Monthly Archives: June 2017

Survival of the Fittest: Interpersonal skills and communication:

I recently attended a three day conference which looked at attachment, neuroscience and the effects of stress and trauma on a person’s ability to communicate.

One of the key messages of the conference reminded me a lot about the role of a good mediator.

The first speaker, a psychologist and neuroscience researcher called Louis Cozolino told us about the neuroscience of interpersonal relationships.

Louis drew our attention to the gaps between neurons called synapses. These gaps are not empty spaces. They are filled with a variety of chemical gasses which are busy carrying out complicated interactions which result in ’synaptic transmission’. This synaptic transmission stimulates neurons to grow, to survive and to be effected by that experience.

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Aboutmodafinil.com Picture by Allan Ajifo

Louis then said that social communication is the same. It takes place in the gaps between us; the social synapses: a smile, a wave, eye contact, body language. These all transmit messages via the gap between people. These messages are received by our senses and translated into electrical and chemical signals within our nervous system. Causing us to be able to engage, converse, think, work things through. Or alternatively to panic, shut down, retreat.

So, you can start feeling really terrible really quickly if the social interaction is not good.

A good mediator can ‘rescue the dynamic’ by communicating across the synapses to regulate the behaviour of the other person. By modelling a certain behaviour and letting the mirror neurons do the rest, the mediator can become an ‘amygdala whisperer’, bringing an element of calm to fraught people and situations.

A good mediator will be aware of the effect of the social communication that he or she models and brings into the room.  Where the people in the room are on a high state of alert, prepared to wrestle over children/finances, the mediator can be steady, balanced and they can listen in a consistent and assured way, letting the people in the room know ‘ it is OK. You will be heard.’

Try it at home. When you partner, daughter, friend turns up enraged, anxious, stressed out, try using the social synapses to bounce some positive messages through. Really listen to what they say. Reflect back what they have said calmly and in a balanced and measured way. You may be surprised at the change as you become the amygdala whisperer. Soothing and helping them to regain their balance.

Another speaker quoted, an evolutionary biologist and genetesist called Theodosius Dobzhansky who said: ’the fittest may also be the gentlest because survival often requires mutual help and cooperation.‘

Food for neuro-thought!

 

“Power parting”

According to a certain magazine, the divorce euphemism ‘conscious uncoupling’, made popular by actor Gwynneth Paltrow during her separation from musician Chris Martin, has been cast aside by today’s disengaging celebrity couples in favour of the more dynamic ‘power parting’.  Over here in reality, the leader of our crumbling family courts system has proposed a similar notion to help stop the family justice system’s continuing slide into overburdened chaos.

Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division of the courts in England & Wales, has written that he would like to see a swift administrative split between the process of divorce and the process of making a financial claim after divorce.  He indicates that he feels the government’s centralisation of divorce processing has led to significant problems with the number and allocation of finance and property disputes, and as a result the administrative and practical burden on the family courts has increased at a time when the system is already stretched.

Sir James would also like to see the family financial court forms and processes simplified, so no matter what kind of application someone needs to make in law, there’s one form and one procedure. As the courts are inundated with a flood of people seeking complicated financial orders without legal advice or assistance, simplifying the process will mean less time is taken in court amending application forms, drawing out the specific problems needing solutions, and explaining in detail what those solutions might be.  He would like to see a network of expert financial remedies courts set up to deal with relationship-based money claims.

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These proposals make good sense. However, this is all tinkering around the edges of a fractured system.  We are in a position where financial claims after divorce and separation are taking many months to get to a first directions appointment, increasing costs exponentially for those with lawyers, and exacerbating pressure and stress for everyone involved – including, in many cases, for children.

Mediation is also unquestionably a tough process, but it provides a sensible and practical alternative to court for former partners who need to sort out what happens next in financial and property terms.  Rather than waiting for months to start to get things sorted out, you can get an appointment in the next couple of weeks and start making decisions that will move you toward resolution.  Rather that spending money on solicitors’ letters to your ex, you can spend it on using your solicitors to support the mediation process when you choose: to ensure you know what’s in your interests and what’s fair, and to assist you in making your own decisions. You remain in control in mediation, in contrast to a court process that can make you feel that everything is sliding away from you.  An impartial and specially-trained third party mediator can help you talk together with your ex in a businesslike way, to find solutions that are fair and work for both of you and any children.

If you don’t fancy court proceedings to sort things out with your ex – and few people do, knowing the current constraints of and pressures on the system – remember, you have choices. Mediation with a specialist lawyer mediator who understands law and finance, and can give you sensible information to help you make the decisions that are right for you, really is worth investigating.

A Safe Place to Talk?

Has talking to each other become impossible? Are the things you’ve got to sort out too difficult? Does it feel as if there’s a brick wall between you that you can’t bring down?

Mediation offers a safe, neutral environment in which you can tackle your impossible problems. The kids. The money. Where you are each going to live.

The mediator structures your conversation, sets ground rules so that no-one feels put down by the other one, makes sure you each say what is on your mind, and – critically – makes sure the other person has heard and understood it.

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Focus mediators are trained and practised in addressing any power imbalances. They are completely neutral: they don’t take sides. Most importantly, they are non-judgemental. Nothing shocks them. The mediator keeps you focussed on the plans you need to make for your future, rather than dwelling on the past. She uses her wealth of experience to help you both knock down that wall and build a future.

However, this ideal scenario can be knocked for six if a couple comes to mediation intent on playing out their battles in front of an audience. Mediators can help people for whom talking has become difficult, but they will find it nigh-on impossible to help people who insist on dominating the process, no matter how many times the mediator repeats the ground rules of ‘no shouting, no interrupting, no threatening, no undermining’.

Mediation can only help those who want it to work. Could this be you? You would come for an individual meeting with the mediator to start with, so she can hear about your personal circumstances and your objectives. Then you have joint sessions with your ex-partner, where the mediator helps you discuss your issues and (we hope!) brings you to a conclusion which she will write up for you.

If you have been talking about the children, the document she writes will be a Parenting Plan. This is a voluntary set of proposals that does not need ratification by the court; the hope is that, because you have both agreed the arrangements, you will stick to them. However, it is possible to ask for an “open” Parenting Plan which you could then file at court and ask the Judge to seal it. Not all courts will do this, but some people feel it is a step they want to try.

If you have been discussing finances, the mediator will record your figures in an Open Financial Statement and your agreement in a Memorandum of Understanding, which the lawyers will turn into a Consent Order.

This is where your lawyers are invaluable: before your divorce is made final, there has to be an Order recording your financial settlement, and the mediator cannot produce that. The beauty of presenting the lawyers with a Memorandum of Understanding from the mediator is that it cuts out further correspondence and therefore reduces costs.

Whatever the work, you can be sure the mediator will not take sides, will not judge anyone’s behaviour and will focus you on constructive discussion.  It might be just what you need.