Telling People What They Don’t Want to Hear

At some point we all have to tell people what they don’t want to hear. It might be telling an aging parent they can no longer live independently. Or a friend we can’t support them if they continue making destructive decisions. In the divorce business telling clients what is sure to upset them is an almost daily occurrence.  Following are some tips to make this part of your job easier.

  • Be Sure You Have it Right. Do your research and be prepared to “defend” what you are saying.  It is natural to receive pushback in these situations.  If possible have data or anecdotes available.
  • Have empathy. Look at the situation from the perspective of the person with whom you are talking.  Sometimes people are so “in the weeds” that they can’t see a situation clearly.  Avoid making any judgments.  This can be a difficult task with some clients!
  • Don’t mince words. Focus on the truth and state things as simply as possible.
  • Avoid the blame game. It is normal for people to blame others when they end up in situations where they don’t want to be.  This isn’t particularly constructive because it focuses on the past, not the future.
  • Help outline their choices and consequences. Regardless of how they have gotten to this point, focus on the situation right now.  Present them with possible solutions and predicted outcomes.  They have just been told bad news.  Giving them a plan to move forward will comfort them and make them feel like they have more control over the situation.
  • Maintain Boundaries. The messenger (you) sometimes gets killed! Try to remain objective and avoid getting defensive.  While it may seem like you are being attacked, they are really attacking your message, not you.

Of course, these conversations are going to be uncomfortable and difficult even if all these rules are followed.  For this reason I would argue the most important tip on this list is having proper boundaries in place.  More to come on maintaining good boundaries in the future.

Erin Kassebaum provides divorce mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services.  She is located in Bloomington.  Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or erin@resolutiondivorceservices.com.

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