Guest Post: “Introduction to ADR” and Communication

Happy-fingers(By Hayley Glaholt) In a recent course I took at Riverdale Mediation (“Introduction to ADR”), the significance of effective and appropriate communication in family mediation became clear. Throughout the course our three instructors (Hilary Linton, Christine Kim and Elizabeth Hyde) highlighted numerous areas in which successful family mediation relied on an adept understanding of communication styles and strategies. For this post I have identified five key areas that are helpful for family mediators (and mediators more broadly) to keep in mind during each stage of a mediation.
Who are you, and where do you come from?

The ways in which we communicate (or fail to communicate!) are shaped heavily by our surroundings. Both nature and nurture influence what we want to say, and how we want to say it.

 

CULTURE
As Christine Kim discussed during our course (and has written about in this blog), our own cultural heritage can both help us and hinder us in family mediation. Body language, phrasing, and temporal aspects of communication are all influenced by our cultural milieu—and what may seem natural and appropriate to one person could be downright offensive to another. In this regard, cultural literacy/cultural competence is a mandatory skill to develop.

PERSONALITY
On the first day of “Intro to ADR,” Christine and Elizabeth recommended that each participant take a Myers-Briggs test to figure out our personality type. After all, knowledge is power! So I trotted off to my computer and took one online. It turns out that I am an “INFJ” (Introverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Judging). How might this impact my communication style? Thanks to our course materials and some online research, I now know that: I can be frustrated with highly interactive and verbal processes (I am better with written communication), I tend to skip from topic to topic, I tend to see lively expressions of emotion/perspective as combative, and I have difficulty concluding and making decisions. After panicking briefly (how good of a family mediator could I possibly be with all of these problems?!), I realized that—again—knowledge is power! Being aware of my strengths and weaknesses allows me to address them in ways that will benefit both my clients and myself.

PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND
As seasoned mediators already know, being a family mediator is not the same as being a family therapist, lawyer, or friend. Each of us comes from a particular professional background—one that has established ways of “appropriately” getting information across. My background in academia has taught me a “correct” way of talking to and engaging with others in professional settings. Each of us will have to un-learn and adapt to new, useful ways of communicating in order to put our clients’ needs first, and to fulfil the role of mediator well.
The subtleties of communication

Communication is not just about words. It is about body language, interpersonal exchange, and all that happens when words are not spoken.

POWER IMBALANCE
Though Riverdale offers a course dedicated to understanding and identifying power imbalances in relationships, our course also addressed this issue quite a bit. Mediators must be highly tuned to how individuals intimidate, threaten, and control each other—often without a single word being spoken. Nonverbal communication can often be more powerful than verbal, and if you miss the threatening glance that a husband gives his wife, or the tapping fingers on the table that a wife intends her partner to hear—you are missing information that is vital to a safe and productive mediation.

SILENCE
Each of our instructors highlighted the importance of silence during a family mediation. Meditators themselves must stop talking at times, in order for their clients to process information and come up with their own solutions. Being comfortable with silence, and knowing when to stop talking and shift towards active listening, allows clients to feel empowered and heard. It opens up space for clients’ self-determination in the mediation process.

Conclusion

During this three day course, Hilary Linton repeatedly drew our attention to one portion of the Hippocratic Oath: “First and foremost, do no harm” (Primum non nocere). Family mediators seek to help families reduce stress, violence, and harm in their own relationships. Mediators, by definition, facilitate non-violent communication between parties. In order to truly “do no harm,” we must understand communication in all of its facets and continue to improve ourselves regarding this delicate art.

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Guest Post: Kids, Divorce and School Success: Keeping the Communication Open

portrait-317041_1280As we all know, the stress of divorce can affect a child’s academic performance as well as all other areas of school-life success. However, parents who have been divorced for some time, as well as a variety of experts and educators, say that with good communication, effective organization and shared awareness of their child’s needs, parents can smooth the path for school success.

Keep the focus on the child!

In a “good” divorce, parents are able to put aside their negative feelings, fears and turmoil to put their child’s needs first. Divorced parents need to learn to communicate differently. Often, for the first time, both parents need to be made aware of the logistics and scheduling requirements of school. Additionally, another key issue for supporting children who live in two homes, is for both parents to assist their children with the organizational needs of homework, special school events, assignment deadlines, as well as regular home-school communication.

For most children/teens living in two homes, life is emotionally stressful. Layer on top of that their obligation to continue to manage and organize day-to-day school requirements, and life becomes even more challenging. Effective planning between parents is key to lessening conflict, making sure everyone is in agreement about expectations and helping the child focus on school. The more shared expectations between both parents the better; that includes determining who communicates with teachers, who will attend school functions and meetings, as well as who organizes after school routines. It is so important for parents to have consistent rules, have expectations that are realistic, and provide various supports when required.

Homework is one area where children/teens feel “pushed and pulled”. So many students tell their teachers that they were unable to complete their homework or prepare for a test, because one or the other parent has not made homework support a priority. Additionally, the challenges of organizing school books and materials in two homes is often overwhelming for kids.  Sometimes, parents make the choice of reducing or completely omitting parental expectations around school work. This can be a result of anger towards the other parent, a parent’s own lack of confidence scholastically, and/or an overall desire to please their child. Experts agree that consistency in parental expectations around homework and school routines, provides security and structure in a child/teen’s life.

Many parenting agreements focus on how much time the child will spend with each parent, and where the child will be on holidays and special events. What is critically important is to focus on what the needs of the child are, rather than the amount of time spent. For example, if the child is presenting with any challenges at school, it is always in the child’s best interest for both parents to schedule a specific time each week to talk about those issues, without the child around. If this communication is too challenging for parents, school principals, teachers and social workers can help facilitate helpful conversation with each parent with the goal of successful planning for the child.

When a child has learning challenges, parents’ reactions can become more emotional for a variety of reasons. In addition to seeking professional support from medical practitioners, therapists and educational consultants, there are many useful and practical organizational tools to help maintain consistency between homes, which, of course, only helps the child. Online family schedules, such as www.cozi.com, can provide organizational consistency. One exciting, new app http://brili.co is a visual schedule for kids with ADHD or other organizational challenges. Parents and kids can input information together to help each day run smoothly.

One of the biggest challenges for all of us who support separated families, is how we can convince parents that consistently demonstrating proactive rather than reactive communication, will only enhance the well-being and academic success of their children.

 

Nancy Lerner, M.A.

Educational Consultant

Nancylerner.ca

nancylernerconsulting@gmail.com

Posted in Children, Custody of children, Family Law, Separation & Divorce | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Communication is Key

social-mediaMy mother recently passed away and I am grateful for the communication we had about her wishes and preferences for when the time came. She suffered from a chronic illness so the family had time to prepare themselves for her passing and I had the time to prepare to be the Executor of her estate.

How did my mother prepare?

– Many years ago she gave me a copy of her Will and Powers of Attorney for when the time came. This gave me the chance to ask questions and keep my siblings informed of their responsibilities as well.
– She had arranged and prepaid for her funeral. There were still last minute decisions to make but she did not burden us with guessing what she would want.
– She spoke to many of us about our participation during her memorial so that everyone was involved.
– She disposed of the possessions that were closest to her heart prior to her passing so that she could enjoy the gifts she made.
– She asked us to select personal possessions from her home every item we visited. If she wanted to keep them for now our initials were applied to masking tape on the bottom of the item.
– She openly answered questions I had about personal possessions she had not yet documented knowing that I would follow-through on her wishes.

In summary she communicated with all of us. There were very few questions remaining when she passed.

Why is communication necessary? Think of the problems a lack of communication has in your own life. What happens to your career, relationships with your spouse or children or relationships with friends or extended family if there are communication problems?

When it comes to communicating our wishes and preferences I’ve summarized the hurdles to communication into four categories.

The first communication hurdle is the not-invented-here problem of refusing to acknowledge that we are human and believing that accidents and health crisis only happen to other people. Believing we will live a long life gives purpose to our daily lives but can leave our survivors in chaos while they are grieving.

The second communication hurdle is fear that if this information is documented and communicated you will die in the near future. I call this the selfish problem, as you are only thinking about yourself and not the people you leave behind.

The third communication problem is procrastination until the point of no return. Postponing because of other so-called priorities leaves very important information unsaid. Is that dinner party or TV show more important than communicating your wishes?

The fourth problem is missing the opportunity to have the conversation or the time to write it down. Without a goal of communicating important information it never reaches the top of the priority list and remains incomplete. Are family gatherings only for fun and frivolity or are they opportunities to share important information?

In December I wrote a blog titled “Uncomfortable Conversations” but I now wish I had titled it differently. I would now title it “Love, Respect and Communication”.

My mother respected us enough to carry through her wishes without putting ourselves first that she did not hesitate to communicate them openly and frankly with us. She retained her autonomy until the end of her days and expected us to love and respect her in decisions we made at her passing and going forward.

Leslie Knighton, EPC
www.executor-services.ca
leslie@executor-services.ca

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Guest Post: The Effects of Divorce on Children

 

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Children have an especially difficult time with divorce. At times, parents neglect to consider the ramifications of the effects of the divorce or separation on their children. Understanding how children will be affected by the divorce and the resulting parental relationships is an important component to helping minimize the emotional turmoil of divorce for children.

One key area in a child’s life where we often see the “fallout” of divorce is in school. In my experiences as a school principal and currently as an Educational Consultant, I routinely experience the negative impact of divorce on children and adolescents. Teachers are most often the first professionals to notice changes in a child’s demeanour, work habits, learning skills and general engagement in school life. Sometimes we notice considerable behavioural changes long before a parent informs the school of the change in family dynamics. It is not uncommon to observe a student become more disorganized, distractible, tired, irritable, sad, or withdrawn. Academics can become negatively impacted, as well as the initiative to seek help from trusted teachers. Adolescents, in particular, can demonstrate avoidance and are more reluctance to talk to teachers or principals about changes in their families.

Some parents choose not to inform the school about their separation or divorce. There are many relevant reasons why they choose not share this pertinent information. For some parents, the lack of financial and community resources prevent them from seeking legal advice, and they make their own arrangements for custody and access. Other parents feel embarrassed to tell the school principal or teacher. The diverse cultural community in most schools impacts how open parents are to allow school personnel to support students going through difficult family times. In many cultures, women are left to provide for their children, sometimes without any financial or emotional support from fathers. Their culture informs them to keep family issues private, and this belief is passed on to their children.

Once a principal is informed that parents are separated, they are then able to access a variety of supports for the parents and children not only within the school, but in the community. It is not uncommon for principals, along with school social workers, to assist in directing parents to appropriate professionals to gain information about the rights of the child when parents separate. The Office of the Children’s Lawyer in Ontario can be very helpful. Principals are also able to provide translators so parents are better able to navigate often confusing information.

Children, no matter what their age, are almost always impacted academically, emotionally, socially and sometimes physically when parents separate. Without a confidential, collaborative approach between parents, schools and professionals, many students will not have their complex needs addressed.

NL logo

www.nancylerner.ca
E: nancylernerconsulting@gmail.com
T: 416.886.7552                              

Posted in Children, Family Law, Mediation, Parenting Coordination | 1 Comment

Cultural Competence: Where does it begin?

 

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I attended the Academy of Professional Family Mediators (APFM) in the fall of 2014 in beautiful San Diego with Elizabeth Hyde, Lene Madsen and Jennifer Suzar, distinguished mediators from Ontario.

I have been speaking on the topic of cultural competency in mediation for the last several years. I often find participants eager to find the “steps” or rather “answers” to working with clients that they consider to be culturally different. In my session at the APFM, one of the participants raised her hand and proposed that she start her mediation by asking her clients to talk about their cultural values. Eager to make a point, I asked her the same question. She looked at me and paused, realizing that she didn’t really know how to express her so-called cultural values.

This was one of those “a-ha” moments that demonstrate how often we think that our clients, visible minorities in particular, can talk about their culture. Culture is often not easily articulated in a conversation, but rather, it is part of the way we live.

Culture is a shared experience, influencing values, beliefs, attitudes, and interactions. It is passed on from generation to generation and provides members with an ability to identify with a group and differentiate from other cultural groups. It includes the knowledge that people need to have in order to function effectively in their social environment. This knowledge is created in sets of rules and social standards that govern behaviors considered acceptable, they are often not spoken rather they are just known. It has been referred to as the collective glue that maintains individuals’ connections to the cultural milieu.

It’s important to recognize that the actions of culture are in the rules that produce the behaviors, not the behaviors themselves. This is an important differentiation. Individuals are not fixed within culture and experience different degrees of inclusion within various cultural groups. Culture is not static. Roles and expectations can change over time and can be influenced by other cultures, especially in today’s global society.

So, it’s understandable why it is not surprising that members of a cultural group may be unable to describe the set of roles, expectations, and values even though they may be proficient in the cultural behaviors of the group. Nevertheless, culture plays a vital role in the lives of children and families, regardless of their level of consciousness about the reasons for their behaviors.

We, as mediators, also work by our own cultural values, and this may indeed impact the mediation. Living in this incredibly diverse city calls upon family law professionals to critically reflect on how they are relating to their clients and the assumptions they bring to the table. Cultural competency involves recognizing the dynamic interplay of the various cultures at the table, including our own.

It would be wise to reflect on the question of your own cultural values before asking the person across the table. It is through this dialogue where the development of cultural competency begins.

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Ten tips for “moving the mediation”

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Check out our Ten tips for “moving the mediation” in our latest infographic.

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