Dealing with high-conflict clients presents special challenges to a collaborative team and it’s important to build trust from the beginning of the relationship if you want to effect change. Building trust with high conflict clients begins with giving these clients empathy, attention, and respect from the very beginning of your relationship with them.
Let your high-conflict clients know you understand getting a divorce is difficult for them. Don’t try to be a therapist, but do try to identify the emotions your client is experiencing and let him or her know you appreciate how difficult, frustrating, and challenging it is to go through a divorce. This is especially true if your client is not the one who initiated the divorce and is in the early stages of grieving. Telling your high-conflict client that you understand how hard this is will help him or her know you care about their feelings.
Often high-conflict clients feel disrespected and ignored by their spouse and they need to feel they are not ignored or disrespected by the collaborative team. Giving them your attention during the team meetings and one-on-one sessions will help him or her calm down and trust you. Tell your client you will listen and pay attention, but may not always be there for him or her.
Get to know your client and find something about them that you can respect and let them know about it. A good example is to say you respect them for being willing to work through their divorce using the collaborative process because that will help them become better co-parents after the divorce.
How to Communicate Effectively.
Teach your high-conflict client how to communicate more effectively by pointing out the difference between their private thoughts and feelings and the words they use to express these thoughts and feelings to their spouse. Point of that their thoughts and feelings happen automatically, but how they manage those thoughts and feelings and what they say about them can be controlled and changed. Ask your high-conflict client to thing about how their spouse reacts to various words they use. If your client generally gets negative reactions from their spouse, encourage him or her to try a new approach when communicating with their spouse. It may be as simple as trying a more neutral tone of voice, lowering the volume, or asking an open-ended question rather than making a demand.
Be Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm.
Teach your high-conflict client how to communicate in brief, informative, friendly, firm messages. Instruct your client to keep the message short, stick to the facts, use a friendly tone, and try to bring the issue to a close rather than opening a new line of argument in the communication.
Encourage your high-conflict clients to try these steps and see if they aren’t able to communicate more effectively with their spouse.