Resolving conflict online vs. offline: similarities and differences

408562534_60cf923a09When we collaborate to address and resolve complex issues, those issues can take on a different dynamic when the conversation is online. The capacity to successfully address conflict and build consensus, in both the online and off-line worlds, has value for any organization.

I’m currently working with a group of mediators; exploring ways to resolve disputes online. As a mediator of civil (e.g., contractual) disputes, I usually work with the parties in a face-to-face setting. In contrast, for several years, I also worked as an online mediator of (eBay) e-commerce disputes; disputes where I never got to meet any of the parties in-person. Here’s just a few of my personal observations on similarities and differences between the two:

What’s similar?

  • Both rely on organizational partnerships to create a physical or virtual platform for dialogue to take place
  • Interest-based conflict resolution approaches and structures effectively guide and support the dialogue
  • Use of qualified, neutral third parties (e.g., mediators) help facilitate the conversations
  • Facilitator (mediator) skill is an important factor for successful outcomes; i.e., bridging differences

What’s different?

  • Accessibility – local vs. global; daytime vs. anytime; online conversations can potentially be 7X24
  • Interactive vs. asynchronous – online is largely (though not all) asynchronous, which of course gives more opportunity for either measured or indiscriminate action
  • Communication styles and norms – our usual (face-to-face) heavy reliance on visual cues is reduced online (today’s most advanced telepresence opportunities excluded
  • Relationship and trust – engagement grows out of a trust for the other party; online norms / rules-of-thumb for building trust are less established

More resources

In most situations today, face-to-face is more dynamic, given it’s all happening in the room. Who knows the in future – will our online conversations and relationships hold the same weight as our face-to-face? What do you think?

Some good resources about mediation and/or Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) include:

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Photo credit: skyald



  1. amazing stuff thanx

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