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Understanding As a First Step

December 3, 2020  | 
Upset aged couple after a quarrel

{4 minutes to read} The other day a friend told me about a conflict she was having with another person and how that person behaved towards her. While the other person’s actions were pretty awful, there was something in the back story she described that made me think there was a misunderstanding and possibly an incorrect assumption of the other person’s motives.

To my friend, the other person was acting spitefully and just being mean spirited. I gingerly brought up the possibility that maybe the other person was actually feeling hurt and left out. My friend was understandably reacting to the bad behavior. But when she took the time to consider this different motive, the insight was helpful to her in terms of being able to move past the incident and lose some of her anger, even though she still did not condone the other person’s actions.

In mediation, I see the positive effects of understanding, as well as the negative effects of refusing to try to understand the other party.

The other person’s motivation may not be what you assume.

With the very high emotions that arise in a divorce mediation, it is natural to ascribe a bad motive to someone who has hurt you:

They want the china just because I want the china, and they don’t want me to have it.

By asking why they want the china and really focusing on the answer, you may learn that it is because when they were growing up, on holidays their family never had anything as grand as that china, so it has special meaning to them. That doesn’t mean you have to give up the china, especially if you have an equally fond memory that leads you to want it as well. But without the negative assumption about their motivation, it makes it easier, or at least less resentful, to attempt a compromise.

Understanding doesn’t mean that you forgive the other person.

Forgiveness is hard. It can take time and may not be attainable. Understanding is a first step, and even if it’s the only step, understanding can help lead to the resolution of your separation which is your primary goal.

Understanding doesn’t mean that you agree with the other person.

My friend may have understood why the other person acted as they did, but that doesn’t mean that she agreed with the action they took. But acknowledging to them that you understand and explaining your own deep feelings may help you both to come up with a proposal that will be in your mutual interests.

So, when your mediator:

  • asks you a lot of “why” questions about what you want;
  • seems to restate what you each said;
  • asks each of you if they (as the mediator) understood you correctly; and
  • maybe even asks if you could explain the other’s position,

They are trying to help you to understand. And that is a very valuable first step in reaching a resolution.

Clare Piro Attorney and Mediator

Attorney & Mediator
500 Mamaroneck Avenue | Suite 320
Harrison, NY 10528
Tel: 914.946.0848

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