The give and take of four-way meetings typically includes requesting and receiving information, clarification, and promises of future cooperation. I have found that as the conversation unfolds, a simple “thank you” elevates the meeting from formal and static to a dynamic opportunity for creative problem-solving.
Collaborative practice requires a great deal from clients and lawyers. We have promised to help our clients assert individual interests while together we search for answers that meet the fundamental needs of both. Those underlying principals require a challenging balancing act during joint meetings. Often I struggle to find the right words to keep my clients on the collaborative path.
My training in transformative mediation has been helpful in collaboration. Transformative mediation looks beyond settlement of a particular dispute toward a fundamental change in the parties’ relationship. A mediator uses “Acknowledgment and recognition” to further two goals:
- to keep participants aware of their individual authority and self-determination
- to help participants verbalize insight into the feelings and needs of the other.
I remember counseling a client during a break in a difficult meeting to put herself in her spouse’s shoes by honestly considering his needs as well as her own. I also asked that she consider acknowledging how difficult the decision-making was for both of them and thank him for hanging in there with her during a very difficult conversation. After the break, my client was able to clearly ask for what she needed while giving voice to her spouse’s interests. Her simple thank you allowed her spouse to work with her and the parties tackled their decision-making with renewed energy.
If we remain focused on what parties are saying and feeling during our meetings, we will find opportunities to foster each party’s sense of his or her own strengths and abilities as well as each party’s ability to empathize with the other. When we help parties achieve those insights, we further the collaborative goal of reaching a settlement that meets the fundamental needs of both parties. Saying thank you is a simple place to start.
“The Promise of Mediation,” by Robert A Baruch Bush and Joseph P. Folger.