How do you negotiate with difficult people?

children in a forestI suspect no one considers themselves to be “difficult” so we are perhaps talking about people with strong opinions which they consider correct.  I would always advocate attempting negotiation or mediation rather than simply assuming an adversarial approach and heading to Court.  It always helps as a first step to actually take a step back and get some perspective on the situation.  It is easy to be so convinced of your own position that you do not look at the alternatives which might have some unforeseen benefits. As we all know, under stress even reasonable people can become angry, intractable and entrenched in their view. Anger and hostility may also hide fear and mistrust, confusion and distress. You need to deal with not only that person’s behaviour but your reaction to it which can easily perpetuate the very behaviour you would like to stop. If you react angrily, negotiation may become impossible. The aim is to move from face-to-face confrontation to side-by-side problem solving – it is always worth a try. Working together to seek solutions rather than having an angry confrontation which goes nowhere. “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret”. Ambrose Bierce Sometimes people may try to wind you up – if you succumb to anger you stop thinking clearly and by reacting you become part of the problem. It is important not to react to provocation or try to provoke a reaction! Sometimes the most effective negotiation is accomplished by saying nothing. Sometimes emotional reactions indicate a need for recognition of pain or distress or hurt. We all have a deep need for recognition, and satisfying that need can help create a climate for agreement. Acknowledging the other’s point of view does not mean that you necessary agree with it. It means that you accept it as one valid point of view amongst others, but it sends a conciliatory message. Agree wherever you can. It is possible to agree without conceding. Saying “Yes, you have a point there” or “Yes, I agree with you” always goes down well. As well as using yes a lot use “we” and try and find out what each party really wants as there may be more mutual ground than first thought. It is important too that no one loses face and the other acknowledges that. The bottom line is that it is better for people to negotiate an agreement, to engage in mediation or have discussions, to reach their own solution rather than getting into any sort of Court argument with a decision imposed by a third party. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.  
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Changing the rules in divorce

children walking through wheat fieldIn February this year the Government proposed changes to contact arrangements and this caught the headlines.  It is perhaps unfortunate that some of the other less provocative, but very sensible, proposals contained in the report were lost in the discussion about whether or not fathers would have more contact with their children. One proposal was that separating couples would automatically have an on-line information helpline to give them access to all sorts of information when they are separating, not just legal.  I generally suggest that parents take advantage of other non-legal assistance, such as guidance and support in helping their children deal with their separation, or help to deal with their own emotional issues.  It is important that all parties in a divorce can move on from what can be a very difficult emotional situation to a place where there is acceptance and, if necessary, forgiveness.  We all know of people who are trapped in the bitterness of an acrimonious relationship.  Even after many years they can still bemoan their former partner, which actually does more damage to themselves.  It is also of course vitally important that children are helped through what can be a difficult situation. The court encourages parents who are arguing about the children to seek alternative means of resolving these difficulties.  Anyone wishing to apply to the court is required to attend a meeting with a mediator and parents are then referred to a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP).  Many lawyers feel that it is unfortunate that the parents attend these separately, becauss although they are separating, they are actually going to remain co-parents of that child or children so need to work together to help the children deal with their separation and ensure that the family survives well post-separation There are various proposals envisaged to change the way parents take matters through the court.  One is to change the terms “contact” and “residence” order to something called a “child arrangement order”, which is said to “encompass all arrangements for children’s care in private law”.  What this will actually mean in practise is of course unknown, but most lawyers feel that it is a good idea to move away from the label of contact and residence which suggest that there is one parent who has care of the children, whereas the other “only” has contact.  Arrangements should be joint, even if in practise the children spend more time with one parent or the other. The overall message is of course that there has to be a better way for families to deal with the issues of separation, whether it be money or children, than arguing through the courts as they still have to exist together as a family, even when the parents are living separately.  In some way or another parents need to be encouraged to address the needs of their children at that time of separation more constructively than many do at the moment.  A court process which polarises parents to take particular positions and a process which can take many weeks to complete, just allows conflict to become further entrenched and any temporary arrangement for the care of the children to become the actual arrangement without any proper consideration of whether this is in fact in the best interests of all parties. The courts have as their overriding principle the welfare of the children, but it tends to get lost in the mire of legal argument and positioning from the parents.  What we need to do is stop that positioning from the outset and persuade parents to approach their separation collaboratively and to resolve their differences through mediation. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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Civil Partnerships – a new kind of convention?

mediationCivil partnerships recognise the validity of same sex relationships. They provide the same legal and social recognition as heterosexual couples who marry. It is a public statement, sign of commitment and a legally recognised category. As with marriage, civil partnership changes the legal relationship between couples and gives them certain rights, responsibilities and entitlements which they would not have if they were in a casual, unrecognised relationship, if they were merely cohabitees as opposed to being married or in a civil partnership. In some ways same sex relationships are flouting convention, possibly not the typical picture of a nuclear family or how society would portray family and marriage relationships generally. Yet civil partnerships once unusual, perhaps unconventional have acquired a new acceptance and have become almost conventional. Not only may they include the exchange of rings but quite often the couple decide to adopt the same surname. Ironically, such outward signs of convention can appear very unconventional and challenging. If two men living together choose to adopt the same surname, this is quite unusual, if same sex couples exchange rings or have a lavish public ceremony, somehow this adoption of classic conventions appears to be flouting them too. It is an interesting situation whereby the very essence of convention and acceptability – a wedding, exchange of rings, adoption of the same surname in a same sex relationship seem challenging and a flouting of convention. We now have the ultimate sign of marriage – the divorce or the dissolution of civil partnerships and these cases are now going through the courts in the same way divorcing couples have for many years. The Lawrence v Gallagher case established clearly that financial claims within a civil partnership are to be dealt with in the same way as a marriage, that means in legal speak that the same financial remedies are available to people within a civil partnership as within a marriage. Couples acquire the same legal rights and remedies. This is also perhaps an example of where the law is ahead of public thinking – there is absolutely no difference between same sex and heterosexual relationships in law but perhaps not yet in society. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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Kids back to school – time for a divorce?

children walking through wheat fieldWe've just had the best summer weather for a number of years and the chance to get out and spend time doing the things we enjoy during our holidays.  However back to school in September often heralds a rethink of people’s situation, getting round to those jobs that you left during the summer whilst the kids were at home and quite often that involves dealing with personal issues. There are always a lot of enquiries about divorce and separation in September and although the end of the holidays may be a catalyst to those enquiries, it is important to remember that your children will have to live with whatever arrangements you make. That might sound obvious but is often forgotten. When parents separate they will generally both want to be as fully involved with the children’s lives as they were before, sometimes that leads to conflict but what it should lead to is a commitment from both parents to ensure that they work together in some way despite the fact that they are separating. It is almost impossible for separation not to mean that both parties are financially worse off so it needs the whole family to work together to decide practical issues such as where is everybody going to live and how they are going to manage financially. The last thing you want is to add a hefty legal bill in to all the other extra costs. That can be avoided if, from the outset, you decide to try and collaborate during the divorce process. Your children will be understandably anxious about what is going to happen, assure them that through no fault of their own you are going to be living separately but that you both want the best for them and  ensure that there are no arguments in front of or about them. Parents should take it upon themselves to ensure that they don’t try and burden children with adult issues. In practice this means that if the kids are going to visit dad, mum needs to give them every encouragement to go; it doesn’t help if she looks sad about them going making them feel in some way disloyal to her or responsible for her being lonely without them. Mum needs to put a brave face on it whatever she might be feeling because these are not emotions children should have to bear. They want to see their mum and their dad. Similarly when they are at their dad’s they do not want to hear how rotten their mum is – they love their mum (and their dad). They want to be able to speak about one parent to the other without feeling guilty or disloyal or that they somehow can’t mention the other parent. Children need to be able to speak to and about both parents. Similarly adults need to be sensitive and responsible about their new relationships. It’s no good rushing into a relationship full of enthusiasm without considering the effect that it may have on your children if you bring in a ‘new’ mum or dad, or worse, new siblings! Kids these days are under a lot of pressure at school, keeping up with their friends. They need plenty of adult support, help and encouragement if their parents are separating. Often this extra support is needed just when those very adults are in the worst possible place to give it, when their life seems to be falling apart because of their separation. Perhaps then we should all be more willing to give practical and emotional support to anyone we know going through a divorce or separation – because it’s never easy. However people can actually get through a really difficult situation and move on to something better, learning from the experience and using that positively with their children and in new relationships. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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