In this blog I want to consider four questions raised by Dr. Randy Heller in her recent Advanced Collaborative Training, “”Guess Who’s Coming to the Collaborative Table?” The first question, “Who am I?” was addressed to some degree in my last two blogs as the same relates to what brought me to the Collaborative Process. The Enneagram test Dr. Heller made available articulated some of the way in which I am defined: A reformer/strict perfectionist, a challenger/active controller and a loyalist/loyal sceptic. I am not a therapist, but I would guess much of these personality traits arose from my childhood; hence, that is the piece I will briefly share with you in this blog.
I grew up the oldest child of parents who had three children by the time they were 21 and 23. Dysfunctional would understate the dynamics of our home. My father grew up in an abusive home until he was removed at the age of 12 and put into foster care. He repeated his family history and became an abusive father himself. My mother’s family history was replete with bi-polar disorder which played out in what I can only describe as extremely bad parenting skills and a difficult environment in which to grow. If the Jewish Adoption and Foster Care Organization Children’s Village had existed in Phoenix, Arizona in the 60’s, my sister, brother and I would have been placed in the village. To survive, I vowed at the age of six to educate myself, learn what I could about independence, self-sufficiency and leadership to change my circumstances and not repeat the dysfunctionality. There is no question but that my history impacts my adult behavior and how I react to my clients’ stories. It impacted the direction a case with allegations of child neglect or abuse and mental illness took in litigated cases.
In the Collaborative Process we have the opportunity to analyze the impact these issues have on a family’s goals and best interests. My mother once said to me, following a particularly bad night, “You don’t know what it’s like to live with this.” It stunned me. After some thought I replied, “Of course I know what it is like to live with ‘this.’ I have lived with it my whole life.” She of course was referring to her illness. I was talking about growing up in a home with an unhealthy mother. I lived it every day. And where in litigation we might use depression or any number of other issues as weapons to limit a parent’s access to his or her child, in the Collaborative Process we work together, as a team, and with all necessary professionals as part of the team, to help guide a family in the direction best suited for them. We have the opportunity to work with the family. Not take it apart.
The second question in Dr. Heller’s presentation, “How do I show up?” is partially answered through the Enneagram test--a reformer/strict perfectionist, a challenger/active controller and a loyalist/loyal sceptic—and although there is far more to me than these descriptors, I have no doubt those who do not know me well see me as defined by the test. So how does this play into the Collaborative Process? The histories we bring to the team meeting cannot help but affect how we interact with others at the table be it other professionals or at times, how we respond to our clients and his or her spouse. In litigation, we often behave as our worst selves. Our personalities affect how we practice and how we respond to motions and arguments in court. We are given virtually free reign to show up as combative, difficult and advocates who care little about the effect of our actions on the other side. In the Collaborative Process it all matters as our goal is not winning but helping families stay intact, remain at peace and put children first. We are team players who put the needs of our clients ahead of the adversarial training we received in school and the courtroom.
The third question, “Who am I Collaborating with?” is important because the histories and characteristics of the rest of the team often impact how we respond and conduct ourselves. Learning to be part of a team means setting aside irritants and traits that might otherwise set us off in the litigation world. I have participated on several teams with Dr. Heller. She reminds me that while I may think I am controlling my body language my facial expressions speak volumes about what I am thinking. I have considered extensive Botox to freeze my face, but I am not sure I want to show up in the rest of my life without expression.
The last question, “What can I do to be my best self?” is the one I ask of you. How do we assess ourselves and show up as listening, compromising, value added participants on the team? How do we represent our clients and guide them knowing our own reputations for doing “a good job” is on the line? We are expected as Collaborative professionals to give even where the law may dictate otherwise. How do we take a step back and allow our clients to control the process when we are accustomed to giving advice, advocating, recommending and quoting the law? I see accountant/team members step into the issue as often as I see lawyers get caught up in a non-Collaborative model. We must constantly read, expose ourselves to other Collaborative Professionals, listen to those who have greater experience in the field, attend conferences and constantly self-assess where we are and how we conduct ourselves. While a complete facial freeze ala Botox may not be the answer, controlling my eyebrows and the direction the corners of my mouth slide certainly play a role in my own self-assessment.
As I said at the beginning of my first blog titled, “The Sum of Our Histories,” there is no question that we bring our personal experiences to team meetings in the Collaborative Process. My history dictates I am particularly attuned to families with abuse, mental health issues and myriad other issues that impact the way my clients show up at the table. I have to make certain I am not mirroring their inability to breathe or see where the future may be clear. The Collaborative Process, unlike litigation, dictates we focus on the family and guide them into their future as best we can with as little destruction as possible. So many of our clients have already lived through destruction and sadness. They do not need the divorce process to further add to their misery.