The Hybrid Mediator: Choreographing conversations across communications channels

Facilitating difficult conversations is hard.  And, what’s making it even harder is that it can be difficult to know which communications channel is most appropriate, for the situation-at-hand.  The options seem endless; chat, text, email, phone, video, face-to-face…  Using the wrong channel, at the wrong time, in the wrong way… is, well, not a good thing.

Digital Native: photo by TF28 (Flickr)

Digital Native: photo by TF28 (Flickr)

Hybrid conversations

Sliding fluidly between communications channels is becoming an essential skill for mediators, and go-betweens, of all sorts.  This fluidly is an attribute of what I call a “hybrid mediator”, someone comfortable operating along a continuum of channels.  The hybrid facilitator isn’t constrained by channel.  In fact, if you believe (as I largely do) that the “medium is the message”, then fluidity across mediums, i.e., channels, is of huge importance.

I attended the North West Dispute Resolution Conference in Seattle a week ago.  Sharon Sutherland (@ssuth) and I co-presented on “Geek Girls: The Next Dispute Resolution Superheroes”.   Geek girls, and digital natives  in general, are fluid in using online channels; chat, text, phone, video…   An older generation of professionals (like me), who grew up with face-to-face as the mantra for “serious” communications, is less fluid.  Yet, both ends of this communications spectrum are vital.  Each has its’ place.  Each channel offers up its own intensity level, idiosyncrasies , pros and cons….

Choreographing conversations

At the Seattle conference, Jim Melamed (@mediatecom), talked about the ‘choreography of conversations’, figuring out when best to use synchronous (real-time) vs. asynchronous (e.g., text, email) communications, and flipping fluidly between the two.  And, on top of that, making those channel switching decisions in an intentional and purposeful way.  How often are we constrained by our grasp of a particular channel?  A lot, I dare say (looking in the mirror).  Ideally, we’d match channel to need, and rock it from there!

Larry Susskind’s blog I’ve followed for some time.  He, too, did a session in Seattle.  One take-away quote stuck with me… “Who cares what you call your type of mediation …do whatever it takes to get it done… be ambidextrous”.  Exactly!

Mediation is facilitated negotiation.  There are so many smart people I’ve connected with through the web, who aren’t mediators, and yet who I’ve gain mediation insights from.  I’ve learned much from them, though, when it comes to interpersonal communications, virtual and face-to-face, and how to bridge the two; e.g., like this post last week by Joitske Hulsebosch.

Building conversation channels fluency

Here’s 3 ways one can improve hybrid, cross-channel, communication skills:

  1. Be aware of your channel strengths and weaknesses, and why that’s so.  Do you prefer email over text?  Why?  Is phone a last resort for you?  Does a Skype video scare the beegeebees out of you?  Do you consider everything other than in-person conversations a waste of time?  Self-awareness is always a good starting point.
  2. Expand what you can do, conversation-wise, on your smartphone/mobile device.  With a smartphone you can have a conversation  anywhere, anytime, on pretty much an channel, in any context… and this offers definite hybrid opportunities.  Half or more of the world lives from their mobile phone, big time!   It’s a no-brainer that a lot of future dispute resolution innovation will incorporate mobile technology.  Best to stay tuned!
  3. Map out your next big conversation; mediation, facilitation, event…on the preferred communications channels front. What steps will you go through, before, during, and after?  What communication channel might lead to the best outcome, at each step?  What tools can you use to make it happen?

Serving others and the future

Bottom line is we want to serve others, better.  And, when we can do that, through our communications fluency, we also help ourselves.  We show our adaptability. To adapt is to survive!  Welcome to the world of the hybrid mediator.

The future of mediation, facilitation… and conversational mediums is wide open.  Of all the future possibilities, what’s got you most excited?


  1. So glad to have found this! I will add it to my blogpost about faciliting transitions from online to face-to-face and vice versa. I like your term choreographing conversations!

  2. Thanks Joitske. And, for continually offering up insights on social learning, on your blog. I’m a fan. Heck, this post might not be here if I hadn’t read your article. 🙂

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