Learning the Insight Approach to Conflict Resolution

Learning the Insight Approach to Conflict Resolution

The training to learn the Insight Approach to conflict resolution is long and involved and I’ll be honest, it’s been the most challenging skill-building for me in my entire legal career.

So why do I do it?

Because this approach makes me better as a Mediator, as a Collaborative Divorce professional, and as a family law attorney in general.

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What exactly is the Insight Approach to conflict resolution?

The idea behind it is that practitioners bring curiosity to helping clients resolve conflicts. This isn’t easy! Because when I’m sitting in a room with two people, or in a room where there is conflict, my tendency is to tell people what they need to do or know.

The complete opposite of the Insight Approach.

Resolving Conflict

Using this training to help people resolve differences during a divorce is not about telling anyone anything. It’s about asking questions to give the people in conflict the opportunity to hear each other differently, and to understand each other in a way they haven’t before, in the way each intends to be understood.

They may still disagree, but now they gain an understanding that they did not have earlier, and this understanding can open minds to alternative, and often creative, solutions.

As an Insight professional, I keep delving into what each client is saying, and checking in with the other person to ask what they are taking away from the other person’s words. It’s a lot of back and forth and checking in, with me turning back and saying, “Is that what you intended?”

The goal: Understanding.

When the other person inevitably says “No,” it’s not what they intended to communicate, we go back to try to get the words more right, so both people share the same understanding.

Certainly, this approach takes longer to get to resolution, and people always want the divorce process to be fast. Breaking up a marriage is uncomfortable, it’s emotional, and no one wants to linger in those feelings.

True conflict resolution is not a fast process, especially in divorce and family law. I’ll admit, it’s hard to not cave to my clients’ desires to pick up the pace, or my desire to tell them what to do. It would certainly be easier!

But not nearly as effective or fulfilling for all involved.

Asking the Right Questions

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Sometimes, I wonder if I’m asking the right questions. In the end, though, the effort is more than worth it because clients are much more satisfied with their outcomes!

Although the Insight Approach to conflict resolution began in law with Mediation, I use my newly acquired skills in every aspect of my legal practice. When I’m using it in the Collaborative Divorce room, there have been really bright lightbulb moments, where I ask a question, and with the support of the Collaborative team, our clients have a discussion that leads to a noticeable shift of perspectives and understandings.

Later, in debrief, my colleagues will say “That was such a good question,” or, “I loved the way you asked that question.” They can see that something changed for the clients, which set us on our way to a successful divorce settlement agreement.

Skill-Building Throughout My Legal Career

I’ve always had a love of learning, which helps with skill-building for my career. As a divorce attorney, I am always signing up for professional development seminars, learning new techniques and perspectives and generally enhancing my skills to benefit my clients.

The legal and social climate is always changing the landscape of divorce, so it’s really a necessity to stay up on the latest trends and approaches to family law.

When I started practicing law, the mindset was that in a divorce, the children always went to the mom, and Dad saw the kids on the weekend. Now, many judges assume the parents will share parenting time equally because e we know that children benefit from close relationships and time with both parents.

Look how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time!

We must keep up with changes. It’s not just the law that’s changing—it’s people’s perceptions and expectations and comfort levels.

I used to educate myself only on updates in the law and policy changes. Now, my focus for professional development includes more on behavioral trends for people because my goal as a family law attorney is to make the world a better place.

That might sound strange, I know, but that’s my over-arching goal. I want people to leave my office in a better place, prepared to move forward productively in their lives.

With  my focus being on helping people with their behavior, during and after divorce, how they conduct themselves, how they function as a family, and how they feel about their family situation, what I discovered is that our  legal system isn’t set up to help families, really. So many families go through the court system these days, and it gets flooded. In some courts there might be a delay because of the volume of cases; in other courtrooms, a case might be pushed through too quickly for what the family is actually dealing with in transitioning their family to two homes. The legal system is now designed to just move people through—not to care about the people. This makes my role as someone’s attorney even more important—because I do care.

I’ve learned through experience that people get better results when they are able to talk with each other. That’s why I am so devoted to Collaborative Divorce. While it’s important to keep up with the changes that are going on in life and society, it’s not just policy and law. People are always learning new things about how to help people behaviorally, and that’s true in divorce.

We’ve found that staying out of court is better for all involved. I wasn’t trained in that mindset, so I educate myself to evolve as a divorce lawyer and as the court system evolves.

I’m not a therapist, and I didn’t go to school to study behavior. But understanding what’s going on inside someone during a conflict situation helps me guide my clients better.

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My first change started when I trained as a mediator, giving me the ability to work with people outside of court. I focused on that for a long time.

When Collaborative Divorce was founded, the concept was amazing to me. I fell in line with it so naturally, and I’ve pursued a lot of training in the different aspects of Collaborative Divorce, including process and procedure.

If you’re a well-trained Collaborative Law attorney, you’ve kept up with the changes in this mode of family law. It has evolved mightily since it was first established! And I keep up with all the changes, train in all the new methods, connect with colleagues who are as devoted to the Collaborative process as I am.

All of this evolution is absolutely to the benefit of our clients. Even when there’s a change that I might not agree with, I study and learn and self-reflect to understand why this new addition is essential to the process.

One of the cornerstones of the Collaborative Divorce process is full transparency. I remember being hesitant about the notion that if one partner has an affair, the Collaborative Divorce process would have them sharing this information with the team.

I wondered, why tell them? It would only serve to hurt the other spouse.

But I learned that in the Collaborative process, it makes a difference for a number of reasons. One of the more subtle reason is because most likely it’s going to come out sooner or later, and if the person was not willingly transparent during the process, the other spouse can question if the entire process has been a sham, with this one lack of transparency.

I was humble enough to learn the reasons behind this value of Collaborative Divorce, and I came around when I understood it.

The only way to excel in a profession—any profession—is to stay up on the latest trends, arm yourself with training and knowledge about the industry as it evolves, and commit to always learning. I love learning because it empowers me with knowledge that helps me be better every day.

At different points in my career, I’ve sought skill-building from various organizations. Right now, I do a lot of work with Canadian Collaborative attorney Jacinta Gallant and the innovative programs she’s created for lawyers. I am also deeply involved with the International Academy of Collaborative Practitioners.

In the past, I participated with programs from the now-defunct Mediation Council and other organizations, and I’ve started to look into an international group for family court facilitation. Always learning, always growing.

The Real Reasons Behind Most Divorces

The Real Reasons Behind Most Divorces

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After decades of being a divorce attorney, I’ve learned a few things about the reasons for divorce and why people end marriages.

First, at least half of divorcing couples knew at the outset about the issues that ended up being problematic for their marriage. Things like problematic communication, different approaches to money or misalignment in the bedroom. This is often cited in divorce paperwork as “irreconcilable differences.”

When I speak to young adults, I caution them to have open-eyes when entering a relationship. Because the person you meet is the person they will continue to be. If something seems off between you, or you are annoyed by parts of their personality or habits, this will likely not change as the relationship continues.

One common reason for divorce is a lack of family support—whether it’s once the kids come and there aren’t extended family members to help with the 24/7 job of parenting, or it’s that one or both families opposed the relationship from the beginning. You can say love will conquer all, but love without extended family, friends or community can be lonely, indeed.

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There are, of course, reasons for divorce that are impossible to foresee—Things like infidelity, drug addiction or alcoholism, or fraud.

Infidelity and extramarital affairs are another common reason a marriage ends; and a third reason, and probably what my clients talk to me about the most, is lack of compatibility and too much conflict or arguing. Finessing communication skills early on in a relationship can help prevent dissolution down the line.

Other reasons crop up, too, like marrying too young, before you have a true sense of yourself, or different parenting styles, which you might not know at the beginning of a relationship, before you bring children into the mix. The reasons for divorce are varied and vast, and often have a lot to do with the reasons for marrying.

So many times, we don’t see a potential partner clearly because, frankly, we don’t want to. And a lot of that has to do with the reasons people marry.

Financial security ranks highest as the reason that many women choose to marry, even in the 21st century. Women are still paid on average 22% less than men, and having an income-earning partner remains a motivating factor for marriage.

The next reason inspiring people to marry is companionship. Love only ranks third, followed by a desire to start a family.

When people marry because they want to fill a void in their life or emotional well-being, it may not matter who the partner is—until it does. Those who marry for companionship are more likely to divorce if they don’t get along.

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But it’s important for people to realize that marriage takes work—any relationship does! You have to commit to working at it every day, to seeing the good in the other person and not focusing inordinately on the things that drive you crazy.

Except for instances of abuse, violence, addiction or adultery, most of the reasons people cite for divorcing could be worked on—if they want to.

The biggest risk factor warning that a marriage is in trouble is a lack of interest in one’s partner. This goes hand-in-hand with avoiding your spouse, lack of respect and criticizing each other. All of these actions signal that something isn’t right, and it’s better to address them and do your own work about how you’re feeling than continue with bad behavior unchecked.

That said, we at Transitions Legal never judge a person for deciding to divorce or for the reasons for divorce. Sometimes, a relationship has just run its course, and there is no harm in declaring it done. Divorce is a personal decision that only you can make – no outside influence or judgmental voice in your head should impact whether you stay in a relationship or leave.

Some of My Favorite Family Law Cases

Family law work is not easy, and the cases aren’t exactly fun, but over several decades of working as a divorce and family law attorney, I do have a few favorite cases – mostly because of how the cases unfolded or the outcomes we were able to achieve.

My primary goal above all else in divorce and family law cases is to see a client go through a transformation and be better off at the end than they were when they walked into my office.

I facilitated a mediation once where I had both clients in the same room, and we were talking about parenting time. It’s not a popular move to have both clients in the same room. Most mediators go from room to room to talk to each client separately. But I prefer to keep the clients together, and the wife was sharing her concerns with the husband about how to divvy up the parenting time.

The husband listened to her concerns, and actually understood. By having them talk to each other in a respectful way about their concerns and what was underlying any resistance, I was able to see a shift in the husband as he developed understanding for the wife. This happened because they were talking directly to one another, and not through attorneys.

When you can see people changing in front of you, and opening up their minds, it’s very satisfying.

Another favorite case was with an older couple who’d chosen to end their marriage through Collaborative Divorce. It was a very difficult situation because one spouse came out as gay and the other spouse felt deep betrayal for so many years of not knowing the partner’s true identity.

But they’d been married for so long, and he truly cared about her, which is why he stayed in the marriage for so long and denied his own identity. When he finally came out, the care that he felt for her didn’t change. However, her trust did because she felt blindsided by so many years of hiding.

Why I consider that case successful is that there were issues not just between them, but which affected the whole family. They were grandparents already, and they worked hard to develop renewed mutual respect for the sake of their family.

He said, “I know I have to give her time, and allow her to be angry,” and the team was able to help her process and resolve her anger. Collaborative Divorce features a team approach, which includes a therapist who can help clients move through emotions during the divorce process. In this case, the team could allow her to be angry in the room without judgment, and maintain mutual respect.

This was so helpful when issues arose that related to relationships with their children and grandchildren. A lot of people mistakenly think Collaborative Divorce means there’s peace and harmony during the divorce process—they couldn’t be more wrong!

Collaborative Divorce is my favorite way to practice family law because it’s just a more humane approach. And when you have a good team, like we did in that case, you can work well together to achieve the best outcome for all involved.

Divorce and family law is hard work. But I still enjoy doing it because I love helping people. I want people to feel good about their decisions, and every day I remember that I’m helping people move forward.

Even when a case is particularly difficult, I hope that at least the experience my client had was good and satisfactory and they know I did my best to give them the information they needed. That’s the first step toward making choices they can feel good about.

It’s when we go to court and the sides are just too far apart, that a case is disappointing. In those instances, I know it’s going to cost a lot of money, and nobody is going to be happy. My favorite cases are thoughtful, client-focused and thorough. Difficult divorce cases are stressful for every person involved, me included. So let’s celebrate the good ones and work hard to make sure they far outnumber the bad ones!

A Compassionate Approach to Family Law

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I read an interesting blog on LinkedIn recently quoting an entrepreneur named Bruce Kasanoff who said he believes compassion and boldness can coordinate.

Of course they can!! This is one reason I practice family law, and one reason I am known for being different than other divorce attorneys.

It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be both compassionate and an achiever – and I’ve always believed that divorce can be a compassionate process! Most people don’t, I know, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try to show up with both capacities and weave it into my work with clients.

One of the ways an entrepreneur can stand out from the competition is by listening to her instincts and living out her values. That’s what I try to do every day. And it’s not easy, believe me.

That post by Bruce, whom I don’t know but would like to meet, said, “Compassion creates meaning in our lives. Combine that with a drive to achieve big things and you will make the world a much better place.”

True, true.

I chose to build a career in family law because I wanted to help people. Particularly, families.

People come to me at a difficult time in their lives, wrapped up in emotions but with real needs to make a change and move forward productively. It’s imperative for a family law attorney to recognize the emotional state of their clients even as they proceed in a professional manner.

The truth is that any professional should bring compassion to their work. I don’t believe in separating personal and professional entirely. Of course, we don’t need to blur lines or take things personally when they’re really just business. But we don’t stop being human when we get to the office.

And in this line of work, you see good people at bad moments. There must be not only room for compassion, but a concerted effort to lead from your values and get your clients to do the same.

That’s one reason we use a fantastic tool called Our Family in Two Homes with every client who comes to Transitions Legal. It’s a resource that guides clients to articulate their values before they go deeper into their divorce process, preparing them for the decisions they will need to make and for the work they will do with us. That way, they can proceed from a place of values and clarity and minimize the number of mistakes or hurdles along the way.

Think about where you might be able to infuse your work with compassion – and what the impact might be on the success of your work, and also your connection with your clients.