Stephen H. Sulmeyer Workshop
Sponsored by Collaborative Divorce Vancouver Society
Monday, April 1, 2016
Peggy Gunn Woodland Hall
5241 Oak Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (registration at 8:30 a.m.)
Perhaps the most bedeviling problem in collaborative cases is what to do when the parties are at loggerheads—particularly when the impasse is laced with anger and reactivity. It might be about division of scarce resources, a disagreement about who should end up with the house, an inability to agree to the terms of a parenting plan or the specifics of support—the variations seem endless. Many of us have spent countless hours in team meetings trying to understand the causes of a given impasse, and to figure out what to do and who should do it. Most of us want to find some easy remedy, some tool or skill we can master that will allow us cut through impasses easily. Yet our experience tells us that, given the complexities of content and of personality styles in the range of cases we see, there is no silver bullet for dealing with impasse.
Although not a silver bullet, this workshop suggests that how we as professionals frame or hold the entire concept of “impasse” has a great deal to do with the “problem” impasses present. I.e., this workshop looks at the ways professionals can unwittingly contribute to impasse by framing it as a problem that has to be fixed, rather than an opportunity that beckons to be explored. By consciously or unconsciously, explicitly or implicitly, viewing an impasse as a “problem,” we subtly communicate a message to the parties that there is something wrong with them and the positions they are taking, the beliefs they are holding, and the feelings they are feeling. The parties may get the message that we as professionals are more interested in the ego-satisfaction of a successful conclusion than we are in sitting with them in the extreme discomfort of not knowing how a resolution of any kind will be reached.
Using a combination of discussion, exercises and role-plays, we will examine the feelings, assumptions and self-judgments that come up for us when we find ourselves in a case that is stalled. We will look at our discomfort and reluctance to sit with not-knowing, with helplessness, and with the attacks of our own inner critics in the face of our inability to quickly solve problems as they arise. We will explore alternative ways of framing and understanding impasse and of being with the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts just mentioned, which require us to sit in the fire of our discomfort without getting
burned. We will discover that, by tolerating not-knowing and by seeing through the games our own minds play on us, we can penetrate the wall of separation we have placed between ourselves and the parties. And, finally, we will experience some of the ways in which sitting undefendedly with our clients in the vulnerability of their fear and pain can lead to our deciphering the hidden meaning of the impasse at hand, which in turn can lead to new options and new possibilities for resolution.