Szervusz, British Columbia!

The word “szervusz” — used to say both “goodbye” and “hello” in Hungarian — seems especially fitting today.

This is the last regular post for the Distance Family Mediation Blog, and a goodbye from our distance mediation team.  More importantly, it is also the beginning of a new, sibling blog — the BC Mediation Blog — and a big hello from the folks at Mediate BC Society who are behind that blog.

Lucky us!  Most of the Society’s staff are experienced mediators, full of fascinating ideas and information about dispute resolution.  I can’t wait to see their posts, and hope you will join me in following their blog.

And, what about our distance mediation service?

While it is no longer being offered under the auspices of the Distance Family Mediation Project, our crackerjack private practice mediators — all of whom are on Mediate BC’s Family Roster — are ready, willing and able to chat with you about how they will be offering their own distance mediation services.  Just click on their names below to find out how to contact them:

Jane Henderson, Q.C.
Carole McKnight
Eugene Raponi, Q.C.
Ronald Smith, Q.C.

Our Project partner, the Ministry of Justice’s Family Justice Services Division will continue to offer distance mediation services through a select number of offices and Family Justice Counsellors.  To find an appropriate distance mediation Family Justice Counsellor, and for a referral to this service, you can call the Family Justice Centre nearest to you.

As for the rest of us on the distance mediation team, we will be awaiting the results of our service’s formal evaluation, expected to be available during the fall of 2012.  You’ll be able to get a copy of the evaluation report on the BC Mediation Blog at that time.  Another reason you’ll want to be following it!

You’ve been a great group of readers, and we thank each and every one of you who read, followed, commented or shared our posts over the past year.

Szervusz, British Columbia!

Photo by Susanna Jani

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April 8, 2013 update:  Mediate BC Society has recently released the evaluation report for this – the third – phase of the Distance Family Mediation Project!  You can find it on Mediate BC’s website page, Mediating at a Distance.

November 22, 2012 update:  On November 14, 2012, Mediate BC Society announced the release of the Distance Family Mediation Project’s second edition of “Mediating from a Distance: Suggested Practice Guidelines for Family Mediators“.  More information is available in the Society’s news release.

How Good Emailing Can Improve a Bad Relationship

Today, you are in for a real treat.  Jane Henderson, Q.C., our perennially popular blogger and member of our distance mediation team, is back with another of her signature frank, but light-hearted, posts.  I hope you are settled into a comfortable chair because this is one you’ll want to read to the end!

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Jane Henderson, Q.C.

So, you have finally got a settlement and a parenting plan that you can live with.  It was a long and difficult battle but it is over and time to move forward.  Your Family Law Professionals have suggested that since you and your Ex are unable to communicate in person without it degenerating into a shouting match, and you can’t talk on the phone without someone slamming the receiver down, you should limit your communication to email.  Or perhaps you live in different communities and have settled using distance mediation, so email is the best method of communicating.

Email seems like a perfect solution.  It is written — so no shouting. It is a record — so everyone should be respectful.  Writing gives one time to think about what one wants to say — so no emotional outbursts.  It is right there in black and white — so no misunderstandings.

Well, maybe.  If, like most of us, you have ever been on the receiving end of an email which you thought was aggressive, or have been surprised that an email which you sent offended the recipient in some way, or was completely misunderstood, then you will appreciate that communicating by email in a positive way is as much a skill as any other kind of productive communication.  You likely also know that, if you and the recipient have a history of misunderstandings and antagonism, bad emails can make a bad situation even worse.

The good news is that it is not difficult to communicate productively with email if you follow a few simple rules.  Even better, improved communication will likely improve your relationship.  These are my Top 10 Rules for doing that:

  1. Be clear in your own mind about what you want to accomplish before you send the email (e.g., You would like him/her to keep the kids an extra day …..).
  2. Be direct but polite; don’t try to be tricky.
  3. Start with a salutation.  It doesn’t have to be formal:  “Hi” and your Ex’s name is fine.
  4. End with a closing: “Thanks for considering this” and your name.
  5. Don’t use capitals except for proper nouns and the first letter of the first word in a sentence.  CAPITALIZED WORDS IN EMAILS ARE EASILY INTERPRETED AS SHOUTING.
  6. Similarly, don’t use multiple exclamation points!!!!! (unless you are conveying something the recipient will think is good news too) or question marks?????  Both come across as being aggressive.
  7. Stick to the necessary facts and your real question.  Don’t use email to deliver a lecture, commentary, advice or instruction — unless the instruction has been specifically requested.
  8. If a request is made of you in an email and you are saying “No”, you don’t have to give excuses, lengthy reasons, or say why you think the request is out of line.  It is enough to say “I am sorry but I can’t help you out this time” — always accompanied by a salutation and civil closing.
  9. If a time limit for the response is needed, put it in your email, but don’t ask or expect that it be immediate.  Give at least 24 hours; the longer the time you can give, the better.  (And don’t follow up with capitalized exclamatory requests for a response. You know s/he is going to get great satisfaction in hitting the “Delete” button.)
  10. Don’t send or reply to emails in haste, unless it is a legitimate emergency — that is, someone’s health or life is in immediate danger.  Take as much time as possible before you hit the “Send” button.  If there is the remotest possibility that you have not said what you want to say in a civil and respectful tone, send it to yourself first.  Look at it the next day and make sure it says exactly what you want in a civil and respectful way.

Here are some examples of what I am talking about:

Let’s say you would like your Ex to take the kids this weekend because you have plans that don’t include them.

You could send this email:

Since you are always nagging me to be flexible, I am willing to trade my weekend with the kids this week for your weekend next week.  But don’t drag this out.  I need to know now.

Followed up a couple of hours later by:

So do you want the kids or not??????

The reply might come back as:

Of course I want the kids.  I ALWAYS want the kids.  They come FIRST in my life, not like in some people’s.  But I have a life too and I am not your babysitter.  You are supposed to be responsible for them this weekend and, besides, we have plans for next weekend.  So I guess you will just have to put them first and be a responsible parent for a change.

You may now feel entitled to respond:

Well FINE!!!  Just don’t expect me to be flexible when you want to make a change!!!

And so, the toxic cycle continues.  Neither of you is going to feel very good about it and neither of you got what you want.  Your Ex would have been happy to have the kids but didn’t want to swap weekends, so ended up without them.  You are either going to have to pay a babysitter or miss your event because you asked to swap weekends instead of asking for what you really wanted, which  was to have the kids go to the Ex.  The tone of the emails makes any sort of discussion about options or alternatives pretty difficult.

On the other hand, you might try sending this email:

Hi Robin:  Something has come up this weekend and I am wondering if there is any chance you could take the kids? I would like to swap weekends, but if that doesn’t work for you, it would still be a big help to me if you could take them this weekend.  I would be glad to do the same for you another time.  Could you please let me know by Wednesday? If I don’t hear from you by Wednesday, I will assume that doesn’t work for you and make other plans.  Thanks, Tony

Then Robin is more likely to respond:

Hi Tony:  I am happy to have the kids this weekend, though sorry that the swap won’t work for me. I expect I will need to ask you to take one of my weekends later this fall.  Let me know when you will drop them off.  Cheers, Robin

Or Robin’s response might be:

Hi Tony:  Sorry I can’t help you out this weekend, but would be happy to do it another time.  Cheers, Robin

The point is that what Tony really wanted was for Robin to take the kids this weekend.  If they could do a swap, that would be a bonus.  By asking in a direct, yet respectful, way Robin is more likely to agree; even if s/he doesn’t, the door is left open for it to happen another time.  Neither person needs to feel that they have “lost” anything, and neither is left feeling angry or attacked.  More importantly, they have had a civil, respectful exchange — the first step to a civil, respectful relationship.

In some cases, a respectful request will still result in an aggressive or hostile response.  Even if this happens, don’t succumb to the temptation to reply in the same way.  One of you may have to be the first to break the toxic cycle, so let it be you.  It is hard to maintain hostility if it is not reciprocated.

The moral of this story is:

Don’t underestimate the power of email communication, for bad and for good.  Use it wisely and you will improve communication and your relationship.

“ODR: Making the ‘Green in the Machine’ Work for You” – A Free ADRHub Webinar for ODR Practitioners

If you’ve been patient enough to follow me on this blog, Twitter or Facebook, you will likely have seen my comments about a fabulous paper, “ODR: The Next Green Giant”, which was recently published in Conflict Resolution Quarterly.  (You can also download it here for free.)

As if it isn’t exciting enough to have a paper addressing the important topic of ODR’s environmental advantage, there is a follow-up webinar on the way, hosted by the Werner Institute’s ADRHub.  How groovy is that!  And, the paper’s brilliant author, Noam Ebner, and his equally brilliant co-author, Colleen Getz, have kindly invited yours truly to join them for their presentation – in my case, to talk about the “green lens” used by our Distance Mediation Project during its previous phase.  Woohoo!

The webinar will be on May 14th, 3:00 – 4:00 pm (Pacific Daylight Time).  Amazingly, it’s free!  It is also available to everyone – until the seats run out, virtually, of course.  You can register for the webinar at: http://adrhubmay2012-estw.eventbrite.com.

Here is a description of what we’ll be talking about:

ODR:  Making the “Green in the Machine” Work for You 

A Presentation by Noam Ebner, Colleen Getz, and Susanna Jani

Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) is becoming widely accepted, with its proponents pointing out the advantages that harnessing the power of the Internet offers to dispute resolution. These benefits include enhanced flexibility, expertise, and accessibility, as well as reduced costs, time-investment and travel.  One clear benefit of ODR which has not been spotlighted, however, is the environmental advantage which ODR enjoys over any other form of dispute resolution.

In this webinar, we will explore the nature and value of this advantage, presenting case studies which illustrate how significant this advantage is. We will also address the fundamental question of ‘What’s in it for us?’.  Benefit to the planet aside – what do ODR practitioners, and the ODR field, stand to gain from spotlighting ODR’s environmental aspects? And – what might we do in order to achieve these gains?

If you find this topic as interesting as I do, I hope you’ll join Noam, Colleen and me.  Even if you don’t think it’s the cat’s meow, it would be great fun for you and I to chat about it at the webinar, don’t you think?