Dance With Drama

by: Candice D. Saketkoo, Ph.D., Psy.D.,

If you find yourself aligning more with your client than you are with your Collaborative Professional Team, are you dancing in your client’s drama? Are you noticing that your client idealizes you while devaluing others? Although such feelings can be alluring and even intoxicating, they can be even more dangerous and destructive.

I recently had three cases in which one of the attorneys was paralyzed by the perceived need to be positional as a means of advocacy. While I could easily recognize the damaging dynamic between the client and respective attorney and how this behavior impeded the Collaborative Process in all three cases, I, the Neutral Facilitator, was tasked with finding a non-threatening approach to discussing this with the respective attorney while remaining neutral.

Rather than focusing on perceptions or anything else that might be considered subjective, I offered my colleague an ear along with a safe place to have a private open dialogue. I concentrated on discussing the observed behaviors and language used. I then explored and discussed with them the obstacles imposed, the resulting increase in conflict among the clients, and the likely detrimental outcome.  Throughout these discussions, I found myself reminded of Section 3.2 of IACP Standards and Ethics,  Advocacy in the Collaborative Process, which provides five different standards of professional behavior:

  • A Collaborative Professional will respect each client’s self-determination, recognizing that ultimately the clients are responsible for making the decisions that resolve their issues.
  • A Collaborative Professional will assist the client(s) in establishing realistic expectations in the Collaborative Process.
  • When the matter relates to the care and support of children, elders, or other dependents, a Collaborative Professional will encourage the client(s) to consider the impact of decisions on the dependents.
  • A Collaborative Professional will consider the impact that the professional’ s experiences, values, opinions, beliefs, and behaviors will have on the Collaborative matter.
  • A Collaborative Professional will avoid contributing to interpersonal conflict of the clients, including when identifying and discussing the clients’ interests, issues, and concerns.

In all three cases, attorneys for one of the spouses did not recognize they were driving the negotiations from one point of view in exchange for their client’s admiration.  Not only did the client’s behavior motivate the attorney to fight more for their client’s position, but it also isolated the attorney from the rest of the professional team without grasping how emotional boundaries were moved or how their client maintained power and control. Such divisiveness and destruction often cause a breakdown in communication among professional teams, opening the door for such clients to divide and conquer.

During a follow-up conversation with one of the attorneys, the attorney admitted to later realizing that she was indeed sucked in by her client and that upon reflection, she also recognized that language she chose to use with the professional team emulated that of her client. With a seeming sense of shame, she stated, How did I not see that?

It isn’t only for the clients that we need to provide and ensure a safe environment, but for the professionals as well. If we as professionals cannot remain a united front with open communication at all times, we need to immediately examine why so that we avoid creating a weakness in the team. We need to ensure that upon advocating for our clients, we are promoting the Collaborative Process.