Communication Forms & ADR Tasks

Communication Channels comic panel


These days we have lots of choices for how we want to communicate with others and thinking in advance about what channel is best makes sense for conflict management experts.

In 2002 Australia's National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council (NADRAC) produced a report on principles for good practice in Dispute Resolution and Information Technology. In this report they reviewed various forms of communication in light of their potential use in alternative dispute resolution. While showing its age a bit, the summary still provides a helpful review of the benefits and limitations of different modes of communication. A table from the report is provided below. The full report is available online here.

Matching the form of communication to the task

Form of communication



Limitations and risks

Current and potential applications

Face to face meeting

Physical meeting venue and waiting room facilities

Parties need to be able to travel to the venue, and be capable of face to face communication

Allows for full 'real time' communication, verbal, non-verbal and body languages, exchange of written information, clear authentication, signing off.

Creates a sense of occasion and ritual

Negative personal dynamics, intimidation, physical violence

The most favoured and common form for interaction

Face to face meeting complemented by IT or AV

Software and hardware

May overcome some problems associated with face to face meeting, and give additional tools to the ADR process.

The benefits way not be worth the expense and effort of setting such systems up

May need to match needs of parties with specific needs and problems


Stationary and postage facilities

Formal, authentic (signed).


Eliminates non-verbal factors

Formal letters of introduction, final agreements, etc


Access to computer, Internet and ISP by parties and ADR service. (Low bandwidth)

Keyboards skills and computer literacy

Appropriately secure access and authentication protocols

Enables exchange of complex written information

Neutralises negative interpersonal dynamics

Give people time and space to consider responses

Conveys limited interpersonal information.

Too slow to type

Difficult to develop trust

Asynchronous communication

Not commonly used to conduct entire ADR process, but often used as an adjunct to face to face and telephone communication, especially for information and document exchange

Automated processes

(e.g. - Automated negotiation, such as blind bidding)

As above, but keyboard skills less important

Privacy, quick and accessible

Face saving

Neutralises personal dynamics.

Parties' offers and demands can be totally protected and eventually deleted


Lacks personal engagement of an ADR practitioner

Current programs may be rigid, lacking intuition

At this stage, programs are unsophisticated and limited to simple quantitative (eg monetary) matters, that are amenable to a compromise solution.

Artificial Intelligence may become more 'intuitive' over time

Video or audio-streaming

As above, although bandwidth and computing capacity requirements may be higher

May be more effective than text in conveying messages, especially emotions

Asynchronous communication

Not used extensively in ADR process itself.

Telephone and tele-conference

Access to telephone lines, preferably with conference call capacity


Ease of use

Immediacy of communication

May reduce some negative aspects of face to face communication such as violence and intimidation

Reliant on oral communication only; unable to exchange written information or authenticate material.

Very commonly used, especially for information, intake and follow up. Also used to overcome geographical distance

Video conference

Availability of compatible equipment (cameras, microphones, etc.) software and high bandwidth - dependent on quality of signal required.

Parties usually need to travel to appropriate video conference venue (but in longer term may be able to readily access such facilities in ordinary home or office environments

Approximates face to face interaction, by providing for oral and visual communication.

May reduce some negative aspects of face to face communication such as physical violence and intimidation (although visual and verbal intimidation is still possible)

Aspects of communication lost or distorted through time lag, eye contact, 2-dimensional image

Loss of other sensory data (smell, taste)

Some technical and cost barriers (but these are declining in significance)

Used successfully by some ADR service providers, especially to overcome geographical distance

Integrated technologies
video, audio, text, voice recognition.

Appropriate bandwidth, software and equipment

Combines benefits of each of video, telephone and text.

As for videoconferencing, some aspects of communication are lost

Emergent technology; likely to be commonplace in the next few years. Has the potential to create a 'critical mass', increasing the acceptance and uptake of on-line communication

Virtual reality

Currently fairly stylized. Requires specialized equipment and large bandwidth

Three-dimensional interactivity.

For most applications The benefits not yet worth the cost and inconvenience for what is predominantly a verbal process.

Rarely used in ADR if at all

May have specialised uses, eg training, therapy, sensory-motor, non-verbal interaction, overcoming specific disabilities


Huge bandwidth

Not currently feasible

May be visually indistinguishable from face to face interaction

Lacks physical touch

Still in the realm of science fiction

Source: National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council. Dispute Resolution and Information Technology. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2002.

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