In Collaborative Law cases, we emphasize better ways of communication. The following suggestions will help maintain a peaceful, respectful environment and will also help improve the flow of communication during the process. The Mental Health Professional and the attorneys assist the parties to be thoughtful as they speak, and to change their behavior, if necessary, during the joint sessions.
1. Recognize the Futility of Arguing
Arguing is a waste of time, especially when both sides start just repeating old complaints. When each party just states his or her positions, no progress will be made. A better way is to think about the more important broad issues of both parties. You can start by identifying your own perspectives, interests, and beliefs and then listen for those of the other person. There may be surprising agreement on the bigger issues, which can lead to productive discussions on other issues.
2. Recognize Your Own Process Needs and Respect the Needs of Others
Each person needs to go through his/her own development of issues, evaluation of options and determination of needs. Be aware of conduct which interferes with the needs of the other party to feel like the process allows him or her to fully participate and be heard. Make sure it is safe for the other to say what needs to be said. Both parties need to experience a process that meets their needs.
3. Speak Only for Yourself – Use “I” Statements
Listen for the tendency to include references to the other person in your language. Refrain from references to what the other person thinks, feels, wants or needs. Most of the time when you are talking with your spouse and you start mentioning what your spouse (“you”) is thinking, feeling, or doing, your spouse’s defenses will come up and the discussion will degenerate. That effect is multiplied by the addition of “always” or “never”, as in “you always…”. Think about how you feel when someone starts explaining what you always do about something. It is much less confrontational if you state things in terms of yourself (“I feel/think…”).
4. Avoid Language that Is Critical, Judgmental, Accusatory, Blame-Oriented, Sarcastic, or Inflammatory
Using such language doesn’t help solve problems and will start an escalating battle about who is at fault. At the least, such words will trigger a defensive reaction which shuts down productive communication which is necessary for problem solving. It is much more effective to simply acknowledge the issue and focus on the possible solutions.
5. Commit to the Fullest Development of Choices and Alternatives
Remember that your self-interest is served by contributing to the creation of the widest range of choices. Incredibly creative solutions can be developed when the parties keep an open mind and use brainstorming to come up with new ideas, and it’s fun to do that.
6. Be Effective
Measure the value of anything you do by asking whether it is effective in moving you to your desired goals or objectives. Emotions may propel you to show your anger, hurt, pain, distrust, or contempt for the other. Be mindful of how effective such conduct will be in achieving your goals.
7. Take Responsibility for Your Feelings, Interests and Choices
Holding another responsible for how you feel (“You made me mad when…”), what you need or what you choose serves only to make you dependent on that other person. By taking responsibility, you take control over your life in every meaningful sense. You can literally choose how you feel about anything, and that power allows you to have more control in important aspects of your life.