Home State Seminars: Pennsylvania and Ohio
Last week I got to speak to two primarily collaborative groups – one in the state where I grew up, and the other in the state where I went to college! It was fun to get back near my roots, after starting the month on the opposite side of the planet in Australia. In Harrisburg I spoke to the Collaborative Professionals of Central Pennsylvania, about 25 lawyers and some mental health professionals. It was exciting to find out that three of those present had attended one of my first seminars for High Conflict Institute in Philadelphia about 8 years ago – they had used the BIFF Response method regularly since then – and that they wanted to learn more of our techniques that we had developed over the years. They liked the addition of our method of BIFF Coaching, with the ten questions to ask the client to help them develop some ability to reflect on their own responses. (For an explanation of BIFF Responses and Coaching for BIFF Responses, see my book BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People, and our Video Training on Coaching for BIFF).
We also talked about Alienation, when a child resists or refuses to see one of their parents during and after a divorce. They said that they were seeing these cases increasing, which fit with my belief that personality disorders are increasing in society. They said that they were seeing more high-conflict cases than ten years ago, which many of the professionals in our seminars are saying.
It was a very comfortable group with lots of opportunities for questions and comments. They were also having some great early fall weather, and I was glad to see how green it was – since living in California has become more and more brown with our drought conditions. Since I grew up in the Philadelphia area, it was also nice to see the wide-open spaces of the middle of the state.
Next, I went to Cleveland to speak for to a joint training for the Cleveland Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the Center for Principled Family Advocacy. The nearly 50 attendees included primarily collaborative practitioners, as well as mediators, cooperative divorce practitioners, parenting coordinators and others working to help families resolve their separations and divorces out of court as much as possible. Attendees also included a few judges, magistrates, court staff, court mediators and others, strongly interested in how to help families in and out of court.
I had two days with this group and they enthusiastically did several exercises, from EAR Statements and BIFF responses, to helping clients in Setting Goals and Making Proposals. Many of them had read my book So, What’s Your Proposal, and were eager to try out teaching clients to use this method (So What's Your Proposal book & video training). The “What’s-your-proposal” method is amazingly simple and powerful. I wish I had discovered it years earlier. But I have now been using it in my family mediation for the past six years, and it really helps clients take more responsibility for resolving their own disputes, but in a way that is very simple to learn and apply – even under stressful conditions.
We also talked about how this is a “reverse interest-based negotiation” method: we start where the clients are and treat their positions as proposals, then if they have a hard time reaching agreement, the mediator or other professional points out “what’s important” to each, which is really their “interests.” So rather than trying to get potentially high-conflict clients to identify their interests (which is hard for them), it’s easier to do it with the professional turning their positions into proposals into interests.
I emphasized the importance of connecting our work to our clients’ goals and we did exercises from our New Ways for Families method on assisting clients in Setting Goals. One of the key principles of work with potentially high-conflict clients is making it relevant to their lives, rather than just telling them what to do. This is one of the paradigm shifts of New Ways – we help clients learn simple skills that can go a long way in helping them resolve their own disputes out of court. Of course it takes a lot of patience, empathy-attention-and-respect, and informing clients about their choices and possible consequences of these choices.
I really enjoyed this group and the organizers also treated me to a great dinner up the street from where I went to college at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. (See photo) I must say I am very fortunate to be doing work that’s designed to help children and families – with professionals who share these goals!
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist and the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center based in San Diego. He has developed methods for training high-conflict parents to make reasonable decisions out of court (New Ways for Families); for training mediators to settle more high-conflict cases out of court (New Ways for Mediation) and for high conflict people in the workplace (New Ways for Work). He is the author of several books, including: SPLITTING: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder and THE FUTURE OF FAMILY COURT: Structure, Skills and Less Stress.