February 26, 2024

Face to Face and Virtual Mediation

Face to face mediation allows for the development of trust and rapport between disputants and the mediator. It also allows participants to observe and interpret non-verbal communication cues that can help foster empathy, reduce defensiveness and facilitate understanding of perspectives and emotions that are important in resolving conflicts. Face to face mediation can also help to address power imbalances, logistical challenges (time and expense), and the complexity of certain issues such as child custody and divorce matters.

While virtual options may work for some types of disputes – like resolving a complaint with a business over faulty goods or agreeing on a refund – many cases are complex and require the full range of mediation interpersonal skills. Virtual methods can be challenging to manage when dealing with a variety of challenges – from bandwidth disruptions, technical glitches or interruptions, lack of equipment in remote locations and the difficulty of finding a mutually-available time that works for everyone involved.

However, with the right technology tools and preparation, it is possible to successfully mediate disputes remotely. In fact, online mediation can be a more efficient and cost-effective option than traditional face to face mediations when dealing with issues that require a significant amount of interaction and discussion between parties.

The New Bedford Face to Face (FTF) Mediation Program is the local arm of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office funded FTF community mediation programs that serve more than two-thirds of Massachusetts communities. It offers free consumer dispute resolution services based on referrals from Local Consumer Programs (LCP) and the City of New Bedford’s own local mediation program.

In addition to its statutory mission to provide consumer dispute resolution, the City of New Bedford also uses the FTF Program as an outreach and education resource for consumers in the community by hosting educational workshops on a variety of consumer topics.

The FTF Program was established in 1984, after a pilot program that had been based on a telephone mediation model proved unsuccessful. At that time, national consumer agencies questioned whether the value of face-to-face mediation could justify the additional expense of hiring and training mediators, and whether consumers and businesses would take advantage of the opportunity to resolve their disputes without going to court.

As of 2018, the FTF Program now provides face to face and virtual mediation services to consumers and small businesses. The program is administered by the City’s Department of Community Services, and the city’s mediators are trained and certified in accordance with statutory requirements. To learn more about the program, or to find a mediator in your community, click here. The City of New Bedford’s FTF mediation program is funded by the Attorney General’s Office and receives additional funding from the city’s appropriations. It is a voluntary process for consumers and businesses who choose to participate. If consumers do not wish to participate, they are advised on their other options, such as filing a complaint in Small Claims Court.

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