As divorce professionals working in mediation and in collaborative divorce, we tend to talk a lot about the process, explaining to clients how the process works and what they can expect - sometimes verbally, and other times with the help of graphics or a combination of the two. We also tend to explain to the client that they make decisions, but we own the process as professionals. I have always believed in this method of thinking and always believed that it had to be explained to the clients. If this is the first time for the clients to get divorced, they are completely unaware of what they are doing or how it even works. After all, we are the professionals here to help guide them.
When explaining this to clients, I use an analogy:
"Think of being on a raft with you and your attorney on opposite sides, each with an oar in your hands. One side is pushing the oar, and the other side is pulling the oar, and sooner or later the raft is going to hit the rocks or get into the rapids and have a rough ride because no one is steering the rudder. In collaborative divorce, or even mediation, you are in the same raft, but this time one spouse is on one side and the other spouse is on the other side with the oar in their hands. The professionals, attorneys, coaches, child specialist, financial neutral and others are all in the middle of the boat with their hands on the rudder. They are steering the raft to the calm waters and away from the rocks and rapids."
This sounds great - to people who listen attentively. What actually happens is that clients are not prepared for the three-way meeting with the financial neutral, or a four-way meeting with coaches, or a five-way meeting with attorneys and financial neutral. They go through the meeting without saying much, and they leave with a lot of questions about the process. “Nothing was accomplished in the meeting,” or “He or she spoke all of the time and I could not get a word in,” are familiar refrains I hear from people when mediation or the collaborative process start out. And unfortunately, this sometimes has the effect of poisoning them against the process. Now they start to think, “PROCESS! I don’t care about the process. I don’t want to hear about the process anymore, I just want this over and done!” We need to listen to our clients. We need to listen not only as individuals, but also as a team, to what they are saying. If we don’t listen and address what they are saying, we are not going to have a successful outcome. Recently, two good friends of mine went go through the collaborative process. One friend had actually been involved with the collaborative movement from the onset, not as a collaborative professional but as a consultant to collaborative professionals. One of them said to me:
“I know we always talk about the process, but I don’t want to hear about it anymore. I just want this over with.”
The other friend called me and said almost the same words:
“Don’t talk to me about the process; I just want to know when this will be over.”
I explained to them that a divorce doesn’t happen in two meetings - or three or four, and that they have to think about why they choose this process. They were not forced into it; they had a choice and wanted the collaborative process. Take the time to explain how the process works and listen to them when they talk. It is a proven fact that people have to hear things seven times before they really understand them. How do you explain the process to your clients?