By Robin Duboe Seigle, J.D.

Do Specific Words Really Matter?

 

Harsh, accusatory or negative language prevents people from hearing each other.

It may be that “a rose is a rose is a rose.” But when it comes to couples getting divorced, some words used by their lawyers, mediators or other professionals can sound harsh, accusatory or negative.  It’s almost as if the parties are speaking a foreign language.  People just don’t hear each other.  A skilled mediator can help with “translation” so that the participants can hear each other.

At least for mediators, part of their role is helping the parties:

  1. hear what the other person has to say,
  2. see the case from different perspectives,
  3. look at their own roles in the divorce and current conflicts in new ways, etc.

One way to do that is to use neutral language
rather than inflammatory words.

So what do I mean by neutral language?

Rather that using words such as: The mediator says:
Problem, dispute or conflict Issues, concerns, different points of view, different perpectives
If one party says: The mediator says:
She doesn’t tell the truth Trust is an issue here or You would like to receive accurate information
He’s hiding money You expert full disclosure of all assets
She is always late to pick up the kids You would like her to be on time
He lets the kids leave messes around the house You are concerned about the kids cleaning up after themselves

Use Neutral Language to Help People Hear Other

A skilled mediator helps parties hear each other by using neutral language.

The mediator reframes the comments in neutral language in order for the message of the person speaking to be heard in a different way, as an interest (underlying need), by the person to whom the comment is directed. There is nothing helpful in the mediator repeating the statement in the words of criticism.  However, reframing critical statements using neutral language can help the parties hear each other.

Try it, it works!

 

 

Further reading:

To Caucus or Not to Caucus?    5 Circumstances When It’s Really Helpful

Crucial Divorce Mediation Skill: Keeping Your Eye on the Emotional Need

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