“Treat people as they want to be and you help them become what they are capable of being.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
I attended a presentation by Donna Hicks, Ph.D., at the International Academy of Matrimonial Professionals 2015 Fall Conference. Donna spoke on the topic of dignity and how it relates to the work that Collaborative Professionals do. Donna Hicks has authored a book titled: Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Conflict.
Her presentation resonated with me. Anyone who has experienced divorce or worked with clients going through a divorce knows that a spouse facing a separation and/or divorce is often not at their best. A divorce client is likely experiencing feelings of sadness, loss, and anger over the ending of their marriage. Their life may be in turmoil, their living arrangements and finances in flux, and their future unknown. When children are involved, they may fear for their children and how their relationship, and time, with their children may change as a result of the divorce.
As a Collaborative Divorce Attorney and Mediator working with people in the midst of separation, I try to be mindful of the experience of my clients and how I can help them be their best selves as they make decisions relating to their divorce. These clients are at a crossroads, one or both spouses has determined that the relationship is not meeting their needs and it is time to move on and create a new future. I want to help them identify and express their goals what is important to them about their future, their relationship with their soon to be ex-spouse, and the parent of their children (if applicable). As an attorney, my job is to help them select a process that will maximize the opportunity to work toward these goals.
So how does Donna Hicks’ work on dignity help guide Collaborative Divorce professionals in their work with divorcing spouses? Her message is that we treat the people we encounter with dignity and that we also maintain our own dignity while we do this work.
Donna Hicks outlines the essential elements of how we can best treat people with dignity. These principles include:
- Acceptance of Identity (without judgement),
- Recognition and Validation,
- Acknowledgement (or experience),
- Benefit of the Doubt; and
It is not uncommon for a divorce client to have difficulty managing their anger and frustrations as they go through a divorce. An attorney may also experience an “opposing counsel” who conveys a strong message of fault and blame. Donna Hicks has identified the “Ten Temptations” to avoid and how to maintain your dignity when your instincts think they know better. These parameters can help the divorce professional stay grounded and focused on the tasks/issues when surrounded by a display of emotion from others.
Treating others with dignity enables a divorce professional to help clients focus on their true interests and goals and frame a settlement agreement that will serve them best over time. Maintaining one’s own sense of dignity enables a Collaborative Divorce Attorney (whether representing a client or working as a Mediator) continue to do this work and be the best they can be for the clients they serve while the clients work through this difficult time in their lives.
If you are living in Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, or other areas in Northern Virginia and have questions about the Collaborative Divorce process, please contact attorney Karen Keyes at 703.528.1991