Annual Report 2009/2010

  • July 15, 2010

Summary of Activities

Number of Meetings Held: 4

November 19, 2009
Guest Speaker: Donna Soules - Dealing with Defensiveness: Exploring Psychological Triggers in Clients

Synopsis: Most conflicts involve defensive behaviours. This talk explored defensiveness as a behavioural response to a perceived threat or attack. When people feel judged, attacked or falsely accused, barriers usually go up which can derail constructive communication. When people are defending their self-image (face-saving), listening becomes more difficult and positions can become cemented. Understanding how defensiveness becomes a negotiation of face in conflict was the focus of the discussion. Using J. Heron’s (1999) work as a diagnostic tool, we explored the psychological aspects of defensiveness and the three elements of anger, grief and fear. The goal is not to look for a label but to discover the unmet need to increase practitioner awareness to establish rapport with clients. 

January 28, 2010
Guest Speaker: Author Peter D. Johnston presented his book: “Negotiating with Giants”

Synopsis: Mr. Johnston defined a “Giant” as an entity that is many times your size in terms of clout and resources. Over the course of the evening he took the participants through numerous real-life stories from his book, of people who had successfully negotiated with “Giants”.

The key to success that ran through all of these examples was the smaller parties ability to become a “Size Wizard”. Essentially, this means that they “levelled the playing field”by using negotiations to make themselves bigger and the “Giant” smaller. Such techniques, as forming coalitions, using the media, establishing trust, having a walkaway plan, being respectfully assertive, and defending information (as illustrated in the above examples) made the Size Wizards bigger relative to the “Giants”. Because, size wizards must do all of this preliminary work, it follows that at least 80% of the negotiations occur in these scenarios before participants actually go “to the table”.

April 15, 2010
Guest Speaker: Mr. Craig Neville, Partner Watson, Goepel, Maledy LLP-Parenting Coordination

Synopsis:Mr. Neville discussed the importance of Parenting Coordination for high conflict families. One of the key benefits of Parenting Coordination is its potential to solve serial parenting disputes in a more timely manner than the courts so that the children do not have to endure as many missed opportunities. Mr. Neville clarified how Parenting Coordination differs from Counselling and Mediation.

Regarding recent SCBC decisions on Parenting Coordination, Mr. Neville described the situation as being at a stage where educating the court about the virtues of the program was key. Further he illustrated through recent case examples that the courts are increasingly appointing the Parenting Coordinator even when one parent is opposed. The remaining legal hurdle for Parenting Coordination arises from the jurisdictional issues around the arbitration powers. Pursuant to s.2 of the Commercial Arbitration Act : A a provision of an arbitration agreement that removes the jurisdiction of a court under the Divorce Act or the FRA has no effect. To overcome this impediment, he suggests that Parenting Coordination arbitration powers be made subject to the review of the court with the possible proviso that objecting parents have a short time line (i.e.7 days) to apply for a review. This approach remains consistent with the objective of Parenting Coordination to provide timely solutions to parental conflict but honours the courts’ concerns about the lawful delegation of powers.

June 3, 2010
Guest Speaker: Mr. Gary Harper, Harper and Associates- Working with the Drama of Conflict

Synopsis: The discussion of conflict was framed around the concept that conflict stories center around three characters: the Victim, Villain and Hero. Members were encouraged to identify the key traits of these three characters. As a group we conceptualized the Victim as; powerless, passive, and not accountable, the Villain as controlling, arrogant and manipulative, and the Hero as: resourceful, courageous and selfless. Mr. Harper highlighted the fact that both the Villain and the Hero were active roles where as the Victim was passive. He also discussed the Villain and Hero along a continuum that moved according to the perspective of the Victim. An example was offered in the context of mediation where initially the Victim may perceive the mediator in the hero role (i.e. defending or slaying the Villain), but this perception could shift to cast the mediator in a Villain role if the Victim perceived that the mediator was not on their side.

To give us an experiential example of this shift in perspective, Gary had us do a role play exercise. Mr. Harper indicated that as mediators we can assist the Victim and the conflict generally by ascertaining “when the knife went in”. Until we probe to uncover the event, or series of events that landed this person in Victim mode, there is not much hope of shifting their perspective to a problem solving orientation. When the Victim sees the problem as the Villain, rather than the other party, then the conflict story will change dramatically.

Comments and Observations of the Chair

Our Section had a full and productive year. We attracted excellent speakers that provided presentations that contributed to all our members’ education.

Our meetings are longer than most – 3-4 hours – and take place in the evenings over dinner at various locations depending on the size of the group.

This year we held a joint meeting on Parenting Coordination with the Nanaimo Family Law Section.

Our final meeting of the year was in part a skill-based workshop, which added value to members learning.