The content to process shift is exactly that: You stop talking about the content (the topic that’s got your mediation stalled) and start talking about the process (how you’re talking about the content).
So, for example, let’s say your mediation is stalled out over a discussion of spousal support. That’s a pretty popular topic that people get stuck on. Fighting ensues, and some accusations and name-calling. The clients are even repeating themselves. You’re getting nowhere.
So you make some wild hand gestures (because they’re not listening to you, of course) and get their attention. You tell them that you don’t think the current discussion, the way it’s going, is productive. Generally, the clients will agree.
Then you ask them what they think would help make the discussion productive. Maybe they’d like to speak with you separately? Table the issue and talk about it another time?
As you can see, you’ve stopped talking about spousal support. You’re talking about how to talk about spousal support.
There are 2 benefits to this approach:
1) You stop the fighting and unproductive communication and disrupt the couple’s pattern.
2) You engage the couple’s help in finding a solution to the arguing (not the topic–the arguing). After all, who knows best about what will work for them than they do?
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