What Do a Hostage Negotiator and a Divorce Mediator Have in Common?
More than you may think.
I was so fortunate last Saturday to hear a presentation by Lt. Jack Cambria, the recently retired chief hostage negotiator for the NYPD at the Downstate Symposium of the New York State Council on Divorce Mediation. I sat in amazement listening to stories and lessons learned over his long and distinguished career.
These are some of the lessons Lt. Cambria shared:
- No matter how tense the standoff, remain calm. You must first manage the emotions of a person in crisis in order to bring the conversation to a place of rational thinking.
- Approach each situation with respect, understanding and empathy.
- Do not have preconceived ideas about what motivates people to act they way they do.
- And most importantly, trust the negotiation process. Do not attempt to rush results as each situation needs to evolve on its own timeline or the desired outcome won’t stick.
Couples in the midst of divorce mediation are in need of a mediator who understands Lt. Cambria’s very wise observations. Conflict, stress and charged emotions are often front and center in discussions between divorcing couples. Of course that is understandable; the most personal and important elements of their lives are in flux.
Like Lt. Cambria, a good mediator will do the following in mediation:
- First, she will manage the level of emotion in the room to be sure her clients are fully engaged and aware of the details and decisions they are making. In mediation it’s ok to raise your voice or clench your teeth in anger. It just may require a brief break or readjusting the focus of the discussion.
- Second, she will listen and show she understands what you are experiencing. A good mediator can normalize the situation for her clients. She has seen others come through the process and go on to lead happy lives. Just sharing that can be comforting.
- Third, she can zero in on the very issue that is causing the most stress for her clients. Many divorcing couples experience fear and insecurity about the unknown territory they entering. But every person has his or her specific issues and reasons. In mediation you can express your biggest concerns in order to break them down, problem solve and project in detail how various options will work. For one person it may be taking on new responsibilities for the children. For another it can be taking charge of their budget. Giving clients the opportunity to share their individual concerns is often a huge relief that helps them see the problem in a way that invites a solution.
- Last, a good mediator will trust the mediation process. Couples cannot rush into making agreements they don’t fully understand or that are not realistic or practical. Sometimes couples must be slowed down and equipped with more information in order to make sure they are absorbing the details of their agreements and that they will be satisfied in the future. Each couple needs time to digest facts and information, make important decisions and feel committed to the agreements they make in mediation.
Divorce can be a scary and emotional time. You are not alone. There are qualified people who can help you through it.