You know those commercials that are designed to pull your heartstrings by showing children or animals in need. Like most people I have a really hard time watching those. They are designed, complete with Sara MacLachlan playing in the background, to make us feel guilty if we don’t make a monetary contribution that minute.
I’m not judging that tactic, it works. The problem is what happens when you can’t stop thinking about those images. That kind of over empathizing can be crippling.
In my divorce mediator circles, a common discussion is about the continual need to remind ourselves that the problems discussed by couples in mediation are theirs to solve. Even if well intentioned, it is not the mediator’s role to take over the problem solving. In fact, the main focus of the mediation process is to provide couples the opportunity to control the decision-making. The result is then truly a custom fit, suited to the couple and their next steps.
On the other hand, as a compassionate person, it can be difficult to sit so close to the details and problems of a couple, facing perhaps the most stressful time in their lives and not hope for what you see as fair, livable solutions. I confess, I want the couples I work with to reach agreements they can be content with (notice I didn’t say happy, it’s rarely a happy time). The tricky part is to keep my personal investment in any particular outcome in check.
As much as I believe that bringing a little professionalism to your personal relationships can produce better, clearer communication (See my blog entry Pushing Buttons), I also believe that bringing a little personal care to your professional relationships can enhance outcomes. Couples going through the transformation of divorce are vulnerable and emotional. There’s need for patience, understanding and reassurance. As mediator, it’s my job to inform and facilitate communication during this difficult time. If along the way I also show some of my humanity then I have done my job and my duty.