What’s One Thing that’s Better on Zoom?

An interview by Nick Morgan of PublicWords.com

Heidi Webb is here to talk about life on lockdown for a mediator. As they say on the Internet, her answers surprised me. They may surprise you.

Nick: All of us are learning to work in the virtual world and most of us don’t like it much. The phrase ‘Zoom fatigue’ has entered the post-covid-19 lexicon. Most people find video conferencing stressful. Yet you’ve detected a silver lining in your work. I’m excited to get to that. But first of all, tell us what you do.  

Heidi: I’m a Family Practice lawyer and a mediator. I established a consulting practice called Consilium Divorce Consultations crafted to help clients restructure their families productively and optimize their outcomes. Having an academic background in psychology and education, while practicing law it became apparent to me that the divorce practice would benefit by breaking down the traditional silos between psychology, education and the law.

Nick: Please give us your reaction to working entirely in the virtual world. Pre-pandemic, how much virtual work did you do, and how much did it change during the pandemic?  

Heidi: As divorce is obviously very personal, pre-pandemic I always required in-person intake meetings with clients. Initial in-person meetings gave me information I couldn’t gather in a virtual setting and helped me better understand my clients if we later moved our conferences into remote settings. Body language and facial expressions often reveal temperament, anxiety, fear and other emotions that aren’t conveyed through spoken language. However, once Covid made it necessary for initial meetings to occur remotely if they were to occur at all, I needed to see what kinds of outcomes I would have in those conversations and how effective they were. So that aspect of my practice changed 100%.

Nick: Got it. And let’s get now to that silver lining — what is working better virtually for what you do? And why?

Heidi: In the early transitional stages to the fully virtual workplace, I feared I’d lose emotional content. Although I did lose the intimacy of authentic eye contact, body language, and other non-verbal cues, I gained more clarity in terms of clients’ expressed logic, goals and specific desired outcomes.  In your book Can You Hear Me?, you talk about how in order to create affordable remote technology it was necessary to condense bandwidth and in doing so undertones and overtones were eliminated from vocal patterns.  Thus, the signature people carry in their vocal patterns was lost. Perhaps this falls into the category of one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, but what I’ve found is that the reduction of some of the unique vocal characteristics, which are often triggering between spouses, minimizes the intensity of their remote inter-personal interactions, quashing many of the emotional hurdles that are often the hallmark of divorce mediations.

Nick: Fascinating! An unexpected and highly particular benefit! Do you see this changing the workspace you inhabit permanently? Or post-covid, will you go back to pre-pandemic status quo?

Heidi: I think this discovery really is a silver lining! Some of what I’ve learned I hope to employ permanently and some of it I hope to see disappear once we have a vaccine. In other words, I hope to again meet with clients one-on-one in my office where I can get to know them in deeper and more meaningful ways. However, portions of mediations that formally became contentious when they were highly emotionally charged events I hope to conduct remotely. Some of the outcomes from those situations seem to indicate that the process itself can be better streamlined when less emotion is front and center in those conversations.

Nick: Finally, tell us a little about Heidi Webb — how did you come to your line of work, and what’s most rewarding and least rewarding about it?

Heidi: I came to my line of work recognizing that families often weren’t well served by the traditional divorce process. Sadly, this realization occurred at the funeral of the son of a former client, a Marine, tragically killed in Iraq.  One of this young man’s former high school teachers eulogized him saying in part that he joined the Marines because he felt like he’d never had a family. These despairing words met my ears with shock and sadness. When this young man was three years old and his parents engaged in contentious litigation, we worked so hard to accomplish what we thought would best serve him and his sister. Years later I was struck with the harsh reality that for him the outcome had not served him well. What could I have done differently? What different questions could I have asked? What different goals could we have had? How could we have better helped this family restructure? Those questions drove me down a path of inquiry and led me to develop the practice I now have.

I find the Consilium Process to be enormously rewarding as not only are my clients the beneficiaries of a more holistic process but so too are their children, their co-parent, and future generations of their family who will be impacted by the decisions they have made. And I find that most people are eager to do right by themselves, their partners and their families. It is the rare individual who has such venom and animus that they would rather destroy their spouse and their family than work to successfully restructure. Those situations are when I am least rewarded, when I see someone so filled with anger and hurt that he or she is unable to move beyond those feelings to more hopeful and constructive goals.

Nick: Heidi, thanks so much for the work you do – and for these fascinating insights into an unexpected virtual benefit from changing up standard face-to-face practice. There are times when less human intensity is better!

Read the original article on publicwords.com.

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