In family law negotiations, our clients often enter the process with feelings of hurt, anger and defensiveness. They can have a very narrow view of what is possible. Judgments and assumptions abound.
Each member of the professional team brings tremendous knowledge and experience to the case. We need to be aware that we, just as much as our clients, are influenced by our own judgments and assumptions. In our professional roles, we are applauded for sound judgment and strong analytical skills. Clients ask us for advice, making it a challenge to deliver a client-centred process that focuses on the clients’ abilities to make their own decisions. We often think we know what is best for our clients (though we may not admit it!).
We need to shift from judgment to curiosity.
In delivering an effective negotiating process, we need to ask the parties:
The best solutions will meet the parties’ needs, address their concerns, and give them each the best chance to get what they hope for. We know that most family law clients are looking for answers that go beyond legal rights (and wrongs).
Getting past judgment and embracing curiosity enriches our engagement with our clients, helps our clients feel heard and understood, and challenges our clients to get past their own assumptions and defenses. It also challenges us to learn that we don’t have all the answers – the answers must come from our clients. When we are curious, we are open to the many dimensions, contradictions and complexities presented by our clients in collaborative cases, and can deal more effectively with resistance and defensiveness. We can also learn a lot more about ourselves and our team-mates. Try it!