Not something you hear every day, is it?
But we think it’s crucial.
This idea comes from Non-Violent Resistance (or NVR) Therapy, the principle being that it’s wise to delay difficult conversations until a heated situation has calmed down.
Makes sense, right?
When someone is in a heightened emotional state, they are rarely able to listen to reason. It may well send them the other way and ignite them.
This principle of looking at issues when the storm has passed is often used in therapeutic work around parenting (particularly in relation to teenagers).
But it’s important to bear in mind when working with any tricky family situation, whether you’re a therapist, lawyer, mediator or anything else.
This is why one tactic that’s often useful is to divert on to another subject when tempers flare on a particular issue and to return later.
And, when you do return, to do so in a circuitous way. Using a dollop of curiosity and a bunch of open questions as your friend. As if you approach delicate issues head-on, you’ll often find yourself butting up against that person’s defences. And you’ll get nowhere.
But the principle of ‘striking while the iron is cold’ also shows us something important about the start of our relationships with clients. About expectation setting from Day 1. We should be striking there too. Because if you set the scene properly early on, delivering potentially difficult messages at that point, you’re likely to head off problems that may come up later down the line. So, as a therapist, I’ll often tell clients in the first session to expect to be (gently) challenged by me during our work together. That the process won’t always feel comfortable. But that I’ll be honest and by their side. It’s not a bad idea for lawyers and mediators to do a similar thing.
For lawyers working with difficult family situations, it’s a good idea to tell clients in those initial meetings that yes, they will get annoyed with their ex (and their ex’s lawyer).
That they will want to respond to every letter and email that comes through the door. That they may feel ‘on the back foot’ if you don’t. But that your advice is that the best approach is to be discerning about what needs to be responded to and not. That it’s a far more intelligent way to approach things than firing off angry reactions here, there and everywhere. But acknowledge that they will be tempted to ask you to do so. And that you can think with them about how to manage such temptations without necessarily acting on them.
Your client may well still get annoyed with you down the line. But you’re in a much better position if you’ve tried to educate them about the process and the pitfalls in the initial meeting.
*“Strike while the iron is cold” from Omer (2004) –