The Most Critical Rule in Collaborative Communication

One of the most important tools of a collaborative professional is the ability to communicate well and to understand the communication of others. Most communication is non-verbal. Fifty-five percent of communication is body language: facial expressions, postures, gestures, behaviors, and inferences. Thirty-eight percent is tone and inflection. Only seven percent is an individual’s actual choice of words!

Want to be "sexy"? The body language displayed on this sign is a good example.
Want to be “sexy”? The body language displayed on this sign is a good example.

There are often conflicts between the spoken words and the tone or body language. When this happens, the tone and body language control. For example, if a person rolls their eyes while saying “thank you,” she is not really appreciative of what you did for them, even though her words say otherwise. This is why a billboard, a still picture of a model’s facial expression or posture, is, nevertheless, so effective.

Communication varies by culture. So, if you are working with team members from diverse cultures, do some research to learn how to interpret their communication and how better to communicate with them. Don’t insult a team member, or feel insulted, merely because the communication in your cultures is different.

When people are unable to effectively communicate, they become frustrated. Consider an infant just learning to speak. When you do not understand him, he becomes frustrated, throws tantrums, cries, etc. A grown adult who does not know how to communicate will have the same feelings. The most critical rule in collaborative communication is, to enable this person to express his true feelings, actively listen, ask questions, and repeat the way you are understanding him to feel to ensure that you have it correct.

Prior to the first full team meeting, the facilitator will meet with each client to discuss his goals, issues, concerns, and relationship history. The facilitator will prepare a report of the interviews and provide it to the team so that the team has a better understanding of the clients’ personalities, of their strengths and weaknesses, and of how to avoid pitfalls in the process based on the clients’ individual personality traits and histories.

The facilitator’s report should include tips on how best to communicate with each client and what will trigger each client to become defensive or to shut down. Common triggers for divorcing spouses have to do with finances, trust, loyalty, or parenting. While a client’s trigger may seem irrational to the team because the client comes from a very emotional place, it must be adequately addressed or it will impair the team’s ability to proceed effectively. Team members should recognize these triggers so that they can choose their words carefully and be able to re-frame negative comments.

Before meetings, remind your client that, in order to work towards settlement efficiently, it is important to communicate appropriately during the meeting. Remind him to be cognizant of his body language, choice of words, and tone. Tell him to avoid “you statements,” which make people defensive. When people feel as though they are under attack, they often react by defending themselves, counterattacking, or withdrawing. These responses are destructive to the collaborative process, so it is important to avoid situations where a person feels that she is being attacked.

This couple's body language displays sheer frustration. Coach your clients to avoid this type of non-verbal communication!
This couple’s body language displays sheer frustration. Coach your clients to avoid this type of non-verbal communication!

The following types of communication should be avoided during the collaborative process:

1 – Taking a competitive, impatient, or bossy stance;
2 – Advising and lecturing the other team members;
3 – Acting too passively in order to keep the peace;
4 – Avoiding conflict altogether;
5 – Withdrawing;
6 – Interrogating;
7 – Assuming that you have all the answers;
8 – Distracting the team from the true issues;
9 – Attempting to solve everyone else’s problems;
10 – Using sarcasm; and
11 – Preaching.

Instead, focus on, and remind your client to compromise and collaborate. Each side will need to give up certain things to resolve the matter. Together, they will work towards a win/win solution that meets each client’s most important interests. But the most critical rule in collaborative communication is to listen actively, as my collaborative clients have proven again and again!


Need advice now? Contact Joryn!

About this week’s author:  Joryn Jenkins.

Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law while also serving as a full-time professor in law at Stetson University.  She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement.  For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

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