Maximizing Technology to Establish Trust in an Online, Nonvisual Mediation Setting

Maximizing Technology to Establish Trust in an Online, Nonvisual Mediation Setting

As mediators increasingly rely on technology for all or part of their mediations, they must be cognizant of the best ways to effectively communicate especially when attempting to engender and maintain trust among all participants. The majority of our communication relies on contextual cues such as eye contact, proximity, personal space, and demeanor. Yet these same cues are lacking in a nonvisual, nonverbal environment such as email, chat rooms, and instant messaging. The written word, therefore, becomes the focal point of online communication.

We all know that an important part of a mediator’s job is to engender trust in both herself and in the process so that participants will feel at ease and share open, candid dialogue during a mediation. Trust is a multidimensional concept and definitions vary depending on different social sciences such as sociology, psychology, political science, history, economics, anthropology, and sociobiology. Although few agree on what the various dimensions of trust are and how the dimensions interrelate, let me simplify a definition for our discussion purposes. Trust is a subjective concept because it is based on perceptions. The trustor must infer feelings of trust. In doing so, the trustor must take a risk to rely on personal expectations that someone else will fulfill a promise or duty, exposing him to vulnerability and some reliance on faith. The trustor, therefore, lacks control over another’s actions.

Relying on background research regarding trust taken from fields other than mediation, I have developed Six Building Blocks of Trust to help a virtual mediator establish professionalism, credibility, reputation, integrity, competence, and other positive characteristics inherent in trustworthiness. As I developed these building blocks for the virtual mediator, I realized that most of them apply to mediators in a F2F setting as well. So here is a summary of my Building Blocks. What do you think? Let’s start a dialogue this week.

1.    Establish Online Reputation and Credibility

Building Block 1 provides helpful information for mediator marketing purposes in terms of website design and capitalization of online referrals designed to help a mediator be resourceful with a community.

2.    Create Social Presence

Building Block 2 is helpful for mediators to recognize the necessity of connecting psychologically to mediation participants and recommends creating a social presence in website design as well as applying social presence norms to online communication.

3.    Establish Credibility Through Skillful Written Interaction

The purpose of Building Block 3 is to demonstrate how a virtual mediator can gain and maintain credibility, and therefore trust, by using skillful text and skillfully managing the text of mediation participants.

4.    Create Positive Experience and Perceptions

Building Block 4 is a corollary to Building Block 3 because it suggests methods that a virtual mediator can use to send and manage written messages, but adds a level of optimism through the generation of positive messages and perceptions.

5.    Sustain Mediator Competence

The purpose of Building Block 5 is to highlight the fact that mediator competence in a face-to-face setting is not necessarily the same thing as an online experience. There are additional considerations that the virtual mediator must consider.

6.    Use Technology to Promote a Trustworthy Environment

Building Block 6 is necessary to demonstrate the critical role of technology to engender trust in the virtual mediator and in the online mediation process.

 

 

Moderated by:

Susan Nauss Exon is a Professor of Law at the University of La Verne College of Law in Ontario, CA, U.S.A. She is co-chair of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Ethics Committee and a member of the Section's Ethical Guidance Committee. She has been mediating civil disputes since 1998.

 

 

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Noam, you did not mix up the Building Blocks. They all interrelate to some degree. While Building Block #6 relates specifically to technology, Building Block #5 relates to mediator competence and it is in a subpart of Building Block #5 that I discuss how the mediator must be technologically savvy both in her own right and in her ability to teach participants how to use a platform.

You are correct that I am writing up a law review article. It is in the final stages and I will be presenting it at the AALS Dispute Resolution Section Works in Progress Conference to be held at Creighton in two weeks. Hope to see you there, Noam, and finally meet you in person. Susan


Noam Ebner said:

Thanks Susan, and sorry for mixing my Blocks up. What a helpful model! I'm looking forward to hearing / reading more about it. Am I correct that you are in-process of writing this up?

Susan Nauss Exon said:

Noam,

The idea of educating the parties about the platform is essential and I built that factor into Building Block #5: Sustain Mediator Competence. In that Building Block I discuss the need for the mediator's technological skill because the mediator must feel at ease with the platform being used and also should educate the participants how to use it as well.

Also, thanks for all of your helpful cites to other papers.


Noam Ebner said:

Nick, Susan -

One related point, which ties into Block #6, is that if using any platform less familiar than email, the mediator would do well to introduce participants to the platform, give them a tour, demonstrate a bit of their own competency with the platform along the way and offer to answer any questions they have. This will not only provide for better party participation throughout the process, it also goes long way towards building trust in the mediator. Anne Marie Hartwig was the first to tap this relationship between demonstrated competency and trust in this paper:

A. M. G. Hammond, How do you write “yes”? A study on the effectiveness of online dispute resolution, Conflict Resolution Quarterly 20, 3, 2003
---------------
Nick Buda said:

Professor Exon,

 

Thank you. I overlooked the importance of the platform itself; it definitely has to be easy to use and reliable in order for the parties to maximize their potential in the mediation. 

Seem like these building blocks are quite useful for focusing discussion on this important topic. Another researcher who has been working on addressing trust is Jelle Van Veenen from Tilburg University. His work I think fits mainly under Block #6 because he is focused on ways to design the ODR system in ways that build trust due to the way the system structures the communication and focuses the users attention. He supports text-based environments (as compared to video or virtual spaces) because of the likely longevity text approaches even as technology advances, so his approaches focus on text-based interaction. His examples draw on three systems he was involved with that were rolled out in the Netherlands for different audiences: Signposts to Justice (Legal Aid), Personal Injury Claims Express (insurance) and Divorce Plan (separating couples). A particularly relevant paper regarding trust is this one - Dealing with Miscommunication, Distrust, and Emotions in Online Dis....

Here's a quote from near the end of the paper:

One of the main advantages of ODR seems to be the ability to frame the dispute resolution process. The design of an ODR application has an effect on the questions that users ask themselves, on the questions that parties ask each other, and on the way in which parties ask each other questions. In several cases (e.g., deterrence-based trust, using questions) we also have seen that ODR can help users by providing them with tailor-made information.

Good stuff I think...

 

Professor Exon,

I agree with your six building blocks of trust.  They are all interrelated and vital to successfully facilitating an online mediation.  While I believe some emotions will be lost online (eye contact, gestures, demeanor, etc.), you can still send a clear message indicating how you feel through your choice of words.  This is important for clients to feel like they have been heard and their point has been conveyed accurately.  I think your six building blocks can create this environment where the client trusts the mediation process to accurately depict their views.  All six of these points are excellent in creating an open environment for discussion.  I especially think your point about creating social presence is important.  If the parties feel like you are accessible, they will use the mediation to the fullest.  Great points.

Meghan Chaffee

Student, University of Nebraska College of Law

Thanks to you, Meghan, and everyone for your words of encouragement. I am wondering if I have missed anything? Are there other principles that I should be covering in the building blocks? I realize this is a loaded question because you have not seen all of the sub-principles that I discuss within each building block. I welcome feedback. Susan

Meghan Chaffee said:

Professor Exon,

I agree with your six building blocks of trust.  They are all interrelated and vital to successfully facilitating an online mediation.  While I believe some emotions will be lost online (eye contact, gestures, demeanor, etc.), you can still send a clear message indicating how you feel through your choice of words.  This is important for clients to feel like they have been heard and their point has been conveyed accurately.  I think your six building blocks can create this environment where the client trusts the mediation process to accurately depict their views.  All six of these points are excellent in creating an open environment for discussion.  I especially think your point about creating social presence is important.  If the parties feel like you are accessible, they will use the mediation to the fullest.  Great points.

Meghan Chaffee

Student, University of Nebraska College of Law

Susan--

I really like your building blocks.  It's interesting in that I did a piece on ODR and Trust a few years ago for Arno Lodder, but I focused on a different aspect -- how the existence of ODR itself can build trust in the environment that hosts it (see the attachment).  Your blocks focus on how to build trust within an ODR process, my thoughts were more along the lines of how the existence of ODR communicates trust "without" --or, in the system that provides the ODR process to its users.  But the observations about the slippery nature of trust I made in the paper remain relevant in both contexts: it's in the eye of the beholder, and if it should exist based on the merits but is not perceived by participants, than it's the same as if it doesn't exist at all.  That makes creating, preserving, and measuring it quite complex.  I recall this quote from Ethan:

“Dispute resolution processes are generally perceived as having a single function, that of settling problems. What has come to be understood online, perhaps more than it is offline, is that dispute resolution processes have a dual role, that of settling disputes and also of building trust.”[1]



[1] Katsh, Ethan.  “Online Dispute Resolution: Some Implications for the Emergence of Law in Cyberspace.”  Lex Electronica, vol.10 n°3, Hiver/Winter 2006  http://www.lex-electronica.org/articles/v10-3/katsh.htm.  Last visited 1/30/06.

 

rah

Attachments:

Professor Exon - 

I really enjoyed reading your post on establishing trust in ODR and your 6 Building Blocks of Trust.  Until I came across this forum I did not even really think about trust as a huge issue, but after reading it and the comments I see how important it is to establish trust with the clients when using ODR.  What I particularly appreciated about your 6 Building Blocks is that you included the importance of the mediator's knowledge of technology.  While I have not participated in ODR, I am a student and have had several professors who prefer to use different types of technology to supplement lecture.  I think using current technology is an excellent thing for professors to do. However, it seems to me that professors who use the technology effectively gain a higher level of trust from their students, as opposed to professors who do not. The inability to effectively integrate modern technology in the classroom is not a very good indicator of general competence, but students might subconsciously perceive it as such. The same is true in ODR - an ability to use the technology effectively can help build trust.

Thanks for your forum on this issue! 

Alexis Luther

Law Student - UNL 

Thanks for your insight, Colin. You had given me a copy of your piece a year or so ago and I cited to it in my upcoming law review article within the context of Building Block #6.

Colin Rule said:

Susan--

I really like your building blocks.  It's interesting in that I did a piece on ODR and Trust a few years ago for Arno Lodder, but I focused on a different aspect -- how the existence of ODR itself can build trust in the environment that hosts it (see the attachment).  Your blocks focus on how to build trust within an ODR process, my thoughts were more along the lines of how the existence of ODR communicates trust "without" --or, in the system that provides the ODR process to its users.  But the observations about the slippery nature of trust I made in the paper remain relevant in both contexts: it's in the eye of the beholder, and if it should exist based on the merits but is not perceived by participants, than it's the same as if it doesn't exist at all.  That makes creating, preserving, and measuring it quite complex.  I recall this quote from Ethan:

“Dispute resolution processes are generally perceived as having a single function, that of settling problems. What has come to be understood online, perhaps more than it is offline, is that dispute resolution processes have a dual role, that of settling disputes and also of building trust.”[1]



[1] Katsh, Ethan.  “Online Dispute Resolution: Some Implications for the Emergence of Law in Cyberspace.”  Lex Electronica, vol.10 n°3, Hiver/Winter 2006  http://www.lex-electronica.org/articles/v10-3/katsh.htm.  Last visited 1/30/06.

 

rah

Susan - could I ask for you, and of course for others, to share some thoughts on building block #2 - creating social presence through website design and through intentional communication patters? This has always been of interest to me.

Noam, as I assembled information for Building Block #2, I found it to be the most fascinating part of my research. Social presence is a way to be psychologically present with others, depending on the medium in which communication occurs. So it seems that notions of social presence should be applied to both website design and the way we communicate online. This is part of the interlocking nature of my building blocks.

 

I have found that scholars focus on social presence norms in a variety of methods. Some concentrate on the ability of a medium to transmit non-verbal cues regarding appearance such as facial expressions, body language, dress, and proximity. Media involving visual, non-verbal cues does not apply to the online, nonvisual environment.

 

The second method deals with the interactivity of the media. Some of your work, Noam, was quite helpful to me in this regard. For instance, face-to-face communication is a rich medium because both visual and verbal cues are transmitted. Email, on the other hand, is considered a lean medium because it lacks both types of cues, thus reducing social awareness and hindering our ability to interact with others. In your work about email negotiating, Noam, you noted that people in lean media tend to be more self-involved, fail to ask questions to understand someone else's underlying interests and motivations, are more contentious than F2F negotiators, and may exhibit a competitive negotiation style. Email also has advantages. Due to the asynchronous nature, people have time to contemplate before responding and may feel more comfortable participating in an email exchange without having to interact physically with an opposing party.

 

A third method relates to the warmth inherent in social media. In other words, does a communication medium provide a sense of human warmth, sociability, and sensitivity. In a face-to-face setting, we can pique one’s senses with sight, sounds, and smell. This “warmth” is lost online and our online experiences become utilitarian and to some degree impersonal.

 

If the virtual mediator is aware of the effects of lean media, she can capitalize on this information to help design her website and help disputants improve their online communication. A mediator can convey personal presence and warmth by using informal language and pictures. By using key descriptive terms, she can establish credibility, which in turn helps promote trust. Basically, the mediator can seek to personalize herself on a website and in communication. By modeling good online communication, the mediator can help the participants improve their communication.

 

Now that this reply is getting long, I fear I am losing people’s interests, especially since I have not included pictures.

Ah . . .  :)



Noam Ebner said:
Susan - could I ask for you, and of course for others, to share some thoughts on building block #2 - creating social presence through website design and through intentional communication patters? This has always been of interest to me.

Thanks so much Susan.

[Maybe this couldhelp? http://www.howstuffworks.com/internet-odor1.htm]

As you noted, I've been looking at this quite a bit, in particular as I'm trying to develop a model of understanding e-negotiation dynamics in which social presence plays a stronger role than it is currently accorded in the literature - including in my own writing. I think it plays a covert role in many elements of the online negotiation process in addition to its 'classic' manifestations.

I fully agree with everything you wrote about the need to warm up the internet and the interactions it allows. Setting communication patterns and tools aside - could I ask you and others for your thoughts on website / platform design that you think might help contribute to this? Keeping in mind, of course, your original framing of the forum according to which we're talking about a non-visual or text setting. Thanks!

Hi Noam and Susan and others...

The idea of social presence for me seems to indicate a need for regular updates or changes to a platform's "dashboard" so that the user has a sense that activity is happening. Kind of like status updates in Facebook? With asynchronous tools (ie not chat), this may be more of a challenge and may require the mediator to provide the updates if the other party doesn't. I think another element is to somehow bring human emotions (hopefully positive as well as negative) into the space in a structured way (ie biased toward constructive expressions). Juripax's mediaticons seems like a useful example in this regard. I think Susan's point about warm colors and images also makes sense.   - My 2 cents.



Noam Ebner said:

Thanks so much Susan.

[Maybe this couldhelp? http://www.howstuffworks.com/internet-odor1.htm]

As you noted, I've been looking at this quite a bit, in particular as I'm trying to develop a model of understanding e-negotiation dynamics in which social presence plays a stronger role than it is currently accorded in the literature - including in my own writing. I think it plays a covert role in many elements of the online negotiation process in addition to its 'classic' manifestations.

I fully agree with everything you wrote about the need to warm up the internet and the interactions it allows. Setting communication patterns and tools aside - could I ask you and others for your thoughts on website / platform design that you think might help contribute to this? Keeping in mind, of course, your original framing of the forum according to which we're talking about a non-visual or text setting. Thanks!

Professor Exon,

I find your point about e-mail communication being at a different level than face to face communication extremely intriguing and a hurdle that ODR will have to overcome. In my opinion, building trust cannot be represented tangibly in certain respects, and some of those are the non-visuals (head nodding, eye contact) that you have been discussing. Do you think if e-mail conversations became more in-depth and asked more questions that they would be a more effective way to build rapport? If people asked more questions in an e-mail, would the e-mail still be perceived as terse and short?  Then they would certainly become longer as well (maybe there are disadvantages to that.)

 I guess in a larger sense, I'm wondering if this form of resolution would or could work in every situation? Or are there just some times where you're going to need that face to face interaction?

 

Thank you,

 

Kelli Langdon

University of Nebraska College of Law Student

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