Regardless of what restrictions may be applicable, more parties are and will be attempting mediation by video conference. The same is true of court hearings and other former face-to-face gatherings in the new post-COVID-19 world of dispute resolution. While the technology has significantly improved, and will continue to, it isn’t the same as meeting in person. We can complain about it or be aware of the differences and adjust accordingly. Here are some things to consider:
Human communications involve more than the spoken word. Just as hearing verbalized words creates the opportunity for enhanced communications, being physically present provides even more information. Our body language says a lot about what we are saying, either as we say it or as we listen. The way someone sits or stands, holds their arms or hands, moves their body, and tilts their head all communicate something. These movements (or the lack of them) may reinforce what is being said or counter it. Likewise, they can signal whether someone finds what they are hearing to be credible and also give clues as to how they feel about what they are hearing. Facial expressions, whether intended or subconscious, are only part of how we communicate with our bodies.
Communicating via video conference means that the messages that we usually communicate via body language are significantly impaired if not gone. This is good to the extent that you want to prevent “saying” something with your body language but bad to the extent that your body language cannot help you communicate what you want the other party to see, hear or feel. If you aren’t aware of your body language, it may be good that the other side cannot read your thoughts and feelings as well by video conference. But, if you are keen to interpreting body language, you will be handicapped. The reality is that we all interpret body language communications even subconsciously from years of life experiences.
While video conferences diminish the viewing of a lot of body language, they enhance others such as facial expressions. With a participant’s view limited to others’ faces, every twitch, wince, and slight grimace takes on heightened scrutiny. In face-to-face interactions, you generally know when someone is looking at you, but on video conferences, you cannot always tell. So, maintaining a poker face when you want to prevent sharing additional information is even more important, but intentionally using facial expressions to enhance your communication can help make up for what you are not able to communicate with body language.
Communicating via video conference is here to stay. With practice, we can adapt.