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6 Tools to Deflect Anger

a couple argue

By Sig Cohen

In his book Who Gets What Kenneth Feinberg acknowledged the importance of allowing claimants to talk candidly about their losses.
Indeed, he notes that often a claimants’ desire to speak about the victim — especially a loved one — was more important than how much the claimant would receive.

Feinberg was the mediator who oversaw the distribution of claims arising out of the 9/11, Virginia State University, and BP oil spill tragedies so he found himself listening for hours to the family members of persons killed or injured in those tragic events.

Mediators are expected to listen to parties’ vent their concerns, fears, and expectations. Venting can be a normal, cathartic, and usually positive step in the process of arriving at an agreement. Some parties need to blow off steam before they’ll engage in the serious work of reaching an agreement.

The challenge is to listen non-judgmentally, respectfully, and “care-ingly.”

But what if venting gets personal? You may want to rebut, rebuke, or resist the other person’s comments, be she a family member, neighbor, business associate, or friend. This is especially painful if a grievance has festered for months, even years.

Here are some ways to mitigate the hurt you may experience if you’re the target of a vent:

1. Remember, listening is not agreeing.
2. It can be the first step in healing an emotional crisis.
3. Try holding your fire until the other person finishes.
4. Keep track of what was said so you can respond — but without getting emotional yourself.
5. If the vent goes on interminably, ask at some point: “What do you need?” This can force the other person to state his or her concerns in a more orderly way.
6. Bear in mind that whether the dispute concerns you or not, allowing the other party to be heard does wonders for healing an someone on the other side of an issue. The person on the receiving end of a Vent — whether a mediator, adversary or family member– needs to hold fire until the other party decides enough is enough.


Courts in Crisis
Due to more and more cuts in spending, the state of our court system continues to deteriorate. This had lead to extended periods of waiting for legal matters to be solved, and to outright crisis within any litigated case. This is reason enough for divorcing couples to come to agreement outside of court. Here is a help list for those parties who understand that cooperation mean reaching acceptable solutions in a more time-efficient and cost-effective manner.

Help List for Separated or Divorcing Couples:

1. View your “ex” as a problem-solving partner. Consider that person as someone who can constructively participate in solving the issues created by your separation. This is the reason that person will be referred to as your “partner” in this list.

2. Be constructive. Being effective and constructive means remaining focused on achieving goals that are consistent with your interests and principles, and acting in ways that you believe can lead to a solution.

3. Take responsibility for your feelings and do not allow them to dictate your actions. Feelings are appropriately explored in therapy, not in negotiations. Focus your attention on what will help you in the future.

4. Avoid using inflammatory language and gestures.

5. Speak for yourself, not for your partner. When speaking about your partner, try not to describe his/her feelings or motivations. Focus on your own feelings. Use “I” statements; avoid “you” statements.

6. Remember that the collaborative process is completely voluntary.
Knowledge of your entitlement to stop at any time gives you the freedom to consider options without feeling coerced.

7. Be creative. Attempt to think “outside of the box.” Be willing to consider as many options as possible for meeting your interests as well as your partner’s.

8. Respect the fact that the big changes taking place in your relationship will present different challenges for you and your partner. Sometimes one of you will have already fully accepted the idea of the relationship ending, while the other is just starting to adjust to that reality. Respect differences and do not take them personally. Consider the possibility that each of you is doing the best that you can.

9. Consider conflict as an opportunity to be creative. Conflict can be a useful tool if it leads to a productive result and is handled skillfully and respectfully. Collaboration does not imply an absence of conflict. Collaborative Law does provide an opportunity to approach potential conflict with a constructive solution-oriented attitude.

10. Listen carefully to your partner’s expressed feelings, priorities, concerns, and interests. It is very important that you try to understand what matters to your partner, and why. True collaboration aims for maximum consensus, which implies that everyone will be attempting to find resolutions that encompass as much as possible of what is important to each of you.

The Blame Game

We’ve all heard the phrase, “The Blame Game.” It’s very easy for most of us to play. We’ve been programmed to play it since childhood. “He did it!” “She did it first!” “It’s your fault!” Finger-pointing is so simple when we’ve been disappointed. If a situation has not gone our way, and we find ourselves feeling ‘wronged,’ we can usually find someone else to blame. However, blaming is generally not helpful, and may even be perceived as abusive. In fact, it is an attitude that will easily embitter any relationship. This is because any relief the Blamer may experience from taking a blaming position will usually be more than matched by the bitterness, anger and guilt that the ‘Blame-ee’ will feel.

Fortunately, there are alternative ways to communicate disappointment without accusations or ‘dumping,’ even when we have been legitimately wronged. If someone has caused or contributed to a difficult situation, the transgression must be discussed. Instead of accusing or blaming, try resolving. In other words, focus on a future preventative solution. “I understand that you did not purposely (drop the ball, blow the account, insult the client), so, if we find ourselves in this situation again, I’d like you to _(fill in the blank)_.” If a colleague has messed up, frame your response in terms of, “should this happen again, here is an alternative way to handle it.”

It’s OK if the other person feels badly because of what he or she did or did not do, but it’s not OK to hurt or humiliate them with your words or attitude. If you use this new approach, your relationship is less likely to be damaged by the conflict and may even improve. The other person will probably breathe a sigh of relief, and thank you (silently) for not chewing him or her out, and most people will appreciate getting a second chance. Try it. Let me know how it goes. Let’s keep this conversation alive. We can all be more collaborative.”