In the Netherlands, several mediation service providers are using hybrid forms of Juripax-ODR technology in labor and employment disputes. In contrast to ODR processes which take place exclusively online, here ODR is used to support the traditional offline procedures. Specifically, the participants are asked to fill in an online intake before attending the face-to-face mediation. The answers are only sent to the mediator (asynchronous mediation). Actually one could describe this as some kind of pre-caucusing in order to prepare for the face-to-face mediation.


CASE STUDY

Mrs. Johansson (working in the internal sales department) and Mr. Eckstein (supervisor) are going through a nasty conflict. The past 2 months, Mrs. Johansson has been sick-listed. So far, the tones of the discussions were largely reproachful and failed to produce any kind of solution. Consequently, the dispute is referred to the Human Resources office which recommends mediation.


Instead of participating immediately in a face-to-face mediation, the mediator decides to use an online tool to support the face-to-face interactions. Reasons for the mediator to use an online intake are the problematic relationship but especially the destructive communication. As the textual and delayed communication provides people with time to reflect without experiencing the external pressure of the other party, the use of the online tool in escalated conflicts can be very helpful. It may be helpful to cool down and to reframe the situation.


In the above real-life case study, the intake and first discussions were conducted online. As the discussions became more constructive, there were two concluding face-to-face discussions.



Moderator bios:


May-Britt Kollenhof-Bruning

May-Britt Kollenhof-Bruning, Master of Dispute Resolution is a professional mediator, trainer and cofounder of Juripax, Netherlands. Juripax B.V. is an ODR software and services provider that aims to prevent miscommunication that may occur in handling complaints and – if a dispute cannot be prevented – to resolve it effectively. May-Britt comes to the field of online conflict resolution with extensive expertise in the area of conflict resolution. She completed her formal mediation training in the U.S. She has served as a mediator and arbitrator in, mainly, complex commercial disputes. As an independent contractor she has mediated hundreds of online disputes for various companies, including eBay.


Katalien Bollen

Katalien Bollen is a PhD candidate in Organizational psychology at the University of Leuven, Belgium. At this institute she obtained an MA in Organizational, Work and Personnel Psychology. The subject of her doctoral thesis is “Mediation in hierarchical labor conflicts”, in which she focuses on the role of power and emotions during mediation and the use of computer-based technology while mediating. Katalien is a trained mediator and is currently involved in the courses “Group Dynamics” and “Mediation in organizations."


Bryan Hanson


Bryan Hanson is the Assistant Director of the Werner Institute for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution at Creighton University. As a practitioner in dispute resolution, Bryan draws on his experiences and education to assess the existent dynamics, engage the relevant parties in dialogue, reframe the negative to the appreciative, and bring a sense of calm to the room to assist in the facilitation of group dialogue and resolution of interpersonal conflicts. He has a B.S. from Minnesota State University – Mankato in Speech Communications, and an M.A. from John F. Kennedy University in Organizational Psychology with a graduate certificate in Conflict Management. Prior to joining the Werner Institute, Bryan was a university administrator in the San Francisco Bay Area where he also devoted substantial time to work as a mediator, facilitator and trainer in conflict resolution. Bryan also currently serves the Creighton University community as a member of the distance education review committee.




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When parties are involved in conflict, they are often angry. Previous reasearch has shown that people tend to lash out in an online environment -but only and/or esp when the other party is anonymous- ... In a labor conflict people generally know each other, so I think that is one of the reasons why mediator do not often perceive flaming or hyper-aggression.

Besides that, I agree that entering into an online asynchronous mediation changes people's behavior. To some extent people's behavior is set "on hold". There is time to reflect, to think through own responses and these of the other party. This is more difficult in synchrous mediation (chat) where people can act very impulsively. In addition it is possible to ask the mediator for clarification.

The use of an online intake questionnaire can help a lot in my opnion as in that way people are stimulated to think about their situation, to think about possible solutions, and/or to vent concerns, emotions. This will contribute to the subsequent mediation.
I've read some very interesting views relative to parties. Have I missed how a mediator can be a valuable filter to make each exchange more productive than parties interacting one-on-one without a neutral?
Opinions?
Hi Bryan. Sounds like an interesting project. I recall a decision tree that was published in Joe Folger and colleagues textbook "Working Through Conflict" that has this kind of approach to picking a negotiation strategy based on goals and desired relationship as well. Since Joe is at Temple also, perhaps your connection to CERT also reflects Joe's influence. If I was at work I could pull it off the shelf, but I'm not. Perhaps you know the diagram I am speaking of...


Bryan Hanson said:
Bill, I really appreciate this resource. I have been working on an idea with a similar coaching intention for organizations. This seems to be a electronic version of the Temple CERT model of conflict coaching that Jones and Brinkert refer to in their book Conflict Coaching (2008). I think applications like this that can easily be integrated into organizational processes will encourage constructive conflict engagement at the lowest possible level.

Bill Warters said:
This topic reminds me of the Online Conflict Management Coach that the Princeton University Ombuds offers to folks involved in workplace disputes.
Hi Barbara, I do feel it often takes a third party neutral to intervene and facilitate a process that helps the parties open up to other perspectives of the situation. This could also take place via an appropriate intake form that requests the parties to reflect in this manner prior to mediation, but still, once again, triggered by a third party. Therefore, I believe the mediator is the catalyst for changing the dynamic..

Barbara G. Madonik said:
I've read some very interesting views relative to parties. Have I missed how a mediator can be a valuable filter to make each exchange more productive than parties interacting one-on-one without a neutral?
Opinions?
This was an excellent first day of conversation. I want to address the scenario described in the case that presents a hierarchical relationship with a significant conflict. Labor conflicts can often be categorized as hierarchical conflicts. It is likely during mediation, organizational structures, like hierarchical roles will influence the dynamics. Do you think the use of online tools will affect subordinates and supervisors differently? In what way? And do you expect different effects of hybrid mediation versus mediation which are held completely online?
Hi Barbara, often when people are involved in a conflict, they feel hurt, angry,... They often have diffculties to focus on the real issues... a third party can be very helpful
- to provide parties with a "listening" ear - in conflict the other party is often not willing/able to do that
- creating an atnmosphere where parties feel safe to express their opinions and/or concerns (e.g also establishing some rules of interaction)
- to paraphrase certain expressions (role model) - making them less strong
- to give the parties some "homework" or task in order to trigger the parties to think about their situation
- ...
All this adds to opening up perspectives of the conflict situation. Just like face-to-face mediation where a mediator can caucus -e.g. when emotions run too high or parties have assymmetrical needs with regard to venting emotions- also the online mediator can do this.
By "structuring" the process or changing the ongoing dynamic between the disputants, the mediator is able to establish a new pattern of interaction. there is need for some kind of "transformation".
When I talk with mediators dealing with labor conflicts, they often mention that a mediator needs to balance the power differences between the parties, AND is able to do so. In fact, I see that power often keeps on playing a role during mediations. Actually, this is not surprising as parties are often involved in a hierarchical structure before and after the mediation ... When it comes to online tools (and esp the online intake), I assume that these can reduce the influence of power. people need to stick to the same procedure, and take as much time as they want ... However, I do not have experience by my own. Somebody else? or some ideas about this?
Katalien makes the point that online tools for raising disputes may reduce the influence of power in the hierarchy of an organisation. A part played here presumably will be by making it easier, and less noticeable to others (such as by presenting complaints on paper to be seen by peripheral admin staff, leaving the workstation or line to meet with a manager etc ) to raise a grievance in the first place.

May-Britt, has there been any concern shown by senior management in the organisations using your system that the online intake facility has increased the numbers of grievances raised in the first place over what might otherwise have been the case?

Dan, have you come across such concerns in your work and ,if so, how do you overcome any middle management resistance? Has there been any research to show that encouraging more grievances to be aired, and resolved, at an early stage and with more confidentiality, as a simple online facility can do, reduces the number of grievances that would otherwise grow into more serious problems by the time management is made aware of them?

One final question to May-Britt - is your system used beyond the initial upload of the complaint - ie does the mediator use it to engage in private discussion with the employee? I ask as,if not, it just raises the continuing subject of the definition of what is ODR ( I need to know in order to know whether to add it to the scope of my work with the EMCOD.net 'access to justice' project.)

Oh - and a final, final question - can you point me to the Brett paper you mention.
Graham already posted some interesting and intriguing questions with regard to the use of online tools, mediation and hierarchy. For the third day of discussion, I want to address the following relationship: Is there any relation between hierarchy, the use of online tools, and the expression of (negative) emotions? If so, what are the reasons to assume this?
To address a corner of your question, Katalien, I'll say that research has show that online discussion gets you different types of participation than face to face communication does. The fact that asynchronous communication allows for parallel processing of information results in parties perhaps sending crossed emails (emails written even as the other was tyoing a reply) but it does not allow for interuption. As a result, someone who might otherwise be silenced in the middle of a sentence by a look or an interuption from their boss will finish the thought or comment, and it will be left hanging out there until their boss responds to it. Chances then increase that the answer will indeed relate to the message and not to the person/status-difference.
In addition a significant difference has been found in multiparty conversations: While face to face it is easy for one dominant party to take over the conversation (and rank is a classic case: Who's going to argue with the boss in front of everybody, turning it into an ego issue that you cannot win?) text conversations such as email simply do not follow the same rules; it is much harder for one party to use power to suppress others. It would need to be done explicitly by the higher-ranked party - which is often not the way they like to play (this last is just my experience, not anything I've seen grounded: People love to assume that they lead by virtue of their personality, rather than by pulling rank... How often is this true? Still, I've observed that they ourselves play into this narrative by avoiding pulling rank explicitly when they can).
Food for thought? Looking forward to hearing more on Katalien's question.



Katalien Bollen said:
Graham already posted some interesting and intriguing questions with regard to the use of online tools, mediation and hierarchy. For the third day of discussion, I want to address the following relationship: Is there any relation between hierarchy, the use of online tools, and the expression of (negative) emotions? If so, what are the reasons to assume this?
Noam, thank you for sharing your ideas! You mention research in multiparty conversations: While face to face it is easy for one dominant party to take over the conversation, text conversations such as email simply do not follow the same rules; => do you have any references of this research?


Katalien Bollen said:
Graham already posted some interesting and intriguing questions with regard to the use of online tools, mediation and hierarchy. For the third day of discussion, I want to address the following relationship: Is there any relation between hierarchy, the use of online tools, and the expression of (negative) emotions? If so, what are the reasons to assume this?
Sure Katalien -
A starting point (I can't write a 'good' starting point for obvious reasons :-) ) for these issues and other differences between face-to-face communication and e-communication (especially email communication) would be:
Ebner, N., Bhappu, A., Brown, J.G., Kovach, K.K. & Kupfer Schneider, A. (2009) “You’ve got agreement: Negoti@ing via email.” In C. Honeyman, J. Coben & G. DiPalo (Eds.) Rethinking Negotiation Teaching: Innovations for Context and Culture. St Paul, MN: DRI Press.
[Reprinted (2010) Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 31(2), 31(2), 427-458]

Also, see:
Lam, S.S.K. and Schaubroeck, J. 2000. Improving group decisions by better pooling information: A comparative advantage of group decision support systems. Journal of Applied Psychology 85: 565-573.
Nunamaker, J.F., Dennis, A.R., Valancich, J.S. and Vogel, D.R. 1991. Information technology for negotiating groups: Generating options for mutual gain. Management Science 37(10): 1325-1346.



Katalien Bollen said:
Noam, thank you for sharing your ideas! You mention research in multiparty conversations: While face to face it is easy for one dominant party to take over the conversation, text conversations such as email simply do not follow the same rules; => do you have any references of this research?


Katalien Bollen said:
Graham already posted some interesting and intriguing questions with regard to the use of online tools, mediation and hierarchy. For the third day of discussion, I want to address the following relationship: Is there any relation between hierarchy, the use of online tools, and the expression of (negative) emotions? If so, what are the reasons to assume this?

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