Without proper communications it’s impossible to resolve an issue through negotiations or mediation. You and your client may miscommunicate, the other party and their attorney may miscommunicate, both sides could miscommunicate with each other. Both parties can’t reach their goals if no one knows for sure what those goals are. Efforts to compromise may be misunderstood.
How do you avoid this mess? An article in Psychology Today has some suggestions.
- The person’s mind wandered.
Despite your best efforts,
- Either they weren’t tuned into you or their brains temporarily went elsewhere.
- They may have been preoccupied with other matters and just weren’t mentally available.
To try to avoid this, make sure you have their attention. If you want others to give you their undivided attention, you need to ask for it.
- The person is fatigued.
If your client is tired and finds it’s hard to focus. The client is in a mental fog. Maybe the mediation session is going really long. Maybe your client didn’t get enough sleep. If you’re still making efforts to engage them, there’s a good chance your message won’t get through. It may be a waste of time to approach anything complex or conflictual when your potential listener is “listened out.”
- The person is mad.
Your client may be mad at you, the other attorney, the opposing party, the legal system, his wife, the cab driver. If the client is emotionally upset, whatever you say (or write) to them is likely to be taken unfavorably. This may be a bad time to make your most forceful arguments to convince the client (or the other party) that your point of view is justified, or superior to theirs.
Instead, hear the person out.
- See if you can validate where they’re coming from, though it may be very different than your position.
- If you want them to see the legitimacy of your position, you’ll need to have the patience and compassion to listen sympathetically to theirs.
- If so, they may be willing to listen to you without seeing your words in a negative light because of their anger.
- The other person is “negatively sensitized” to you.
Your relationship may be at the point where almost anything you say will be received in a negative light. As non-defensively as possible, clarify what you meant to say, even as you empathically “identify” with the person’s perception, sharing that you can appreciate how the past has led to the present situation, they might not be able to help aversely misunderstanding you.
- You’re reminding the other person of something or someone from their past.
Another person misunderstood you because you unintentionally brought up something negative for them, the dynamics of which you can’t possibly appreciate. You could say something like: “What did you just hear me say? I’m puzzled by your reaction. Might I have reminded you of somebody else?”
- The other person is strong-willed and rigid; has stringent, intransigent opinions; or isn’t able to “take in” any viewpoint other than their own.
Whatever you say to a person like this will pass through a “filter” and prevent their ability to accurately, objectively, or sympathetically comprehend what you’re sharing. Their defensive, mentally blinded stance leads them to twist things around so they can remain safe and secure within their narrow comfort zone. You need to be careful in how you approach them or not approach them with topics they’ve already shown an extreme reaction.
- The other person might be less educated or sophisticated than you.
You’re using jargon or language the person doesn’t understand. If you don’t know your audience and tailor your message to the audience’s education level, keep things as simple as possible.
- The other person may have quite different associations with the words you’re using.
Miscommunication is the Enemy of Success
The words you’re using may have different meanings or interpretations, especially in different situations. The message you think you’re sending may be very different than the one that’s being received. If the person doesn’t seem to understand, ask what they heard you say. Don’t pass up the opportunity to correct their misinterpretation.
No matter the problem, you’ll need to try to finesse your way around it. You may need to change your plan for the negotiation or mediation because one person or another doesn’t appear to mentally on track. If the situation is severe enough and you don’t think it’s possible for the parties to clearly understand each other, a postponement may be in order to give it another try on a better