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  • Writer's pictureKaila Thornton

Effective Communication Strategies for Successful Divorce Mediation


effective communication strategies in divorce mediation

The divorce mediation process can cause feelings of anxiety or nervousness as you are unsure of what to expect, and how you and your spouse will communicate during your mediation session. Communication is key during a marriage, as well as during the divorce process. Going into your mediation meeting with the same communication style that led to your divorce will often lead to additional conflict rather than a smoother mediation process. Whether you want to work on your communication style yourself or share this with your partner, here are some tips to help you communicate better during the divorce mediation process.

First, let's break down two main communication types:

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication is a form of communication that does not involve words. This can include facial expressions, body language, touch, proxemics (closeness), eye contact, and hand movements. Nonverbal communication plays a bigger role in our everyday conversations. My favorite is the role of proximity within communication. Proxemics is defined as the distance between you and others while communicating. How close two people are standing to one another can often say a lot more than words can. This holds true during mediation sessions as well. As an example, we see people physically pulling away from a conversation when they don't agree or have strong negative emotions about a topic.

Verbal Communication

Verbal communication is a form of communication that uses words and verbal engagements such as speaking, pitch level, and tone of voice. Verbal communication is universally recognized. However, many forget that a person’s cadence, pitch, and tone, are also forms of verbal communication. Pitch can involve raising or lowering your voice. Your cadence is how slow or fast you deliver your message, and tone conveys the emotions in your message. Cadence, pitch, and tone often hold more meaning in verbal communication than words itself, which is why it is so crucial to have an understanding of this during mediation. As an example, think of someone who says they are fine, but do so in a more aggressive or angry tone. Would you still believe they are truly feeling "fine"?


Communication in Mediation

It is important to remember that even with tips and advice, communication is challenging - particularly when you are experiencing a high conflict or stressful situation. We are all humans and can't be perfect all the time. So while we can try our best to communicate effectively, we will make mistakes, be triggered by one another, and need a break. All of this is normal as a part of the human experience - let it be in mediation or any other part of your life.

What role does nonverbal communication play in your mediation session:

It would be common that you and your spouse don't wish to physically interact while going through a divorce process. However, it would be common that you may be sitting together in the same room during mediation and interacting with one another as you work through finding solutions. If you and your spouse are at a point in the meeting talking about a sensitive topic, one or both of you may demonstrate proxemics by facing away from each other. Try to be aware of the distance between you and your spouse, it is creating space not only between each other but also between both of your interests. If you are trying to come to an agreement creating physical and mental space can prolong a resolution.

If you are participating in our zoom mediation sessions then you do not have to worry about proxemics. However, you still may be mindful of other nonverbal cues, such as body language, eye contact, and hand movements. As conversations get tense, it can be helpful to avoid actions that you know aggravates your partner. This may include eye-rolling, snickering, and blank staring. Remember that mediation is about working together to find mutual agreements so you can set up your family and yourself for a life post-divorce. Eye-rolling and snickering can make your spouse feel unheard and dismissed, which can cause additional conflict in your mediation meeting. Be aware of blank staring at your spouse. If your spouse asks you a question that you do not understand or feel is targeted, you may try to avoid staring blankly at them. It is often a form of shutting down during a conversation and can close off the flow of creative options being brought to the table for discussion. If your spouse's nonverbal communication triggers feelings of anger during mediation, it can be helpful to take a deep breath and turn to your mediator to help continue the conversation forward. In times of frustration and confusion rely on your mediator, that’s what we are here for.

What role does verbal communication play in your mediation session:

Your mediation session is filled with verbal communication, as that is the primary way we communicate to our clients and vice versa. It can be helpful to be aware of the subtle shifts in your speech that may trigger your spouse and slow down the mediation process. The phrase “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” rings true of any conversation. Your tone, cadence, and pitch can impact the way your words come across to your spouse and mediator. Sarcastic tones, elevated pitch, and a unnaturally slow cadence can often cause conflict in mediation as it triggers the other person. When working towards mutual agreements, you ideally want to verbalize what you want out of the divorce in a casual, calm tone rather than raising your voice and saying hurtful words. Often when one person feels verbally "attacked" they tend to reciprocate by attacking back, resulting in ineffective communication. This can lead to your spouse defying your request of an agreement just because you delivered it in a hurtful or aggressive way.

If you are on the receiving end of a spouse who is demonstrating a sarcastic or aggressive tone, it is common to feel angry or have heightened emotions. It is helpful to remember your goals and keep that at the forefront of your mind in order to stay positive. You’ll want to express your anger and hurt feelings as well and there will be times for you to do that in order to resolve issues. But, conducting your entire mediation session with elevated pitches, shouting, sarcasm, and diminishing cadences will only lead to additional conflict and areas of disagreement.

Having trouble communicating in order to reach mutual agreements during your divorce process? Mediation can help you work through your conflict and find solutions.

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