Friday, November 11, 2011

10 Tips for Better Collaborative Communication

At all stages of a Collaborative Law case, communication skills are important. How you say something is often just as important as what you say, regardless of whether you are talking with your attorney, your spouse or one of the neutral experts involved. At the outset of a Collaborative case, you can expect your attorney, the other attorney and any neutral experts in the case to have some discussion with both parties about how improving your communication style can improve your chances of success. Conversely, poor communication skills and strategies can sabotage the case. During the course of a Collaborative case, there are usually reminders give to the parties about how they are communicating.

At the outset, and all the way to the end of the case, you should try the following suggestions. Many of them are common sense and you may have even heard a lot of these from your parents when you were growing up. They are still good advice.

1. Look the other person in the eye. While this may not feel comfortable in some situations, failing to do so may lead to your spouse making inaccurate assumptions about what you are saying. "Not seeing eye to eye" is more than a figure of speech. It is often assumed to be an indication of deception. Get some help if that is difficult for you.

2. Answer. If you receive a message or a question, please answer so the other person knows you received it. Ignoring it may lead to various unhelpful assumptions about your silence.

3. Don't attack verbally. Sometimes discussions end when one party gets on a roll and starts criticizing the other party. Even if it's "true", don't attack. It doesn't help at all and it may end discussions.

4. Ask for what you want. Don't wait for someone else to speak up for you and don't think you can bring it up later. No one will be reading your mind. Don't assume that someone will remember what you may have said in the past. Speak up for yourself.

5. Speak factually. Don't exaggerate or make up details. Don't make assumptions about what your spouse or someone else wants or would do or say.

6. Don't be looking at your cell phone while you are in a discussion. Pay attention to just the discussion at hand. Choosing your cell phone over the live person or persons you are talking with is rude and would probably be considered insulting.

7. Respond without engaging in or starting an argument. You don't have to be mean or angry as you respond to what is said. Try to keep things factual.

8. Don't rehash all the history of wrongs you suffered that were inflicted by your spouse. In a Collaborative context, the focus is on the future, not on assigning blame for past issues.

9. Respond directly and briefly. Don't start a tirade because of a comment. Don't change the subject and get off on a tangent. You don't want to pay for long, unproductive meetings.

10. Don't make assumptions or read things into statements. Those are common problems, even in Collaborative cases. Try dealing with statements on face value. Adding assumptions will always cause problems because the assumptions are usually wrong and negative.

Whether you are talking with your spouse, having a discussion in a joint meeting or working with a neutral expert, you will have an easier time by implementing the suggestions above.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

7 Tips on How to Tell the Kids

For good parents who are approaching a divorce, one of the hardest things to do is to tell the children that their parents will be divorcing. Some parents just blurt out the news without much thought, but others really struggle to figure out the best way to explain things so that they will not emotionally devastate the kids. For some children, the divorce is not news at all. But for most children, hearing the words is tough to take.

My best suggestion on how to tell the children is for you to work with a counselor. You can get expert help on what, when and how to say things in a way that is less stressful for the kids.

To supplement that, I would add the following suggestions:

1. Do the right planning. Think about things ahead of time and plan for the best time to allow your kids to process the information and feel safe. Be able to explain how the divorce will affect them. Don't over promise or guarantee certain outcomes. Don't discuss issues that haven't been decided. You may have to sometimes say, "We don't know, yet."

2. Do it at the right time. Decide whether you should tell them before someone moves out (probably so), but don't do it too early (and then continue living together) or too close to the move out (they need time to process). A good time may be at the start of a weekend, so there's time for the children to talk with both parents, if they want to. You should probably not tell the kids just before a major holiday or a test at school or some athletic or extracurricular event. It's obviously hard to find a good time.

3. Do it with the right people. That usually means that both parents should be present and should participate about equally. It is preferable to say "we" more than "I". Make it a joint effort.

4. Do it with the right reasons. You can explain things in broad terms, such as "We aren't getting along and can't fix the situation." Don't blame each other and don't be too specific.

5. Provide the right responses. Listen and respond to your children's comments and questions. Provide age appropriate responses. You can give broad statements, rather than a lot of specifics. Do reassure the kids that both of you still love them and the split has nothing to do with them.

6. Provide the right amount of information. Most children don't really want or need to know the nitty gritty details. Be sure the kids know that there is no hope of reconciliation and that you have both reached that decision after carefully considering all the circumstances. Don't try to give the children too much information. Keep it brief.

7. Do it with the right mood. Timing is important. Don't try to have the discussion when the children (and the parents) are tired, hungry, busy, upset or preoccupied. That could lead to bad reactions.

If you are about to get a divorce and you have kids, someone will have to talk with the kids about what's going on. In Collaborative cases, parents usually can get expert help from a counselor to prepare for this important discussion and the parents will usually cooperate in this effort. You can consider the factors above when you and your spouse are planning what to do. Good luck!

If anyone has any additional ideas to share about how to tell your kids about divorce, please share them by commenting below.