Respond to Hurtful Statements?

Hurtful statements can derail and/or prolong the collaborative process.  It is a common occurrence which must be addressed immediately in order to stay focused on the main goal of resolving a legal issue.  Below are some general principles for how to handle hurtful statements during a collaborative meeting (or at home).

As a party, when a hurtful statement is directed to you, it is important to pause, breathe, think, and try not to respond immediately. If needed, ask to take a break. Give yourself time to acknowledge how you truly feel about the person’s comments.  Often if you wait a few minutes to respond, you will understand better why the person said the hurtful statement.

Hurtful statements can be a result of ignorance, confusion, misunderstanding, or lack of information.  If you can determine the possible motivation for the hurtful statement, you can respond appropriately.

If you chose to respond, the following are general principles:

1. Be direct.  Talk to the person that offended you and not to others.

2. Be specific. Be brief and explain exactly what offended you.

3. Be timely. Do not address this issue days or weeks later. Memories will fade and perceptions will change.

4. Use “I” statements to communicate how the statements affected you.

5. Explicitly state what changes you want the person to make. Ex: Do not make derogatory remarks in front of the children.

6. Acknowledge change.  Express appreciation for the change in behavior, if possible.

Remember, not all hurtful statements need a response. If you determine the statement was made due to ignorance or ill will, it is okay to decline to respond.

A lot of time during settlement conferences can be devoted to addressing hurtful statements.  As a practitioner, keeping an open mind and asking additional questions when hurtful statements are made can help clear up misunderstandings and allow the parties to refocus and resume working on resolving the legal issues.

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