Without doubt the impact of COVID-19 has increased the complexity and challenges facing separated families. Parents are having to manage transitions and access in the context of social distancing and health issues.
The AFCC have just released 7 Guidelines for Parents to help navigate the concerns and restrictions. Please note that as a US organisation some of the references are not applicable to Hong Kong. However, the focus on co-parenting is something that transcends nations. In normal times, the AFCC (Association of Family and Conciliation Courts) provides leadership through resources and training.
I wanted to share these with a wider audience as knowledge is power.
It has been a challenging few months. Even so, in Hong Kong, Spring is making its presence felt. I wanted to give everyone a moment to enjoy Spring and pause. Here is a Spring colouring page, I hope you use your brightest colours.
Click on the PDF below to download your own black and white version for you to colour.
I was reading a NYT article today about how separated parents are coping with the challenges of Covid 19. The author, Hannah Ingber explains that when social distancing in the US started she was worried about how co-parenting would work. Ingber and her ex-partner were in conflict over many parenting decisions. She is surprised and relieved to find that the petty differences between them fall away as they grapple with how to manage risks for their children. Perhaps in years to come it will become common practice to include pandemic arrangements in mediated agreements between separating parents. At present this is not the norm.
What is part of normal mediation practice is working to help parents to child-focus and to strengthen and re-imagine a co-parental alliance. The shared common value of keeping children safe can be a bridge for parents to adapting and changing. Adapting to the new circumstances; and changing established views of the other parent as the 'enemy'. The relative unimportance of that additional extracurricular activity, or whether handover is at 6pm or 7pm, is highlighted when parents must work together for basic health issues. this bridge can lead parents to shift from the negative views and beliefs about the other person as an adult, to a new vision of the other person as a co-parent. In the role of co-parent there is a chance for redemption and trust.
This ability to adapt and change is one Miss Marple has in spades. In "A Caribbean Mystery" she encounters Jason Rafiel, a rich and highly cantankerous man whom she wisely decides to avoid. However, through a series of circumstances, it becomes clear that Mr Rafiel has hidden depths of empathy and kindness. They become allies and work to solve the spate of murders at the resort.
If Miss Marple had held strong to her original beliefs about Mr Rafiel she would have lost the chance for his support and wisdom during her investigation, and his friendship thereafter. Without doubt, Miss Marple is justified in her negative opinion of Mr Rafiel's behaviour. What becomes apparent though is his intrinsic worth as a person is obscured by some of his behaviours. For many people in conflict, the behaviours are synonymous with the person. We observe the behaviours and weigh the worth (or otherwise) of the person themselves. As Miss Marple knows, people contain 'multitudes' (thank you Walt Whitman).
Being open to adapt and change, gives Miss Marple the edge in her investigation. In conflict, being open-minded can enable a shift in mindset from warring enemies to co-parents who can put their children first. Miss Marple knows that the charming host may conceal the murderer, the gentle lady in the next pew may be the poison pen writer. We need to be just as open to change and adapter as Miss Marple.
Today we learnt that Kenny Rogers passed in his sleep at the age of 81. His song "The Gambler" is so vivid in my memory from childhood.
He made it through five marriages, a successful recording career and a business empire. I like to think that the wisdom of those lines in the Gambler kept him one step ahead of the game.
You've got to know when to hold'em
Know when to fold'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You can see how these words can guide even the worst negotiator. In negotiation you need to know how to do all of these things.
You need to be determined about your priorities, but importantly you need to know which those are.
You need to know when to give up on something that is unrealistic or counterproductive.
You need to know when to leave the table and either quit the fight or find another way forward.
And then sometimes you need to run. Whatever it takes to get away from the table, close the deal or end the conflict, you need to do.
Thank you Kenny Rogers for your wisdom and your music.
Nemesis by Agatha Christie
In 'Ordeal by Innocence', Miss Marple goes to visit an old friend who is marrying into her employer's family. As she reminds us there is a virtue in being non-partisan.
Sadly for Miss Marple's friend, there is no happy ever after for her friend, Gwenda. Despite, losing her friend, Miss Marple does not leave the scene. Although initially viewed with suspicion by some in the family, she perseveres with her moderate approach i.e. not fiercely partisan for her murdered friend, but open to hear any information from anyone.
In any negotiation or conflict, people will have a tribe behind them who supports and advises them. In every tribe there are people who play different roles, hawks, doves and moderates.
The hawks are easy to identify. They will be the ones advocating for the scorched earth, 'take no prisoners' approach. They are fiercely partisan. The challenge is that they can encourage or guilt parties into an adversarial approach. They will caution against concessions and will resist collaboration. For some parties, it can be challenging to resist the hawks and make an agreement. Parties can be embarrassed about 'disappointing' their hawks. They may reject a solution if it means they have to explain it to the hawk. I have seen parties in mediation, hesitate over a solution because they do not want to have to tell the hawks that the war is over and that they settled.
The doves are also easy to identify. They will counsel caution and unilateral disarmament. They will suggest that peace is worth it any price. They will be heavily focused on the costs of unresolved issues and the difficulties of holding out for a collaborative solution. They will be trying to spare their favoured party from the pain of ongoing conflict and will preach the benefits of taking what has been offered rather than continuing to work on a solution. For parties, it can be difficult to hold out against the doves. Their counsel sounds wise, but they are focused on accommodation to avoid conflict / negotiation rather than resolution.
Finally, the rare moderate. A moderate will acknowledge your pain and your positions, and they will be able to acknowledge that the other side may have pain and positions. They may be able to express the "other side's" thoughts in a manner that you can hear them. They are rare in the real world. If you have a moderate in your tribe, seek them out. They will be able to help you consider your perspective may not be the only one. They will help you to see all the sides. Not agree with all the sides, but at least see them.
Miss Marple is a born moderate. Her mind can see multiple sides to any question. She can appreciate that her favoured perspective (that of her murdered friend), is only one perspective in the tangled web of relationships. Using her ability to understand many perspectives is a key to unlocking the identity of the murderer. In conflict and negotiation, see if you can find your moderate. If you are supporting a friend in conflict / negotiation, see if you can be the moderate in their tribe.
Finally I have reconciled my love of detective fiction with ADR in this new series “What Miss Marple knows…about Negotiation”. Over the years, I have eagerly watched each iteration of Miss Marple bring their own personality and physicality to the character. Across all the Marples, there are some constants. In the next few weeks, I will be using Miss Marple as a lens for negotiation skills.
This week, the “4.50 From Paddington”, which was made for television with Geraldine McEwan and her birdlike attributes, with Margaret Rutherford (in “Murder, She Said”) and with Joan Hickson (my personal favourite).
As those who have read the book / seen the filmed versions will know, whilst sitting in a train Miss Marple (or a friend, depending on the version) watches as another train flashes past. In one carriage, a woman is being strangled. Although the authorities are alerted and the train is searched no body is found and the story is dismissed as a story dreamt up by an excitable, old spinster. The viewer must have fallen asleep while reading her detective book and dreamed up the murder.
For some little old ladies, the belittling attitude of the police would be enough to deter any further action. But not for Miss Marple. One of her key qualities is tenacity.
The ability to persevere in the face of obstacles is a quality much needed by negotiators. I recently read Chris Voss’s “Never Split the Difference”. As an FBI hostage negotiator, Voss worked in life and death negotiations. He explains how when people hear ‘no’ in a negotiation (or mediation) they crumble as they believe that the negotiation is over. It can lead to a party stopping the process or becoming disconsolate. Voss argues that ‘no’ is the start of a negotiation and not the end. He argues that we need to learn to persevere.
In mediation, I can see this happen for parties in real-time. A proposal may be rejected and both parties will feel that this is the end of the negotiation. They are ready to give up because the other person did not offer what they wanted, or accept what they offered. They sometimes say, “I knew this wouldn’t work”. Their fears are confirmed. It is the end.
In reality, it is the beginning. Negotiation is a process, a dance, and it requires multiple steps. As a mediator, when a party rejects a proposal, I try and coach the party for a “no, and…”. Rather than just reject a proposal, parties need to persevere and make a counter-proposal. This is the dance element of negotiation. It requires perseverance from parties.
Are there elements of the proposal which can be built upon for a counter-proposal? Are there issues which were not addressed which could be add-ons to the counter-proposal which may be relevant for one or other party? What would be easy for you to offer which would have value for the other side?
Miss Marple would know that in negotiation, perseverance is a virtue.