Difficult Conversations

mediationI recently read Difficult Conversations written by Bruce Patton and Shelia Heen. These writers are experts on the topic and both belong to the Harvard Negotiation Project; if anyone is qualified to help me deal with difficult family members it is them. In this book they address common mistakes we are all liable to make during tricky conversations. This can be in any situation from a petty disagreement to a marriage breakdown.

One of the most difficult conversations to have is the ‘what happened conversation’ and this is common within a marriage. Patton and Heen break down ineffective communication in the ‘what happened conversation’ into three common pitfalls:

1)      The Truth Assumption

Too often during the ‘what happened’ conversation there exists the belief that you are right and the other person is wrong. However, there is little benefit to proving who was right and who was wrong.  Instead, the focus should be placed on the “perceptions, interpretations and values of both sides”.

2)      Assuming Intentions

Another common mistake, is assuming the intentions of the other side. When we do this, we are more likely to decide that their intent came from a bad place which is not always the case. When we perceive someone’s intentions it affects our judgement of them and this will change the way the conversation goes. For example, in familial disputes a wife may assume that the husband threw away her cigarettes in an attempt to control, instead of seeing his intention as a way of helping her to achieve her goal of quitting. There is a significant difference between these two intentions and this will have an effect on the wife’s perception of the husband.

3)      The Blame Game

During a difficult conversation, too much attention is placed on “who is to blame for the situation we are in”. This insistence that blame is placed is counter-productive. The only outcome is either/or and no learning occurs from this conversation. No one wants to be blamed for a situation and therefore they immediately go on the defensive, as opposed to finding a productive way to move forward.  It is important to recognise the distinction between blame and contribution and the focus should be placed on the latter.

During a divorce, it is common that someone who feels wronged adopts a litigation approach as they want blame to be placed on the “guilty” party. However, it is unlikely that they will receive this feeling of vindication and instead will be left with a rather large legal bill.

There are many difficult conversations that occur in a marriage.  Often, emotions are charged and it can be impossible not to fall into these traps – this is when a third party in required. Through employing the use of mediation services, it provides an objective third party to these conversations. Mediation provides a framework to keep the conversation on the right track: it doesn’t place one person in the right and the other in the wrong, it stops participants from making false assumptions about the other’s intentions and does not explore ‘who is to blame’. Instead the focus is placed on the best way to move forward.

One of my favourite Thurber quotes sums up the value of mediation: “Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.”  Cotswold Mediation provides the ideal environment to have these conversations, with a warm, sensitive and expert mediator.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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How realistic is shared care of the children?

3 children runningEven in families with a stay-at-home mother or father, generally speaking most parents share the care of their children in some way or other.  When parents separate they expect to be able to continue shared care of the children but, obviously, whatever arrangements need to be made can be difficult to envisage before the parties actually separate.  What does shared care look like?  Is it one week with one parent, one week with the other?  This might be “fair” in terms of equalising the time spent with both parents but is it right for children to be continually moving from one house to the next?  Do they not need a base – but with whom?

According to research carried out by Oxford University only 3% of separated families in the UK are currently in a shared care arrangement.  In Australia the concept of “equal shared parental responsibility” except where there is violence or abuse has been enshrined in law since 2006.  This means that of cases coming before the Court, 30% are being forced into a shared care arrangement.  So those parents whose relationship is not good – because they have had to resort to the Court to decide how to care for their children – are the very parents who are forced into a shared care arrangement and are therefore having to have constant communication with each other.

The best interests of children after parental separation is not dependant upon the amount of time which they spend with each parent but more with the quality of parenting received, the quality of the relationship between their parents, the practical resources available including income and housing – and definitely not to any particular pattern of care or amount of time.

Perhaps in an effort to be fair to parents there is a danger of being unfair to children?

Frequent moves between households can, for children, bring practical and emotional difficulties in terms of the constant packing and planning.  But, obviously, the level of difficulty depends on the distance between moves, the frequency of moves, the level of any conflict between the parents and also the child’s personality and preferences.  So each case must depend not just on practical arrangements for the child but what their personality and the effect of a shared arrangement would be on them.  How is the voice of the child heard?  Is it heard at all?

The Courts are currently directed to look at the best needs of the child or children – the welfare of these children should be paramount.  Is it actually possible to achieve both “fairness” to act in the best interests of the child?

Rather than arguing through the Courts and becoming more and more polarised, parents should try and work together to ensure that everyone’s needs – theirs and the children’s – are met, and family therapy may be more appropriate than litigation.  Parents have a responsibility to ensure the long-term wellbeing of their children.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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Mediation or litigation?

What is Mediation | Advice from Cotswold MediationIt is the New Year, and according to media reports, a time when many people face the reality of separation and most will at least start out in the hope that whatever needs to be done can be dealt with as painlessly and economically as possible.  It should therefore be the case, when choosing between mediation or litigation, that mediation is the preferred option.  It might come as some surprise then that the figures speak very differently.

Most couples who separate or divorce do not in fact seek the mediation route.  They may well go to a solicitor who suggests or even recommends mediation but for one reason or another they end up litigating, arguing through the courts rather than engaging in far more constructive round table discussions.  Why is this?

Well actually, although mediation may seem the most sensible and rational option, when you fall out of love and when you separate, rational thinking often gets lost in the heat of the moment.  There may be bitter recriminations, painful memories, resentment, anger, despair, sadness.  All these emotions can persuade people that using the courts, “having their say”, having their day in court, putting their case as forcefully as possible, possibly even proving that they are right in some way is worth the agony and expense of litigation.  I disagree!  It is hardly ever worth it.

In mediation you are on your own with the mediator, there is no one there to help, defend or speak for you.  The onus is on you and perhaps people find it difficult to behave well with the person they once loved who is now very much on the opposite side of the fence.  People may want the support, advice and encouragement of their lawyer and may feel justified in putting forward their case to possibly get more of the assets or more time with the children.  But obviously there is only so much to be divided and if money is spent on court proceedings then there is less for the parties.

For whatever reason, it can be difficult for people to choose mediation which is why the take-up has been surprisingly low but perhaps this year’s New Year’s Resolution should be mediation and not litigation for separating couples.  

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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