There is endless material about the pros and cons of venting. Most life coaches, HR managers, psychologists and basically anyone with an interest or opinion on the benefits of airing grievances or concerns vis-a-vis venting – including attorneys – tend to agree positive venting can be healthy.
When well executed, positive venting of feelings of frustration, anger, resentment, concern, disappointment and so on, done in the right place, at the right time, with the right person can be a cathartic experience. Saying the words out loud may release angst, enabling the person to move on. The trustworthy confidant may validate the feelings and/or have a different perspective to be considered and help improve clarity and resolution.
Is Venting Productive to Mediation?
It’s fair to say that as couples approach meditation, emotional turmoil is building up in their head. They may be developing an organized narrative or experiencing a storm of fuzzy and unclear thoughts. As mediation begins, it is perfectly understandable that one or both parties want or need the opportunity to speak and to be heard. Given the chance to air their thoughts and have their feelings acknowledged is often all it takes to clear a consuming emotional loop in their heads, enabling the individual to focus on the issues that need to be resolved.
Throughout the course of facilitating over 2,000 mediations, I have found the key to moving forward is to allow some venting while keeping the dialogue in check. I watch and listen carefully for queues and redirect as soon as it appears venting may take over the mediation. Examples of venting getting out of control and their consequences include:
- The venting dissolves into whining, yelling, crying, etc. The natural reaction of others is to stop paying attention.
- The content of the venting is extremely negative and unrestrained. There is a high probability the emotions of the party across the table will be inflamed, poisoning the well, so to speak.
- One party engages the other and venting becomes a fight. Afterwards, both parties often display signs of increased emotional fatigue which affects their objectivity and their ability to reason, both essential to the productive nature of mediation.
Managing Venting During Mediation
Depending on the level of emotion and contention, sometimes acknowledging that you understand it’s been a challenging time and process, in other words, validating their feelings, the mediation may be able to proceed without either party feeling the need to vent. However, it is reasonable to expect that the parties will want to be heard.
In order to mitigate the effects of venting, I am prepared to quickly redirect the dialogue if a bit of positive venting turns into unproductive, emotional venting. Ways in which I steer everyone back on track are:
- I underscore that rehashing issues of the past will not get them any closer to agreeing to solutions for feeling safe and secure in their future, i.e., “Now that we’ve looked at the past, let’s focus on your futures.”
- I reinforce that mediation is not emotional therapy and that professional mental health services should be utilized to address the emotional aspects of divorce.
- I explain that regardless of he-said/she-said, the attorneys will represent them (their clients) to their fullest ability and the Judge will rely on Florida law to make a final determination.
- I recognize when emotions are running so hot that I may not be able to take back control of the room. In this scenario, the best thing I have found to do is – take a break! Give everyone the opportunity to step away, regain their composure and come back to the table focused and ready to move forward.
Divorce mediation can be unpredictable. Sometimes the ones you think are going to be smooth and agreeable can quickly become angry and loud and vice versa. You can count on my eight years of exclusively practicing family mediations and 18 years of litigation experience to keep both parties focused on their objectives and moving forward. It is my role as a mediator to help find a creative solution to settle their dispute amicably and expeditiously.