When people are in conflict, communicating can become more difficult - especially if it is emotional for one or both people. When there’s conflict, people are often quicker to anger, unfocused, and less willing to listen. Separating couples are usually faced with conflict over how to go about separating and making decisions about their key issues. You need to take special care when you’re communicating with your former spouse. These 4 strategies for conflict communications can help.
1) Neutralizing Issues
It is important to start on the right foot. If you go in using charged language you’re already setting yourself up for a fight. The way you frame the issues should be in neutral language. Stay away from blaming the other person. A good trick is to frame the issue without using the word “you”.
Don’t say: I want to talk about how you’re always late for pickups.
Instead: I want to talk about pickup times.
Don’t say: Let’s talk about how you want more money.
Instead: Let’s talk about our financial needs and abilities.
Now you try neutralizing these issues:
2) Rephrasing Language
Sometimes communication breaks down because the way you express your thoughts and feelings causes the listener to react emotionally. The way we naturally react to emotional conversations might not be the best for agreement building with a former spouse. By learning to rephrase your language you can avoid communication pitfalls and develop a healthier more productive way of communicating.
Common rephrasing opportunities:
Don’t Say: “You should pick the kids up at school and drive them to piano lessons.“
Instead: "Would you be willing to pick the kids up..?" or
“Can we try having you pick them up..?”
Don’t Say: “You didn’t even want to buy the car. You never used it, I should get to keep it.
Instead: “We need to figure out a way to deal with the car. I would like to keep it because I need to drive the kids to school. What do you think we should do with the car?”
Don’t Say: “You never listen to me.
Instead: “I feel isolated when you don’t acknowledge what I’m saying.”
Many people find that thinking of their co-parenting relationship as a business relationship helps to keep communication positive. You are both working together as partners in the “business” of raising the children. Many parents find that they have a common goal of raising their children to be happy, healthy, and functional adults. Focusing on this goal helps keep communications business-like.
If children are not involved, or if there are continuing issues in addition to your children, try to agree on mutual goals to ensure that you will have a focal point for your communications. Many people fail at communicating because they fail to change from an intimate partner relationship to a business-like relationship.
How to keep it business-like:
4) Be Prepared
If you were going to make a business presentation or meet with a challenging client, you would prepare for the session. Take this same approach when it comes to negotiating a settlement agreement with your former spouse. Be prepared.
Before you have a difficult conversation, think about what you want to say, and how you’re going to say it. Make an outline of the key points and provide an explanation about why each one is important. Have an agenda. Think about how you can stay focused on moving towards positive outcomes. How you will manage your emotions and communicate constructively?
It’s a good idea to consider your listener and how they might react. Think about the key conflicts points carefully and be ready with strong reasons that explain your position. When an objection comes up, have an answer ready.
Everyone has emotional triggers, think about yours. Review the My Triggers Worksheet that you completed earlier. Also, consider your listener’s triggers and avoid hostility. This will help you feel less nervous and make for a more effective conversation.
Here are some approaches that others have used when meeting with their former spouse to work through separation issues:
Practice having a conversation about your key issues with someone you trust by having them role playing a conversation you might have with your former spouse.