She had to have read a book on conflict resolution or taken a class or something. She sure knew how to use Conflict as Catalyst© for resolution. As a neutral mediator, I am often playing referee, reminding people of basic communication principles and rules. “We need to commit to not interrupting one another. You will have your turn but right now it’s your turn to listen. I’d like to ask that name-calling not be a part of our dialogue.” You get the picture. And it’s understandable. I don’t think anyone should be judged by his or her behavior in the middle of a divorce. It’s just too huge and raw and scary. No one is at his or her best.
Well maybe this woman. Her husband did not want the divorce but he was beginning to move beyond feeling broadsided and hurt, straight into angry and engaged. “If you think I’m going to settle for seeing my kids every other weekend, you got another thing coming” he blurted in our second session. He went on, talking about how important his kids were to him and that while he had worked a lot of hours before, things were different now that she was divorcing him and he wasn’t going to keep putting in those kinds of hours anymore.
I watched his wife. She was listening intently and without expression. No sighs of irritation or interruptions or change in body language. He took a breath and stopped for a moment and I was at the ready with a couple of mediator tools, but before I could intervene, his wife said, “Can I think about what you’ve said for just a moment?” He shrugged and we all waited. (Sometimes the best mediator tool is to be quiet!) She took a breath and said, “I understand how important the kids are to you. If I’m hearing you correctly, it’s also important to you to be involved in their lives when we separate and an every-other-weekend sort of schedule would not allow for that. Do I have that right?” He affirmed and then she said, “I’m feeling a little scared right now because you sound angry. Are you afraid that I don’t want you to be involved?” When he responded, yes, he was concerned about that, she went on, “I want you to know that I need us to co-parent our children into adulthood and I want for the children’s sake, and yours, for you to be very involved. I’m hoping that we can continue to use this mediation process to work together so that we don’t face years of being at odds.”
Her husband looked at her and when he next responded it was with a completely different demeanor and tone. He told his wife that he was serious about being involved but he didn’t want his anger to spill over into doing what was best for their children. They moved ahead, discussing parenting options with some care and understanding toward the other and developed a creative parenting plan.
So what just happened here? I watched this client work through the steps necessary to use Conflict as Catalyst© for resolution. I’ve talked about a couple of those steps in prior posts: building in a pause, stating objectively what you observe, without evaluation. But let me introduce you to an acronym which I find helpful when my heart starts beating faster because I’m feeling under attack and in conflict. Think of using a LENS to help remember the steps.
L First she paused, looked and listened carefully to what was being said to her. She even asked for a moment to think about it. That pause allowed her to communicate that she wanted to listen and understand so she could objectively state what she understood. “It’s important to you to be involved in the children’s lives when we separate and an every-other-weekend sort of schedule would not allow for that.” And in service of looking and listening objectively, she checked in and inquired to make sure she’d gotten it right.
E She recognized and stated her own emotions around the conflict. “I’m feeling a little scared right now because you sound angry.” And she used genuine curiosity when she asked about her husband’s emotions: “Are you afraid that I don’t want you to be involved?”
N She stated her needs. “I need us to work together and co-parent our children into adulthood.”
S Finally, she offered a possible solution. “I’m hoping that we can continue to use this mediation process to work together so that we don’t face years of being at odds.”
Unless we are intentional about our responses, most of us in conflict instantly engage in defensiveness. This wife could have as quickly said, “I’ve never kept you from the kids. You were always just too busy for them. And now you threaten me that you’re going to work less? Well, I’ve always been the parent with them before this divorce and I intend to be in the future too.” I can just tell you that the dialogue which flows after a defensive response like that is never as satisfying as this couple experienced. It just takes remembering to put on the LENS in order to see clearly.
Wishing you wisdom,