Poor behavior is the signal that someone feels badly, as divorce mediation is fraught with complex grief issues. One reason for poor behavior is that – although clients realize intellectually that mediation requires empathy and a conciliatory approach – our society still operates aggressively. Many clients come to mediation after long sessions of litigation, and it is difficult to switch gears into a more cooperative way of thinking.
It’s important to address grief issues in an educational way. Divorce is like a death, and mediators need to support clients by managing their grief – including all poor behavior, which is only the top layer. A good mediator will help clients deal with the difficult realities of divorce.
The mediator needs to teach assertive, not aggressive, ways to interact. He or she shouldn’t try to educate clients until some serious grief work has been undertaken. Listening to someone else in a respectful way is difficult; it takes skill and respect for the other person. Until grief work is done, successful learning of new, assertive ways to communicate will not happen.