It is time for much less BUTs in mediation

Use “and” instead of “but”. It’s a simple change that can mean a world of difference in conversation and writing. That difference lies in how we hear and read the word “but”.

“But” has a negative connotation, which means that everything that came before is not true.

I think this is a valuable lesson, but not revolutionary.

I think this is a valuable lesson and not revolutionary.

Which of these sentences gives the impression that both things are true (which I actually believe)? Obviously, the “and” changes the way we read this sentence. In fact, all you have to do is search Google for the phrase “and instead of but” to see that a lot of people have shared this idea before me. It is not revolutionary and remains a valuable lesson, especially for mediators and negotiators.

Frankie, a contributor to Medium, pointed out that the importance of this change lies in the fact that two things can be true at the same time, even if those things sometimes seem at odds. Imagine how powerful this idea of ​​dialectical truths can be in conveying:

I love you, but I don’t want to be married anymore.

I love you and I don’t want to be married anymore.

The “and” makes the “I love you” seem real. It is another thing that is true despite the second truth. Now imagine how different these two sentences could be in a divorce mediation. Just knowing the difference can change the tone of a conversation significantly.

As mediators, we often model good communication for our clients and this is another opportunity to do so. In addition, it is often important to validate our clients’ concerns as part of effective active listening. If we, as mediators, acknowledge a concern and redirect it with the word “but”, we may signal to this customer that we do not consider this concern important:

I hear you have concerns about being equal parents, however

I think it might be helpful if we discuss the specifics of the parenting plan.

I hear you have concerns about being equal parents, and

I think it might be helpful if we discuss the specifics of the parenting plan.

The first option implies that the mediator is trying to change the subject, while the second option, with just one word of difference, suggests that the mediator believes that the details might help dispel parents’ concerns. The mediator directs the client on a more specific topic that could help them make progress while validating the concern rather than rejecting it. It may both be true that the client has concerns about parenting and that keeping to the schedule could alleviate some of those concerns.

This has become one of the tips and tricks we share in mediation training and we encourage you to try it out in your personal and professional life.

If you would like to learn more about upcoming mediation training courses, you can visit the Divorce Mediation Training Associates information or registration page.

Many thanks to Amy Martell of Whole Family Law & Mediation for first bringing this issue to my attention during a collaborative legal training session.

To learn more about upcoming collaborative law training courses, visit the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council’s intro training information and registration page.

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