Stop Acting Like an Adult! Learn Divorce Mediators' Top Skill

Why did I do that, Daddy?
— Oliver, age 3

Kids are amazing. Before your eyes (and all too fast), you see them transform from completely helpless eat-sleep-poop machines into fully functional human beings. If you're lucky, you learn a few things from them along the way.

We Argue Like Adults, In Divorce and Elsewhere

How many times, in the heat of an argument, have you told someone (or been told yourself), "Stop acting like a child"? We like to think that adults are elevated beings, capable of more respectful dialogue and reasoned argument. In some ways, that is true. We are capable of learning, and teaching ourselves, to approach disagreements more constructively. Some of us even make a profession of it.

But in some ways, being an adult is actually a hindrance.

Over the years, we all develop habits and beliefs, and for all but the most introspective of us, those habits and beliefs become central to who we are. We take them for granted, and rarely question them, expect perhaps around January 1st, when we make halfhearted resolutions to "be healthier" or "try new things" in the coming year.

So, when we argue, those ingrained parts of our beings fundamentally influence how we perceive both the situation and the person with whom we are arguing. Quite literally, we see the world differently because of our years of cumulative experience. Far too infrequently do we take the time to question those built-up assumptions. Far too infrequently do we try to see the situation or the other person from a different perspective. Far too infrequently do we try to really understand what is going on.

Children, especially the younger ones, do not have those decades of ingrained behavior. They take very little for granted, and understand even less of it. Hence the toddler's infamous question, "Why?"

  • Why do I need my coat?
  • Why can't I touch the oven?
  • Why are you my daddy?
  • Why did my brother do that?
  • Why did I do that?

The toddler's world is one of exploration and inquisition. They know, instinctively, that they do not know very much. How often do we, as adults, ask ourselves, "Why did I do that?" How often do we ask ourselves, "Why does this matter so much to the other person?" Not often enough.

Think Like a Divorce Mediator: Start Asking "Why"

A huge part of a divorce mediator's job is to help clients understand not just what they want, but why they want it – because sometimes there is more than one way to address the underlying interests. That includes helping each client understand why the other client is taking a particular position or acting a particular way. It's not necessarily about getting to the point where you agree with the other person's position or behavior, but it is about getting to the point where you can have a meaningful dialogue and work toward a mutually agreeable resolution of the issues.

Mediators aren't the only people who should be asking "why." The parties themselves should also cultivate an inquisitive mindset, and so should their attorneys. Otherwise, if you never ask "why" and insist on simply pitting one position against the other, you are headed down the litigation path where only one of those positions can emerge victorious – a hollow victory with a wake of destruction behind it.

So stop arguing like an adult – try being more like a child for a little while and see where that gets you.