Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Value of Managed Direct Discussion

Too often, when marriages fail, the parties get caught up in an escalating cyclone of angry words and hurt feelings. Words become weapons and little effort is made to really communicate on a substantive level. For people who don't like that and who want to escape that destructive environment, Collaborative Law offers the possibility of more respectful, and less stressful, communication. Collaborative Law is a process that relies on direct communication between the parties in a controlled environment.

Discussions occur in joint meetings attended by both parties, their attorneys and (usually) a neutral mental health professional (MHP) whose role is to facilitate communication. We usually discourage direct discussions between the parties without the team of professionals being present. Experience has shown that the parties work together well with the attorneys and MHP present, but they can quickly revert to old patterns of conflict without the professionals present. It is truly amazing how much difference there is in discussions between the parties when an MHP is present as compared to when one is not present.

Nevertheless, one of the less-emphasized advantages of Collaborative Law is the benefits derived by the parties from their direct discussions. As a reminder, here are some of the reasons why Collaborative Law is so effective:

1. The communications are unfiltered. When the parties negotiate at the courthouse, for example, they rarely stand face-to-face to discuss issues. The attorneys typically keep the parties apart and the attorneys go back and forth carrying messages from the other side and back to the other attorney. Even though it is unintentional, there is unavoidable filtering or changing of the messages. It might be a few different words, the omission of something or a change of emphasis, but there will be changes in the words that are exchanged. It changes the dynamics of the communications and sometimes will affect the decisions and agreements that are reached or that are unable to be reached.

2. There is faster communication. When the attorneys are going back and forth, there is a lot of repetition that could be avoided by direct communications. Having direct contact also allows for more immediate responses and extended discussions.

3. Non-verbal messages are sent and received in direct discussions. Facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, volume and other factors can be communicated and received in face-to-face discussions. They can add a lot of meaning and can change a message tremendously.

4. Direct discussions can help immediately correct mistakes and misunderstandings. Getting the message directly helps avoid such misunderstandings, and the direct contact allow for immediate confirmation or discussion of things that did not sound right or which may have been misunderstood.

5. The parties can deal with differences appropriately, directly and respectfully. In divorce and other family law issues, there will be disagreements. Sometimes it's best to just acknowledge the differences. In other cases, the parties may be able to compromise when they are able to express their concerns and are encouraged to listen to the other party's issues as well. With the support of the professionals on the team working with the parties, they may be able to deal with difficult subjects without losing their temper. The professionals provide a safe and effective environment for difficult discussions.

These are just some of the reasons why direct discussion can be beneficial. In a carefully managed system of communication, such as Collaborative Law provides, parties are able to effectively take advantage of the opportunities to discuss serious matters directly and possibly come to some agreements.