Feb 2012 28

Actions speak louder than words.

But I fall for the words every time.  I listen too carefully to what people tell me, and then not carefully enough to what their actions tell me.

For those of us who aren’t hardened criminals, sociopaths and pathological liars, usually the disconnect between the words and the actions is unintentional.  I really meant to take out the trash and call my mother in law. I did!  I didn’t mean any disrespect by forgetting.

But the net result is that I forgot.

A typical way this plays out in the mediation session is the client who says they want to finish talking about a particular topic, or that they want to sign the agreement before they leave today’s session…..and then they can’t stop talking in circles, or they keep nit-picking all the details of the punctuation in the agreement, making it impossible to finish the discussion or sign the agreement.

If I paid more attention to the person’s actions, I might’ve been clued in sooner that they didn’t really want to stop talking about the topic or that they really weren’t ready to sign the agreement.  After all, talking in circles (after being reminded a couple of times and all attempts to redirect the conversation are ignored) and obsession over the final agreement when it’s already been read, revised, and read and revised again several times really shouts “I am not ready for this to be over.”

So when you’re faced with an impasse, think about the clients’ behavior.  Ask them what they think is going on. Ask them alone, in caucus, if you think your question might embarrass them.  Ask them, “What’s your worst fear?” because once they can put a name to their concern, you can talk about it and design an agreement that will prevent their worst fear from happening.

Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010). Join the conversation and community on our video blog and check out Diana’s divorce blog on the Huffington Post

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