How to Serve as a Better Counselor in Mediations

October 18, 2018By Bill RatliffUncategorized

Many of the lawyers reading this use letterhead that identifies them as “counselor.” Though the term as used by lawyers may not be identical to the way it’s intended in the counseling community, I find it fascinating how many of us in the profession hold ourselves out to be counselors.

When I think of a counselor, I think of someone skilled at listening to, and taking information from, people in need. I think of someone processing that information, then helping people with difficult issues they’re struggling with.

How good are you as a counselor? How good are you at dealing with your clients’ emotional issues? When I was a litigator, my answer would have been “not very good.”

You may remember my mentioning this in a previous post:

I grew up with two brothers and no sisters. My father was a pretty strict disciplinarian. In our home, emotions were not exactly a primary concern. Consequently, I never really learned how to deal with or process my emotions.

It wasn’t until ten years ago, when my daughter was struggling with an eating disorder, that I realized how out of touch I was with my own emotions.

In a family counseling session, our counselor asked me what emotion I was feeling. I was at a loss to answer. Nada. Nothing! The only emotions I’d ever consciously entertained were anger, fear, happiness and sadness. None of those fit the situation at hand.

I’ve since spent a good deal of my time studying emotions.

Even the most conservative psychology resources identify hundreds of different emotions — and most humans experience them all, at one time or another. Emotions impact everything we do.

I recently attended a talk by Doug Knoll, a gifted mediator from California. Doug discussed the impact of emotions in mediations. He’s written a book entitled Deescalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less — for which much of the research was conducted in California prisons.

Doug points-out that, when we are under emotional stress, our brains emit cortisol — a chemical that’s been shown to interfere with our ability to make good, rational decisions. Which is one reason he encourages mediators to identify the emotions in a room during mediations. When Doug leads mediations, he calls-out the prevailing emotions he detects, then discusses them as part of his process. In his experience, doing that can free-up the “brains” in the room to make rational decisions.

Can it work for you?

I know you want to leave every client in a better place than they were when they first came to you. Which is why I’d recommend you consider exploring with them the emotions they experience, and the emotional baggage they’re carrying, as a result of their conflict or litigation.

If I’m mediating with you, consider giving me the flexibility to explore these issues with your clients. Or, better still, describe the emotions your clients are experiencing — and let me allow them to vent, and express their feelings. Given Doug Knoll’s experience doing just that, there’s a good chance this exercise will help them make the best decisions possible regarding their conflict.

With a little practice, we can all become better counselors.

In being better counselors, we can help our clients make better decisions regarding the resolution of their conflicts, and truly leave them in a better place than they were when we first found them.

Enjoy the journey.