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E-Mediate Needs

Caught in an e-commerce clash? Use an e-mediator.

Buying and selling online wins rave reviews from entrepreneurs who can find the supplies they need with a few keystrokes and easily reach customers halfway around the world. But if a deal goes sour and you can't fix it with phone calls or e-mails, what can you do?

A growing number of businesses are turning to online mediation to solve this problem. Like traditional mediation, this process inserts a neutral party to help work out a solution. The mediator identifies issues, helps each party assess options and relays settlement offers--either in a private chat room or through one of the websites offering the service. The process is convenient and can help eliminate the posturing that often goes with traditional negotiation.

It's not easy, though, to determine whether an online mediator is qualified. There's no face-to-face contact, and it's difficult to check on the mediator's reputation. Typically, the mediator is either assigned to your case, or you choose blindly from a list. If it's a substantial dispute, that can be problematic.

Be aware that some states have enacted the Uniform Mediation Act, which requires mediators to keep information confidential. This is critical, since certain information could come back to hurt you if the dispute ends up in court.

Jane Easter Bahls is a writer in Rock Island, Illinois, specializing in business and legal topics.

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This article was originally published in the July 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: E-Mediate Needs.

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