By Jen Segura
After mediating for a long time, it is easy to get caught up in advanced ideas to help our clients. Therefore, it is vital to get back to the basics and remember that as the neutral in a case, we do not need to make our jobs more complicated than they should be. Making things more complicated is a disservice to our clients. We have built our process on a foundation of keeping it simple, straightforward, and relatable. The divorce process is often made to be this crazy fortress that no one can understand except for the attorneys. As I wrap up one of the most complicated cases I’ve worked on in my career, I can say with confidence – ANY CASE CAN BE MEDIATED! Many of our clients work with consulting attorneys throughout the process, and we’ve had some attorneys look at a case we are working on and say it is not a case that can be mediated because of the size of the estate. This is SO untrue! Most of our couples who come in to see us are high net worth cases, meaning $20 million or more in net worth. The higher the net worth, the easier the case often is. There is far less stress and anxiety when there is more than enough to divide. Not to mention, they are typically financially savvy. It is always the unknown that creates contention in a case. If the money is there, it answers many unknown questions that linger when the money is not there.
Back to the point of this blog, The Basics. I just finished reading Negotiating the Nonnegotiable by Daniel Shapiro. It is one of the best books on negotiation I’ve read. Mr. Shapiro was a co-author of Getting to Yes, a top-rated book written many moons ago. He is the Founder and the Director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program. When I say this man is a genius, that is an understatement. While there are advanced strategies outlined in the book, there is a foundation that comes from the basics. One of my favorite excerpts from the book is below. He explains that he begins his heated disputes with this statement:
“The goal of our mediation session is to help you come to a better understanding of each other’s perspectives and to explore ways to reconcile your differences. I recognize you are in a rut—and so it is easy to fall back into your same old conflict dynamics. So our goal today is to have a different conversation, a more productive one in which you listen to learn rather than defend.”
When I read this excerpt, it reminded me of the informal mediation rules in our Agreement to Mediate. Before COVID, when our clients were all in person, we would read through the Agreement to Mediate together and review our guidelines. Now that everything (or nearly everything) is done virtually, we have lost that few minutes where we review our Agreement (and thus our informal guidelines) together. I pulled our guidelines from our Agreement the other day and have decided I will have it READY in all of my virtual mediations. We will begin each session reviewing these guidelines, and if the guidelines are not followed, I will share the document to remind everyone that we committed to them and we need to follow them. Here are our informal guidelines:
The parties commit to use their best efforts to adhere to the following:
(1) to be respectful of others.
(2) to speak only for yourself and attempt to use “I” rather than “You” statements.
(3) to refrain from using inflammatory language or that blames others.
(4) to not interrupt while another person is speaking.
(5) to attack the problems and concerns at hand, rather than attacking other persons.
(6) to make statements about your interests (what you want or need) rather than your positions.
(7) listen with the goal to learn and to understand each other’s perspective without prejudging that person or their message and without getting defensive.
They seem so simple, but they are, in fact, SO IMPORTANT. Many of our clients have never felt heard by their spouses. They never have an opportunity to share their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. They may have never felt safe doing so or cannot get a word in because their spouse always controls the narrative. If nothing else, your mediator is there to allow you to get your voice heard, once and for all! To give you the safe space to say what you want to say, vent any frustrations, and ask for what you need. We all deserve to be heard, and we all deserve to feel seen and respected. We wish to give that to our clients and to give them the confidence to go into their future relationships with that same tenacity they show in the mediation sessions and always speak up for themselves. Every person has value to add to the relationships they are in. If they are not allowed to share their values, the entire relationship suffers, not just the individual whose light is being dimmed.
So if you happen to read this and you are NOT going through a divorce, the next time you are in an argument with your significant other, think back to the basics reflected in this blog. Print them out, put them up on the fridge and try to live by them. Perhaps they can strengthen your relationship so that you do not become our client! They seem simple and even elementary, but there is a reason the basics are the basics. If the basics are not met, you cannot move on to the more complicated aspects of relationships. We all deserve at least… the basics.
Want to learn more about our mediation process? Contact West Coast Family Mediation Center today for more information at (858) 736-2411.