Mediation Techniques for Conflict Resolution: Using Online Mediation

Technology makes professional dispute resolution more accessible

By on / Mediation

Suppose you want to hire a mediator to help you resolve a conflict that you’re having with an individual or a company, but for various reasons, meeting face-to-face would be difficult. That’s where online mediation comes in.

Perhaps you and the other party are located in different geographic areas. Maybe your dispute originated in an online transaction, and you’ve never even met. Or perhaps one of you feels threatened or intimidated by the other and is reluctant to meet in person. In the late 1990s, various start-ups began offering e-mediation services to organizations and the general public.

Download this FREE special report, Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations: Top Techniques from Mediation Training Experts, to discover mediation techniques for selecting the right mediator, understand the mediation process and learn how to engage the mediator to ensure a good outcome from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

The companies developed a roster of trained mediators who they would assign to facilitate online dispute resolution, primarily through e-mail. This service is now offered across the globe, both by service providers and increasingly by individual professional mediators, writes Noam Ebner in a chapter in Online Dispute Resolution: Theory and Practice (Eleven International Publishing, 2012).

(See also: Mediation – Choosing the Right Mediator)

Though companies often use e-mediation to resolve high-volume, long-distance conflicts (such as disputes between eBay customers), the range of disputes being mediated online has expanded to include workplace and family conflicts involving people who live in the same area.

The “platform” that mediators and service providers use varies, but the process is generally conducted via e-mail and telephone, while videoconferencing and real-time chats are less commonly used. Parties exchange documents via e-mail, and the mediator guides the process.

In one study, mediators reported using a more directive, problem-solving approach in e-mediations than in face-to-face talks as a result of their attempts to maintain the momentum of long-distance talks.

Early studies of e-mediation have found it to be an effective means of resolving disputes, Ebner writes. It offers convenience, allowing parties to participate when they have the time. The slower pace of e-mail talks (relative to real-time conversations) allows mediators to carefully craft their responses and strategy rather than needing to react in the moment to disputants’ statements. In addition, e-mail talks can level the playing field between disputants who tend to naturally dominate discussions and those who are more reserved.

Disputants who engage in talks primarily via e-mail will miss out on the cues they would receive from body language, facial expressions, and other in-person signals. Long-distance talks are prone to misunderstandings and also lack the rapport and warmth of face-to-face talks.

Parties may be tempted to “flame” each other (sending hostile or insulting messages) on e-mail or abandon the process entirely when frustrated. Finally, given that disputants often choose local mediators via word of mouth, they may be less trusting of mediators whom they choose somewhat arbitrarily online.

Download this FREE special report, Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations: Top Techniques from Mediation Training Experts, to discover mediation techniques for selecting the right mediator, understand the mediation process and learn how to engage the mediator to ensure a good outcome from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Related Mediation Article(s):

How Your Organization Can Benefit from Mediation Techniques

Article: Negotiation and Nonviolent Action: Interacting in the World of Conflict

Dealing with an Angry Public The Mutual Gains Approach to Resolving Public Disputes

Negotiating the Complex: Policy Making Across Sectors

Mediation: Choosing the Right Mediator

Adapted from “Using E-Mediation to Resolve Disputes,” first published in the March 2013 issue of the Negotiation Briefings newsletter.

Originally published in 2015.

6 Responses to “Mediation Techniques for Conflict Resolution: Using Online Mediation”

  1. Loic /

    I work for an ODR company, and the traction that we are seeing for our mediation products (consumer, commercial, and divorce) would suggest that individuals are, in fact, very happy to use online mediation products in lieu or traditional mediation. The last paragraphs in this post mentions studies that would suggest otherwise: would it be possible for you to share links / references to said studies? Thank you very much. Reply

  2. Lochlann Scott /

    I would further my fellow commentors questions and critque. I run a ODR service based out of Ireland (we also work internationally)and we see fantastic results through the use of ODR, however in the main we would use secure online video conferencing not email systems. I would also request that these articles mentioned that throw a possibly negative light on this innovative area be refenced please. Reply

  3. Pila /

    I'm a volunteer mediator and I'm interested in learning more about online mediation. Can anyone suggest some resources to get started? Reply

    • Aled Davies /

      Hi Pila - There are a number of great resources to learn about ODR and online mediation. A good starting point is to watch this interview with the founder of online mediation Professor Ethan Katsh. Ethan ran the first pilot online mediation programme for EBay. IN the first 2 weeks they handled something like 150 online mediations. Today EBAy resolve 60million dispute every year using their online dispute resolution system. (only a small number of those require the intervention of a mediator, nevertheless it gives you a whole new perspective. You can watch the interview on The Evolution of Online Mediation If you have time it's also worth watching the interview with Colin Rule. Colin designed and implemented the system that conducted these mediations for EBAY and now runs a silicon valley start up called Modria. He's effectively building the operating system for online dispute resolution, he's a great guy and passionate about online mediation. His interview is here: The Operating System for Online Mediation There are about half a dozen other interviews with leading lights and innovators in the field of ODR and justice from around the world on Mediator Academy Another useful resource is which contains posts and academic papers on the subject of ODR. This was setup by Professor Katsh. Good luck. Reply

  4. Aled Davies /

    ODR is certainly flavour of the month in the UK. About 18 months ago the Judiciary set up a think tank to look at the feasibility of introducing online courts for claims within a certain threshold (approx £25K). The findings of the report were published about a month ago and it seems to be full steam ahead. The author, Professor Richard Susskind looked at other systems around the world, most notably in British Columbia where they are piloting the concept of online courts for condominium disputes. I'm sure the author is familiar with the research carried out by Professor Ethan Katsh at MIT and the earlier studies done with Ebay. Bay are now resolving something in the region of 60million disputes every year using an online platform. There are a series of interviews with Professor Katsh, Susskind and also Colin Rule founder of Modria (a silicon valley start up who are building ODR platforms for the future). They're incredibly informative and worth watching if only just to understand the evolution of ODR and the future trends. Here's a link to the interview with Professor Susskind where he talks about the need for innovating our justice system and why Online Courts and Online Dispute Resolution are on the horizon in the UK The chair of the British Columbia civil resolution tribunal is also interviewed and that's an eye opener. Thanks Reply

  5. Noam Ebner /

    Hi folks- just saw the good comments here - and the good questions! The research I cited certainly did not come out and say that ODR does not or should not work - all of us who have managed such processes know its power and capacity. However, there is a great deal of research suggesting that any communication process taking place at a distance through online communication technology faces challenges inherent to the particular medium being used. For an initial bibliography on this, which a couple of you requested, check out the original article that this piece discussed (thank you, Keith!) which you can read at - the references there will easil get you started. For more on this topic - such as particular challenges that challenge parties to negotiation or mediation conducted through asynchronous text, or mediators working through videoconferencing - check out the articles I've put up at . Enjoy, I hope these help - and of course I'd love to hear any thoughts people have. Best - Noam Reply

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