What does it mean to really listen and why is it important in a collaborative case? Really listening requires paying attention to the words spoken, to hear the spoken words with thoughtful attention. Too often, even in collaboratives cases, we are listening to respond instead of to understand. We feel a need to respond immediately with a solution instead of through thoughtful, curious questions and taking the time to hear the client’s interests behind the strict words spoken. We are focusing on our own internal soliloquy which can dilute or even obliterate important messages that others are trying to send, whether it be the clients or other members of the collaborative team. These messages will not be heard or understood if they are not given our full, undivided attention, we will not be able to meet the clients (or the team) where they are and to respond in an empathetic way.
Most of us felt connected to the collaborative process from the very first moment we learned what it was all about, and we sincerely try to help clients transition through the divorce process in a way that will result in better, more respectful communication between them after divorce.
While we acknowledge at times that the healing may not begin until the divorce is finalized, we secretly want the process itself to begin to heal their wounds and because of that, we may tend to gloss over their emotions if they make us feel uncomfortable. Remember that as wonderful as the collaborative process is, the clients are still traversing a divorce and it is not easy, the facts are unique to them even though we may have heard the scenario a million times. Most of them have not experienced the atrocities of litigation. They have nothing to compare this experience to and need to be able to express their emotions no matter how raw. Pay attention to the words themselves but also to the emotions and feelings behind the words. Hold space for your client and his/her spouse. Take the initiative to be empathetic to their situation or circumstance. Allow them the grace to do what they need to begin healing even if it means expressing emotions that make us uncomfortable, such as anger or pain. Offer them the opportunity to be fully heard and acknowledge their emotion. Be kind. Your clients will be better for it and so will you.