps and background features. Consider forgoing these options in favor a streamlined presence and plain background. This will help others to focus on what you have to say, and will help to convey that you are focused on and sincere about coming to an agreement.
#8 If possible, use a device with a larger screen. If all you have available to you is a phone for your mediation sessions, don’t let that preclude you from choosing online family mediation. However, if you have the option, we recommend that you consider attending your family mediation session on a device with a larger screen. This will be especially helpful if you are asked to look at and review documents. Sitting in a well-chosen spot with a larger device will afford you a steady and less distracting presence too.
As we wrap up this four-part Online Family Mediation Series, we would like to thank you for spending time with Redwood Mediation & Law. At Redwood Mediation, we believe that Online Family Mediation affords many advantages. For those of you who are at the beginning of your mediation journey and are uncertain about the process, we invite you to revisit our other blog posts in this Online Family Mediation Series. Whether you decide to engage a mediator for online or in-person mediation, we hope you’ll consider choosing Redwood Mediation & Law for your Family Mediation needs.