Last year, I received a holiday card from a mediation client, letting me know that she felt both seen AND heard in the mediation process. This felt very powerful, and gave me pause for thought about what happens in the mediation process that provides safe space for couples to discuss and resolve their differences by agreement.
A common theme among divorcing couples or non-married parties whose relationship is ending, is that they didn’t “hear” each other; that their lack of communication ultimately led to their undoing as a couple.
When someone feels “heard,” they feel acknowledgment and lack of judgment, that what they think and feel has value and worth even if you don’t agree with them. To also be “seen,” means you feel accepted for who you are, even with all your human failings. It is a two-way street in negotiation – in order to feel seen AND heard, you have to see AND hear the other person.
Not so easy when getting divorced or ending a relationship – what is easy is getting stuck in recrimination and blame and judgment, which is costly, both financially and psychologically, for individuals and families.
Out of court dispute resolution processes like mediation add the element of the neutral mediator to the conversation, allowing for facilitation of an open discussion about what scenarios might lead to a more peaceful existence or co-existence as separated individuals or co-parents. By pointing out common goals and brainstorming options that embrace those common goals, the mediator and the mediation process help the clients find the language to share how both can be seen AND heard and still resolve conflict.
Brené Brown, in the book The Gifts of Imperfection, says “It’s hard for us to understand that we can be compassionate and accepting while we hold people accountable for their behaviors. We can and, in fact, it’s the best way to do it.” In conflict resolution, parties are connected by the pain of a relationship that is ending, and wanting to have accountability from the other for their experiences in ways that the legal system sometimes cannot provide. At the same time, they are trying to disconnect and define their relationship differently and more positively going forward. When parties in mediation feel that they are seen AND heard by each other and by the mediator, these sometimes competing feelings create an energy that can spark creativity and ultimately be the key to agreement.
I will always remember the mediation client who sent me that holiday card last year. It certainly made me feel that I had provided something of value to the parties, and it also made me want to do better in how I see AND hear others in my personal and professional relationships. Let’s all make a New Year’s resolution to do better!
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