The Wizard in the Wizard of Oz was a well-meaning con artist, a frustrated carnival magician from Kansas. He hid behind a curtain and used special effects to manipulate others to do his bidding. His power over Dorothy derived from his remoteness and her imagination. Until Toto intervened and pulled back the curtain, he exerted control over her and everyone else in Oz. Once he was revealed, his advantage disappeared and he was left to deal with Dorothy on a level playing field.
So why would anyone agree to participate in a mediation with a decision maker (Wizard) hidden inside a telephone? Resolving the kinds of conflict that you deal with is not easy. Negotiating is an exercise in persuasion that involves communicating facts and feelings and requires all your senses. As someone said, it’s my brain communicating with your brain and lots can go wrong in the distance that separates us. And this pertains not just to the people sitting in the room with the mediator. The decision maker on the phone is also at a big disadvantage. His information is filtered and shaped, albeit with the best of intentions, but it is a poor substitute for firsthand experience. And, just for fun, let’s imagine what that missing decision maker might be doing while you’re talking: reading/responding to/deleting emails; texting; working on another file; talking to someone else; watching CNN; and so forth. Not being in the same place at the same time dramatically diminishes the efficacy of mediation.
Everyone is interested in making high quality decisions when it comes to resolving important controversies. But decisions based only on what you’ve heard on the phone are a poor substitute for ones made sitting across the table. Except in unusual circumstances, insist that all the stake holders sit with each other face to face and do the work needed to strike a deal.