Cincinnati for Collaborative Law and Chili

© 2013 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

Last Friday I started my seminar travels again with an all-day training I gave in Cincinnati to the Cincinnati Academy of Collaborative Professionals. A great group of people. I was really impressed with how well they have created a community that learns together, challenges each other, and enjoys spending time together. They had many great questions and received me very warmly. (You can see the photo which shows how I succumbed to their invitation to try Cincinnati Chili – a unique and tasty treat. How they got chocolate into that I don’t know, but I love chocolate! But they also gave me two great dinners and great conversations about the state of the practice.)

A Shift in Responsibilities

In terms of seminar content and practice exercises, this year I am emphasizing the importance of a big shift of responsibility onto client shoulders for playing a more active role in setting agendas, making proposals, speaking up if they have concerns about the process, and making the big decisions. This includes taking the dilemmas they often pass to the collaborative team, and putting these right back on their shoulders, rather than trying hard to solve it for them or getting frustrated with them. Instead, we can calmly say something like this:

“You folks have a dilemma. We can give you information about how others have dealt with similar issues, what the legal and psychological standards may be on this issue, etc. etc. But you must decide how you two want to deal with this dilemma. We can only assist by giving you guidance, encouragement and sharing our professional knowledge and experience. You are the best ones to find your unique resolution of this dilemma.”

This type of approach (which can be used with any high conflict clients – or any clients – at any time in any setting, actually engages the parties more in making their own decisions, and engages the collaborative team more on providing a good process that assists clients in learning and strengthening problem-solving skills, even while they’re upset. Learning to make proposals is an especially good skill which we have found that high conflict parents can learn in most cases – and a skill they like! So we as professionals need to focus more on our process and not taking over what our clients should be doing, but instead helping them learn how to do it.

Who is Responsible?

We’re not responsible for the clients’ outcome, we’re responsible for the process. Ironically, by letting go of the outcome, we engage in a better relationship with potentially high conflict clients and they reach more agreements and better agreements. Instead of struggling with pushing them into the settlement we think they should reach, we are more patient, more flexible and more respectful of them as they shift back and forth, get angry and sad, and behave in ways we don’t like. Since it’s our job to guide them and maintain a well-structured process, we can remain “connected” with them as they go through these ups and downs, rather than the common professional reaction of criticizing, blaming and emotionally abandoning high conflict clients. Collaborative Divorce and Divorce Mediation are particularly well-suited for maintaining this approach, even when the going gets rough. I look forward to future contacts (and meals) with the good folks in Cincinnati.

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.

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