Videoconferencing touted for conflict resolution

Videoconferencing touted for conflict resolution

Technology can help diffuse tensions at work and at home

Videoconferencing technology could be useful in resolving conflicts in the home and workplace, UK researchers reported today.

Leon Watts and Matthew Billings, of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bath, said that videoconferencing offers more potential for emotional communication than the telephone, but stops disputing parties being intimidated by each other's physical presence.

"Most conciliation to sort out disputes between employees is done by phone because the conciliator may have 70 or 80 cases to deal with at once and it can be difficult, costly and slow to arrange to see people in person," said Watts.

"In situations of high conflict, it can be hard to get to the real issues and to judge what people really care about on the phone.

"So using a video link in which the conciliator can see each of the disputing parties is a step forward. It gives them a new options for appreciating everyone's depth of concern about different issues."

Watts added that the technology could also form part of a new strategy for conciliation.

Once the parties have met separately with the conciliator and established some solid common ground, they can set up a video conference as an intermediary stage before a face-to-face meeting.

"For instance, one of the disputants may have a physically intimidating presence that cannot be projected as easily in a video link as in a face-to-face meeting. So this can make negotiation easier," Watts explained.

"Disputes between team members in companies, or between neighbours or within families, can be vitriolic and acrimonious, so any way that conciliation can be helped is useful."

Billings interviewed 12 experienced conciliators for their views on using video technology, most of whom thought that not being able to see the parties' body language would hinder their work.

But when a highly experienced conciliator took part in a mock dispute with actors playing the part of aggrieved parties, the process was deemed " surprisingly similar" to normal conciliation.

"The conciliator was much more relaxed about using video after the trial," said Billings. "We think that the conciliation profession will be interested in the potential of this technology."