The collaborative process offers many benefits to parties that are willing to work together to reach a solution in a non-confrontational environment. When parties put in a good-faith effort to communicate respectfully, a mutually beneficial solution can be reached. Part of respectful communication includes not only speaking in a respectful way; it also means actively listening with that same respect. During the divorce process, parties are understandably stressed and/or anxious, and this may affect how discussions progress. When both parties come to the table eager to have their points heard, the equally important aspect of listening may sometimes be overlooked. With this in mind, I have compiled some considerations to aid in the active listening process during a collaborative discussion:
Come to the table with the right attitude.
Parties going through a divorce experience a whirlwind of emotions. Starting the discussions with an open mind and a willingness to listen can help both parties reach a solution. Disagreements will happen, and that is okay – the willingness to use active listening may help parties understand the root of some of the issues and work through those issues in the most productive way. By making the decision to work through the issues with the collaborative process, the parties have committed to a non-adversarial approach. How the parties arrive at an agreement can impact the future relationship. A family in conflict should not treat the issues as a zero sum game. Treating each other with respect and dignity results in the creation of more viable options for settlement that meet the unique needs of each member of the family that is involved.
Be patient and take your time.
In any conversation, it can sometimes be hard to not “jump in” and add two cents to someone’s point. During a stressful or even hostile conversation, this can be even more difficult. Respectful communication means not only speaking in a respectful way, but also knowing when to not speak and allow yourself time to reflect and gather your thoughts before responding. This is where the active listening is very important. Some things may not be said in the way we intend, and may sound more upsetting on their face than the actual meaning/intent behind the words themselves. If parties take the time to listen to not just the words, but also to the thoughts the other party is trying to convey, it allows the discussion to progress in a meaningful way.
Be aware of your location and timing.
Timing is everything when approaching a spouse about negotiating a separation and/or divorce. Thought should be give to how and when negotiations take place. Experts agree that conversations about the marital situation should not take place in the presence of children. Discussions should take place in a quiet, private location that allows both parties the opportunity to speak, and equally important, the opportunity to focus on engaging and listening. If direct negotiation is not possible, the negotiations should take place in a structured settlement conference where each party’s interests can be heard and addressed.
The goal of any negotiation should be to foster privacy, dignity and respect. Active listening helps contain the conflict and encourages cooperation. It also helps to be the trust that is necessary to arrive at resolution.