I had an amazing dream last night!
In my dream, I got to do my favorite thing. I got to conduct a peacemaking meeting. But here’s the wonderful, only-in-a-dream part: I got to do it wearing gym shorts, sitting in my favorite rocking chair, in my own house, with a view of butterflies in my backyard.
But wait, because it gets even better…In this crazy dream, I simply pressed a button and no one in the meeting could make a sound except me. I could stop the bickering instantaneously!
To top it off, at the end of this too-good-to-be-true dream, once the meeting was done, I found myself just a few steps away from my kitchen where I promptly made myself a delicious cheese sandwich with a side of chips and a pickle.
OK, I know this is kind of transparent, but you have to admit that there is a lot to like about conducting peacemaking meetings by videoconference. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of it recently and in a variety of contexts. I conduct Collaborative meetings, Parenting Coordination meetings, Co-Parenting Consultation meetings, and psychotherapy meetings this way now. I do still see a couple of families in person at my office (with careful physical distancing), but everything else happens remotely—and it really does work!
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1) Get very familiar with whichever system you are using, be it Zoom or Skype or Google Hangouts, etc. The time to learn is before you are in a meeting with clients, not during.
2) Make sure (in writing) that everyone understands the limits of confidentiality and internet security that come with remote meetings.
3) Take steps to keep the meeting private at every portal to the meeting. Each participant should be in a soundproof space (using headphones as needed, with protections to prevent interruptions. Parents need to be reminded that children are curious and have bionic hearing, so measures need to be in place to insulate the conversation (which may require conducting meetings when children are not present in the home).
4) Remind all participants that meetings are not to be recorded (unless there is a shared agreement to do so).
5) Set reasonable time limits on meetings and provide breaks every 30-40 minutes. Attending to all of the participants in a video meetings can be more taxing that doing so in person.
6) Take advantage of the opportunity to have breakouts with one or more participants as needed. It’s easy to do and it helps clients recognize the flexibility that exists in a video meeting.
7) If you are the host (in a Collaborative meeting, this is ideally the Neutral Coach or Facilitator), don’t be afraid to mute everyone when needed. This is one thing that is easy to do in a video meeting but often difficult (if not impossible) in an in-person meeting.
Of course, beyond the many benefits of convenience, comfort, and cost-efficiency, there are challenges, too. Let’s start with the fact that technology sometimes fails us. Also, internet service can vary in quality and sound quality can fluctuate, which is particularly problematic for clients and professionals with hearing challenges. And not all clients or professionals are yet fluent in their use of these applications.
There is also the challenge of not having our clients close at hand. This is something that MHP’s frequently comment on, as observing a client’s body language and facial expression is more difficult to do when the client is on a screen. In addition, it is harder for us to use our body language and facial expressions in connecting with clients when we are not in physical proximity. We can’t hand a client a tissue or offer the same type of nuanced cues that we can in person. Still, we find ways to connect, albeit at a different level.
But back to the benefits. Perhaps most importantly, many clients really like meeting remotely. For them, it can take away so much of stress and discomfort of an in-person meeting with a disliked or feared spouse. It saves time and money, both of which are often in short supply during a divorce. Meetings can also be more easily broken into smaller units (e.g., three shorter meetings instead of one long one), making the process more efficient and less daunting.
Video meetings are a great option for peacemaking providers. It’s clear that their utility will lead them to be an important methodology even beyond the time of COVID-19. It’s not that we won’t ever use in-person meetings again; we certainly will. But video meetings offer some tantalizing benefits for all of us.
Oh, and just to be clear: While I do wear gym shorts to meetings, I also wear a button-down dress shirt and often a necktie. And I am very careful to keep the camera positioned from the chest up!
Jeremy S. Gaies, Psy.D.
Certified Family Mediator
Parenting Coordinator and Co-Parenting Consultant
Collaborative Divorce Coach/Neutral Facilitator
Mindful Co-parenting: A Child-Friendly Path through Divorce
A Clear and Easy Guide to Collaborative Divorce