New Ways for Families training in Minneapolis

MN_NWFF_photo1_9-11-13MN_NWFF_photo2.9-11-13On Monday, Sept. 9, I gave a 1-day training to about 35 members of the Collaborative Law Institute in Minneapolis. The skills were those we use in “Day Two” of our New Ways for Families training, although any professional can use these skills with any client – even those without children. This day, plus a “Day One” training, qualifies professionals for listing on our New Ways website as approved counselors, lawyers and/or ADR professionals (which includes mediators, Guardians ad Litem, Parenting Coordinators). Our Day One training is available live in person, by Skype or by our Basic Training DVD. I based the training on the Collaborative Parent Workbook, which is somewhat different from the full Court-Based Counseling Parent Workbook, in that in Collaborative Divorce there are only 3 coaching sessions for each parent, rather than the 6 counseling sessions in the full model. For information about the four different New Ways for Families models, go to www.NewWays4Families.com.

The skills we focused on this Monday really shift more responsibility to clients for managing and resolving their own disputes, but within a simple structure that professionals provide for learning and reinforcing simple conflict resolution skills for the clients. The first skill, is communicating in writing using BIFF Responses in emails and letters. When parents or any clients are negotiating, there often are emails back and forth beforehand. We’ve all see how horrible some of these can be. So the group practiced writing a sample email between parents in conflict, using the BIFF method, as described in the book: BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People.

Writing BIFF Responses isn’t as easy as it looks, because the biggest part is learning what to leave out. We added Coaching for BIFF Responses to the exercise, so that the professionals could learn to restrain themselves from giving premature input to clients about what they had written – until helping the client examine their responses first in detail. Of course, this was an experienced group, so they took to writing pretty good BIFF responses from the start. However, it was good practice because we discussed some of the pitfalls and judgment calls which still come up, regardless of how experienced we are.

Of course, I emphasized teaching clients how to make proposals and then teaching professionals how to stick with reminding clients to use this approach. While observing practice exercises, one of the common problems I note – especially with very experienced professionals – is that we tend to talk too much and ask too many questions! Instead, professionals need to give dilemmas and other problems back to the parties and say: “Then what would you propose?” Instead, what we tend to do is to become too engaged in trying to solve the problem for them, but asking for detailed information and giving them options – before they have tried very hard to ask questions THEMSELVES and to make proposals THEMSELVES.

Professionals need to act more like “guides” with clients – especially potentially high-conflict clients – to get them working harder and therefore becoming more engaged in the process and more of an owner of the decisions that get made. That’s why we sell a coffee mug that says: “Don’t Work Harder Than Your Clients” – because then they don’t work hard and stay stuck in the same place they started.

We also did exercises involving parent-child sessions and an exercise with both parents in a 6-way collaborative team decision-making process. Altogether, the participants were a lively group – energetically doing the role-play exercises and raising challenging questions throughout the day.

I enjoyed my day in Minneapolis and realized that I have now spoken to mediators, family lawyers, Guardians ad Litem, family law judges, general law judges, law students and collaborative professionals in this fine city on several occasions in the past two years. This is ideal, because the more people that learn and practice these skills, the easier their lives will be – and the more effective we will be at helping families – especially high conflict families – stay out of the adversarial process as much as possible in making their own decisions when family problems arise, such as divorce.

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Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the developer of “New Ways for Families,” “New Ways for Mediation”  and “New Ways for Work.” Each of these methods is designed for managing high conflict situations with more structure, simple conflict resolution skills that anyone can apply right away, and less stress on professionals, co-workers and family members. He is the author of several books for family lawyers and clients, including: High Conflict People in Legal Disputes and SPLITTING: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  See www.HighConflictInstitute.com.