By Rayna Brachmann, Esq.
In a divorce law practice, we deal with our share of conflict. Conflict between spouses, conflict with other lawyers, conflict with the Judge. We help guide clients through conflict and hopefully assist them to the other side. And it’s difficult. Some days conflict can overwhelm everything else and make it nearly impossible to get anything accomplished. It can be a significant drain on mental and emotional resources.
So it was with great interest that I read this article from the New York Times called “How to Deal With a Jerk Without Being a Jerk”. Because that’s a reasonable goal given the level of conflict we deal with on a daily basis. I read this article both as guidance for myself, and hopefully to improve my ability to assist clients as they deal with conflicts with their spouse, which are of course much more emotionally charged and closer to home.
When I am acting as a mediator, I always tell clients that either one can push the pause button and we can take a break so everyone can take a deep breath and feel less emotionally charged. This is what expert negotiators do rather than respond when feeling defensive.
“The natural response is to get defensive, but that only escalates the cycle of aggression. Take a classic study in which researchers recorded negotiators with different levels of skill. Average bargainers ended up in three times as many defend-attack spirals as expert negotiators. The experts escaped the heat of the moment and cooled the other person down, too. They calmly commented on their reactions to the other person’s behavior and tested their understanding of what the person was trying to convey.”
This tool is just as effective in a meeting between spouses, in a conference with the Court, and in communications with a difficult attorney on the other side.
Conflict is part of divorce, and part of a divorce practice, but learning tools to deal with it more effectively is a way to improve a challenging situation and get past it to a resolution.