“Who managed the tech setup? It really worked well.” I asked Rosanne and Chris that question this morning. The photo above is how they replied! Turns out each had made a contribution and together got the video equipment set up for a successful video conference. But both were more interested in giving credit than getting it. Love it. Are there lessons here when we find ourselves in conflict?
So often in my work I see finger pointing but not in an effort to acknowledge the good work of the other. Instead, it is too frequently done to assign blame. “She never gets the documents together we need for our sessions.” “He was to have his boxes moved by Sunday evening, but it’s Wednesday and he’s still not even started.”
I sometimes start a mediation or collaborative session by asking, “What’s gone right since we last met? Is there something you appreciated about the other that you would like to lead with today?” Look. It’s not that the documents were produced, or the boxes got moved. Those concerns may be very valid. But they likely occurred within a context of other things said or done right. Consider contextualizing and point the finger to affirm and not just to blame.
Why Acknowledgment Matters
Acknowledgment is not just about giving credit where it’s due; it’s about fostering cooperation and good will. When you acknowledge a positive action or quality of your partner, the atmosphere in the room shifts. Your partner doesn’t feel on edge, guarding against the next accusation. Your own perspective shifts too because you’ve recognized that not everything is awful. Now there’s environment where your needs and concerns will be heard and can be factored into your settlement. And so can your spouse’s.
Steps to Embrace Acknowledgment
1. Put it into Perspective
Instead of solely focusing on the negatives, stop. Consciously choose to first acknowledge the good things your (former) partner does. Recognize their efforts, strengths, and positive qualities. Yes, s/he spends too much time on [the thing] but at least he’s not obsessed with [these other things]. In other words, point the finger at the other and say, “You did it” when s/he has done something you’ve appreciated.
2. Pause. Understand.
Start first with a desire to understand–with empathy. So hard. I get it. When I am enraged at some injustice I’ve experienced, the last thing I want to do is ask, “How might the other see this situation?” I’ve had to work for a long time to build in a pause before speaking. Honestly, I’m still not that great at it! But when I remember to take a breath, inquire, “Can you help me understand what (the heck) were you thinking/feeling when you did or said [fill in the blank]” the conversation goes so much better. (Especially when I don’t say “what the heck!”)
3. Don’t interrupt or get defensive.
The other will hear your perspective if you start with a desire to understand theirs. But there’s a huge caveat here: this can’t be a perfunctory box you check before you get to unload. You have to genuinely be open to understanding what the heck the other was feeling. Fake it and you may as well not have bothered asking.
4. Use “I” Statements
Finally, you’ve listened. You’ve reflected back what you heard and understand. You’ve validated the other’s feelings and experiences, even if you don’t agree with them. An atmosphere of respect likely now exists-a great place for open and productive dialogue. Now you’re ready to share your own perspective (a better term than “unload” probably!) Be sure to employ the well-known advice to use “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory or defensive. For example, instead of saying, “You always neglect our children’s needs,” try saying, “I feel concerned about our children’s needs and would like to discuss how we can address them together.”
Instead of dwelling on past mistakes or assigning blame, shift the conversation towards finding future solutions. It doesn’t advance the cause of resolution to point your finger and say, “But you did/said [fill in the blank] and that was just wrong.” Instead, collaborate with your (former) partner to brainstorm ideas and work towards mutually beneficial outcomes. I sometimes ask clients to imagine the door into our conference room closing off access to past mistakes and outright wrongs. In this room, we are trying to problem-solve for the future.
By embracing the power of acknowledgment, we can transform the way we approach divorce and relationships in general. It’s not about ignoring the challenges or pretending everything is perfect, but rather about recognizing the good in the other and fostering a sense of understanding and empathy. Let’s strive to create an environment where blame is replaced with acknowledgment, and where we can all grow and thrive, even in the face of adversity.
Wishing you well,