The Model of Relational Communication: explaining difficulties encountered through the use of technology in alternative dispute resolution

M Billings, L A Watts

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


With the ?bandwidth problem? all but eliminated and the cost of hardware and software declining sharply, the time should be ripe for the use of computer technologies in alternative dispute resolution (ADR). However, many practitioners still appear reluctant to adopt this technology. Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) research has produced a body of evidence to suggest that the presence of technology has a distorting effect on the way that people create and maintain relationships. It is likely that this distortion restricts or skews practitioner?s skills, and is responsible for the reluctance to use computer technology in ADR.In this paper, we distinguish between ?active? (human) mediation, in which the mediator reflexively alters communication between parties, through continual assessment of their impact on the existing relationship; and ?passive? (technological) mediation, which alters communication through the medium?s inherent properties, regardless of context. It is this paper?s contention that it is the interaction between these two forms of mediation that is responsible for the difficulties that practitioners encounter when attempting to mediate using computer technology.This paper outlines work in progress to investigate this claim. Drawing on research in CMC, ADR, theories of Presence, Activity Theory and Social Constructionism, this paper presents a model of relational communication (MoRC). This model highlights parallels between the effect that a mediator has on the relationship between parties, and that of a technological medium. By providing a way for the two forms of mediation to be discussed in similar terms, relational factors that can be affected by either Passive or Active mediation become apparent. The relationships between these factors and the medium can then be investigated to provide an explanation as to why there may be barriers to mediating through technology and an insight into how these barriers may be overcome.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - May 2006
Event8th Australian National Mediation Conference - Hobart, Tasmania
Duration: 1 May 2006 → …


Conference8th Australian National Mediation Conference
CityHobart, Tasmania
Period1/05/06 → …


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