By: Cristin Lowe
Never Assume You were Heard Correctly
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Mediation is a somewhat artificial institution. Think about it: you go to a small, uncomfortable room, sit with a stranger and your ex, and then talk about your children. After the appointment, if you don’t reach an agreement within a short amount of time, this stranger gets to recommend what he or she thinks is best for your kids. Sound fun?
That is why it is absolutely vital to make sure that you are 100% confident that you are being heard. Just because you’re talking to a person who is a self-proclaimed expert at listening doesn’t mean that this is actually taking place. It is still your responsibility to make sure that you are being heard.
One of the most common issues I have when meeting with clients is their use of pronouns. Usually they’re trying to make themselves easier to follow, but it’s just the opposite. The third reference I hear to “she” or “her,” and I’m lost. I don’t know if the client is talking about his ex-wife, one of his daughters, his mother, his ex-wife’s mother, an aunt, or the teenage babysitter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client sit down and say, “He never wants to spend time with him. He cancels visitation at the last second, and his feelings get hurt. Then he blames me.” Other than knowing one person is the dad and one person is the son, I have no idea who doesn’t want to spend time with the other, who cancels visitation, whose feelings get hurt, and who blames her. Trust, me, if you speak like that to your mediator, that person can’t understand either.
I find that referring to people by their relationship or title, rather than a name, is the best way for me to follow a story. “Mom,” “grandma,” and “nanny” are simple to remember and understand. Other than using names for your children, other names should generally be limited to titles. Remember, you are usually the only one who is guaranteed to understand what you want to say. You need to make sure you allow others to also hear you correctly.
What other examples do you have?