I just spent the last week in downtown San Diego talking and learning with other dispute resolution professionals, including lawyers, mediators, financial planners, and marriage and family therapists. The Academy of Professional Family Mediators (APFM) and the Association of Divorce Financial Planners (ADFP) joined together to host the 2018 Catalyst Conference.
For the first 3 days, I barely left the hotel since there were so many seminars and panel discussions from which to choose. It was tough to sit in meeting rooms when the sky was so blue, the sun was shining in a cloudless sky, and the temperature was in the 80s with no humidity! Did I mention that one of the meeting rooms was really really cold inside?
On the first day of the conference, I went to breakfast at 8:00 a.m. and did not return to my hotel room until 8:00 p.m. I was exhausted and exhilarated. After the conference, I took time to take in the beauty of the beaches and hiking trails of La Jolla. I continued to think about and process all of the concepts discussed over the past week and the people with whom I connected and had really great conversations and interactions. I will be planning to incorporate this wisdom, as well as new ideas and methods, into my mediation practice as the practice of mediation continues to evolve in exciting ways!
Here is a recap of some of the wisdom I heard over the last few days:
Perspectives of Experienced Divorce Mediators
Chip Rose: We need to make our clients feel comfortable and safe on macro and micro levels. Do they know what they need to know to make important decisions? In mediation, everything is organically connected. Let’s maintain a level of calmness and safety and talk about one issue at a time. Educate our clients about strategic thinking and settlement maximization.
Amanda Singer: Let’s provide clients with the resources they need. Also: ask them what are their 3 main goals of mediation?
Jim Melamed: Focus on what we can deliver for our clients.
Using the Power of Your Brand to Support Your Clients
Katy Goshtasbi: Our goal is for our clients to have positive client experiences and that we have success and happiness in doing the work that we do. Does our brand sell happiness at some level? What do I want to be known for in 2018?
How Mediators and Financial Professionals Work Together
Susan Miller/Rachel Goldman: A divorcing couple can feel very supported by 2 neutral professionals. It can be more effective to have a financial neutral and a neutral mediator sit down with the couple than for a mediator to send the clients to meet separately with a financial professional. Taking time to build the relationship and trust between the professionals is key. (Interesting sidebar: people who work in the field of conflict resolution are often conflict adverse!)
Chip Rose: Realized that he needed to incorporate financial professional and mental health professionals into his mediation practice.
Stacey Langenbahn: Create your team, prepare your clients to ask questions, sometimes it may be appropriate for clients to see financial professionals outside of mediation – for example, you don’t want to see the financial team zoning out during a mental health discussion during a mediation session
Chip Rose: Use a team model approach where appropriate – or use different portals of entry. Figure out a way for the necessary professionals to work together.
Rachel Goldman: Be flexible depending upon the needs of the clients. (She will mediate remotely via zoom and skype since she lives on the West Coast and her financial neutral lives on the East Coast.) Don’t say to them: that’s not how it works!
An Experienced Mediator’s Favorite Techniques
Jim Melamed: Rapport is essential. Help clients reach greatest possible satisfaction of their interests. Ask clients what they like to do in their free time and speak their language. Meet people where they are. List what both parties agree upon easily. It is hard to overcome the reluctance to engage in unilateral concessions. Ask clients: do either of you have any other ideas that would make this agreement better? If not, it’s as good as it gets!
Mediator Mishaps: Avoid the Nightmares and Sleep Easy
Terri Breer: Ask questions early and often regarding real property, retirement values, surviving spouse issues, QDROs, pensions, tax matters such as capital gains, unpaid taxes, deferred compensation. Understand that certified divorce financial analysts do not give tax advice.
Why Clients Don’t Take Our Advice
Michel Zelnick, CPA, JD, MFT: Ambivalence surrounds change. Here are the 6 stages of change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, determination, action, maintenance, relapse,.
Your Agenda or Mine?
Bill Eddy: With high conflict clients be extra structured. Focus on tasks and not on how they feel. The agenda is up to them. Help them to make lots of small joint decisions. Proposals become building blocks of their agreement. Work on smaller issues first which will build momentum for bigger issues.
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.