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Episode 56 - Communication Pitfalls in a Divorce
Text 1: Ugh, another text message. "Don't forget to pick Julie up from soccer practice this afternoon at 5:00." Really? I knew that. What is she trying to say, that I'm a bad dad?
Leh: Phew, there are times that I really hate text messages. They just lead to so many misunderstandings.
Todd: Me too. Although texting can be a very efficient way of communicating with others. A lot can be lost when the two people trying to communicate are on opposite ends of a divorce action. That's when serious miscommunications, misunderstandings, are likely to occur.
Todd: Speaking of potential misunderstandings, Leh. I want to avoid any misunderstandings about who we are, so why don't you introduce us.
Leh: Good idea. Well, I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp radio. Here you will learn all about divorce, family law, and even tips on how to save your marriage or take it to the next level. Every week, Todd & I share our experiences and knowledge to help people navigate challenging times with their marriage and with their family. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online at atlantadivorceteam.com, but enough about us. Let's get into what we're-
Todd: No, let's keep talking about us. I was into it.
Leh: I keep forgetting you like to do that. Just kidding.
Todd: All right, fine, we'll talk about the topic of this show, which is the importance of communication.
Leh: Right, so when you say communication, it's probably important that we kind of ... Everybody's like, "Yeah, yeah, we communicate." Now let's ... I think we should really define what we mean by communication.
Todd: Absolutely. Look, there's a difference between talking and communicating. Everybody can talk. The example I've given is everyone can talk. We're all good at it. If you're hungry, you ask for food. If you're lost, you ask for directions. We can talk, but communicating is very different. Communicating ... a definition I've found that I think both of us like is this, "Communication is a two-way process of reaching mutual understanding in which participants not only exchange information, news, ideas and feelings but also create and share meaning. In general, communication is a means of connecting people or places."
Todd: I really think that encapsulates, at least in my mind, the difference between communication and just speaking.
Leh: Yeah, I think the key importance here is mutual understanding, and that text message we just heard, the ... I mean-
Todd: There may not have been much understanding.
Leh: There was no mutual understanding there.
Todd: That's right.
Leh: Unfortunately, as silly as that may sound, that he jumped to that conclusion, we see that a lot in divorce cases.
Todd: Well, again, because when you're talking about this in the context of a divorce, communication takes place in other venues. In the business world-
Leh: Well, we would like to hope it takes place.
Todd: Absolutely, but it takes place all over the world in different venues, but in the context of a divorce it's different. You're dealing with people who, emotionally, may not be ready, willing or able to communicate. Their walls have been built up, emotional walls I mean ... Well, maybe physical walls, too, it depends on the divorce, but the bottom line is walls have been built, and it's more difficult to reach a mutual understanding with the other party.
Leh: What we usually find is emotion sort of hijacks the reasoning portion of your brain because both people in these situations, in a divorce particularly, you're on opposite ends, especially if you haven't reached an agreement, and there's that sort of desire to win your case. Then, all of a sudden, you're not communicating to reach your mutual understanding. You are arguing to prove your point, and that's where things sort of break down. You add to that emotion, and when you're in an emotional state, there's that part of your brain that all the blood starts flowing through, and it leaves the prefrontal cortex. That's that part of your brain that you actually think, and so-
Todd: Thank you, doctor.
Leh: You're welcome. The important thing is to get the blood back to the prefrontal cortex away from the emotional engine that's driving an emotional response where, in the situation we just heard where the person jumped to the conclusion that mom was saying ... that he thought she was saying that he was a bad dad.
Todd: Yeah, so common breakdowns, I agree with you. Number one is going to be high emotion. That's something you have in the context of a divorce that you don't have in other venues. At that point, people are either distrusting, they are assuming that the person that is speaking to them, their spouse or significant other, doesn't have their back, that there is an agenda, that they think the worst. They assume the worst, and so this high emotion creates almost like a negative filter so that whatever is being said, there is an assumption that there has to be a negative connotation there. Unfortunately, that interferes with true, good meaningful communication and can oftentimes have a really negative impact on the result of that communication.
Leh: Then what happens is that you add to the fact that you've got lawyers involved, and they're telling their clients ... we tell our clients, too ... anything that you say can and will be used against you in a courtroom, so now people will jump to conclusions. They'll argue more fiercely trying to prove their point thinking whatever they say is going to be used in court. Then there's always that issue of things being recorded, audio. What's really interesting is people say, "Well, I won't talk because that can be recorded, but I'll send a text message." But that's also recorded, too. But we-
Todd: In writing even.
Leh: Yeah, I know.
Todd: I think it's important to note that in some jurisdictions like, for instance Georgia, you can record a conversation if you're a part of that conversation. You can't just install a device, leave and record other people talking, but there are many states where it is not allowed, and it's extremely important if you are even thinking about recording that you check the laws of your particular state to make sure you are acting within the law. If you're doing it, and you're outside the law, there could be criminal sanctions.
Todd: All right. Let's talk about the next thing which is that desire, that feeling that can affect good communication ... That I have to win, that everything I'm doing it needs to be in the context of a win or a lose.
Leh: Right, so let's sort of take that text message where "Don't forget to pick Joey up from the soccer practice this afternoon at 5:00." If you're in the middle of a custody fight, or you're fighting over parenting time around your kids, all of a sudden dad may think that "Oh my gosh, if I don't respond to this by saying 'I knew that!'" With exclamation points, that that text message may be used against him in court to say, "See, he didn't even know what time to pick Joey up."
Todd: He's immediately on the defensive.
Leh: He's immediately on the defensive when mom could have just ... Maybe she saw an email that changed the time, and she was just trying to type real quick and fire off something saying, "Hey, I just want to remind you." Or maybe he had a history of sort of forgetting sometimes, or maybe that day he said, "I'm going to have an incredibly busy day" and sort of left it out there, so maybe she thought that he may forget.
Todd: Well, her motivation may not have been to insult, or to question, the father's parenting ability, but the difference and the problem, again, in a divorce is that it's almost natural to assume the worst because you're going through this very difficult situation, and parties can do things to either make the divorce process easier, or they can do things to make it more difficult. Usually, it boils down to ... where things get more difficult ... to problems in communicating. If they can figure out a way to communicate, they may still have to go forward with the divorce ... maybe not ... but maybe they have to go through with the divorce, but at least they're not waging war. They have a greater sense of understanding, and they can have meaningful discussions and figure out problems as they come up.
Leh: What's really interesting is I know that there are some co-parenting coordinators out there now that will literally sit down with parents and look at their text message exchanges because they gets so embroiled in the emotions of the moment, and that desire to win, that they'll spend an hour, each going back and forth during the middle of the day, texting each other when maybe a phone call would have fixed it. There are people out there that are helping people saying, "You know what? Let's not do that. Let's sort of work through this. Maybe you could have said it this way instead of that way."
Todd: Absolutely. Look, the lack of productive engagement will lead people to these types of problems, to further additional breakdowns in the relationship, and some people have this mistaken belief that, "I'm going through a divorce, so we are at opposite ends in this situation and in this effort to get divorced. Yeah, we're going to be arguing. We're going to be fighting." But, you know what, it doesn't have to be that way. Especially when there are kids involved, you have to come out on the back end, able to communicate because if you're the one creating a roadblock then, trust me, that's when attorneys get involved.
Leh: Speaking of communicating, I think our producer's communicating with us that we're about out of time for this segment, but don't go away. When we come right back, we're going to continue to dive into the pitfalls that come out in a divorce, and we're going to explain the hierarchy of communication. Yes, there actually is a hierarchy, and if you want to improve your communication at work, home, with your spouse, or in the middle of your divorce, you don't want to miss this. We'll be right back.
Text 2 Male: Hey, Joan, I saw you at the park. I liked your dress.
Text 2 Female: What? So, you're saying I look fat?
Text 2 Male: Fat? No, but now I'm starting to wonder about crazy.
Leh: I think I got a text from you like this one time.
Todd: From me? You'll say it right, at some point, but I can tell you I was not calling you fat. Crazy, yes. Fat, no.
Leh: Because sometimes I can't even talk. Now, seriously, we unfortunately see these things all the time when you see people in a divorce, they will take something that sounds very innocuous, and then all of a sudden it will take on a meaning that was never intended.
Leh: Hey, welcome back to Meriwether & Tharp Radio. If you're just tuning into the show, welcome. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. We are partners in the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. In this show, we share our experiences and knowledge to help people navigate challenging times in their marriage and with their family. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh: Today we're talking about communication pitfalls, especially in a divorce. Now, all these things that we're talking about, they really do apply in every day, marriage, and at work and everything, but we're focusing on the divorce aspect because, as we talked about in the last segment, there is high emotion that's involved, and both people will fell this desire to win. There's this underlying current of I've got to win, so I've got to engage in this conversation when probably they didn't to.
Leh: Now, we're going to go a bit further and talk about the sort of hierarchy of communication.
Todd: Yes, we are.
Leh: Well, are you going to take the-
Todd: Oh, is that it? Oh, it's my turn now.
Leh: It's your turn.
Todd: Oh, got it. Yes, the hierarchy of communication. Basically, what we're saying, and what we mean when we say this, is there are different forms of communication. Some are better than others. Some are more prone to miscommunication and misunderstanding than others. You have verbal communication. Let's just start breaking it down. You have verbal in person, so you and I-
Leh: Which is probably the best form of communication.
Todd: That's going to be the best. Why? Because you're looking at the person, so you have the ability not only to convey emotion and really send the right message. You're talking, you're using words, you're using inflection and intonation, the pitch of your voice, pausing other things to convey the message and add sincerity and other things. That's great, but you also have the ability to use ... What some studies have shown is more important, which is body language. You could say things very sincerely, but your body language could convey a much different message, or vice versa. You could be talking and not have a lot of emotion, but sincerity is coming through just in the way you're presenting physically. When you are verbally speaking to somebody, you're in the same room and in person. That is going to be the best way to communicate ... it's not always possible, but ... because of those things.
Leh: Didn't you say just ... and I want to just take a step back and say what sort of spawned this show was at Meriwether & Tharp, we actually shut down our firm four times a year, the entire firm shuts down, and we focus on learning skills and practicing things. We have seminars, so we get better as lawyers and paralegals, so we can better serve our clients. Well, in this last one we did something different. We did what's called TED Talks. Actually, we coined it TODD Talks because it was kind of Todd's idea, but took the TED Talk concept, and then took one topic-
Todd: And, by the way, Ted, you don't have to call and complain. Yours are much better than what we did.
Leh: Although yours was fantastic, and he did one on communication. While I was sitting there, I was like, "Wow, we should be sharing this with everyone" because one of the things that jumped out was you were talking about ... I think the study you quoted in your TODD Talk, was that something like 60% of communication, in person, is nonverbal. It's body language.
Todd: Yeah, there was a big difference, and it was really eye-opening that the importance of the verbal content in these studies was far less, and I mean out of 100% like 7% of the value was the content and like 50+% of the value was in the body language and the nonverbal communication skills that were being used. That just goes to show ... and, of course, ti's just one study of many, but ... that just goes to show that it is extremely important, not just what you say, but how you say it. When we're talking about how you say it, it's not just the inflection, intonation, the methods you use of talking, but when you are presenting. I could sit here, and I could say something in a very sincere way, but I could use body language that makes it come across as sarcastic or something else, so it's very, very important.
Todd: Let's go on to the next one which is, in the hierarchy, the next best way of communicating would be verbal but not in person.
Leh: Over the telephone.
Todd: Over the telephone. Okay. Well, if there's some other magical-
Leh: A voicemail.
Todd: Magical way that you could do this, wonderful. The reason it's not as good ... It's for obvious reasons. Verbal, you can use intonation, inflection, the voice is still being heard and, therefore, you're conveying emotion and meaning through the use of your voice. The difference is that you don't have the ability to be in person, and you lose all of the value that body language can afford ... can give you.
Leh: So, for example, I could be going, "Todd, I'm really concerned about you." But I'm on the phone and actually flipping a bird at you.
Todd: And I'm like, "Are you calling me fat, Leh?" I ... Right.
Leh: But you won't see me just ... or what's the favorite one like the [crosstalk 00:16:39] your hand?
Todd: Yeah, the pad, where you're holding the hand up like, "Talk, talk, talk. Todd won't be quiet."
Leh: Yeah, so I'm being nice to you on the phone, or I sound like I'm being sincere, but my buddy who's sitting her next to me, I'm going, "He just won't shut up."
Leh: But you missed that body language.
Todd: I missed that body language, or the opposite is probably more correct where the body language is positive. The voice may not convey the right message. The words convey a message. The way they are presented convey the message perhaps even in a different way, and that goes to intonation and inflection. We'll go into that in a second. The body language can totally change the tone and tenor the message you're trying to give.
Leh: What's the third level of hierarchy?
Todd: The third is going to be ... We'll go through these two quickly ... The third is going to be written which is going to be letters or emails. That's going to be better than the fourth which is going to be text messaging. The reason that written is not as good, for the obvious reasons that we talked about, because you're losing the value of body language and nonverbal communication skills, and also verbal communication skills. You are relying only on the written word. Email's going to be better because it is less prone to the emotional impact that written words can have because you have the ability to just walk away.
Leh: Or you can write it and then save it later. You don't have to hit send right away. You have time to think about it. Hopefully you do.
Todd: Exactly. Whereas text messaging ... I mean, in what we do, we have seen just unbelievable text message exchanges that get as ugly as anything you can imagine. Again, to what you said before, anything you say or write can and will be used against you at some point. We have used those against other parties, but the point is it's emotional. You don't have the time to filter it and walk away. It's, "You said I'm fat. Okay, well, you're stupid." "Well, you're stupid." Then-
Leh: No, you're crazy.
Todd: There's no exchange of meaning here. Then it's just two kids in a school yard yelling at each other.
Leh: The problem, also, with the text message is that sense of urgency. With a text message, they're expecting a short, quick response, so that really eats into it. You had mentioned intonation, so let's ... You did something during the TED Talk I really enjoyed, and the cool thing is it's on radio, so people can hear it, so let's break that down.
Todd: There's an famous example that people use where the saying, "I did not say he stole the keys." Well, that one sentence, if you say it different ways, just changing simple words. "'I' did not say he stole the keys." Well, then who did? "I did not 'say' he stole the keys." Well, then who said he stole the keys? "I did not say 'he' stole the keys." Well, who did you say stole the keys? "I did not say he 'stole' the keys." Well, did he give them away? What happened to the keys? "I did not say he stole 'the keys.'" Well-
Leh: What did he steal?
Todd: What did he steal? Just taking that one sentence and just changing the emphasis on one word, the inflection on one word can change dramatically the meaning of that sentence, and that's where inflection and intonation and the spoken word is so important in communication.
Leh: "I" didn't say he stole the keys.
Todd: Then who did? So, he stole the keys, and someone said it, but it wasn't you.
Leh: I didn't say he "stole" the keys. Oh, did he borrow them?
Todd: That's right. It's extremely important, when you really start thinking about the art of communication, it becomes very clear that it's not just ... as the saying goes ... it's not just what you say, it's how you say it. Look, I know we do the radio show, and it's very important how we say things. We are attorneys. We speak in front of juries and judges, so we are very aware of that, but a lot of our clients, unfortunately, aren't.
Leh: Are you aware of this nonverbal cue I'm giving you now?
Todd: Yeah, you're waving your arms in the air. You're sending me a message, and that message is?
Leh: You can't figure that ... I'm-
Todd: Oh, we have to go to a break?
Leh: Yeah, we have to go to a break.
Todd: All right. All right.
Leh: Yes, we do have to go to a break, unfortunately. Hey, but don't go away because when we come back, we're going to talk about another communication pitfall, and it's called ego depletion. Now, curious about what that is? Stay tuned, and you'll find out.
Text 3 Female: What now? Yes, I will get Jimmy to football practice. Huh? Yes, I will not forget to bring his cleats and helmet. What? You've got to be kidding me! Yes, I will. On second thought, I just remembered, Jimmy can't make it to football practice tomorrow. He has his first day at ballet practice and can't miss it. Well, that got his attention.
Todd: After several texts back and forth, she finally lost her cool. Usually how I am with you, Leh, right? It just goes to show that the longer things take, meaning the longer these exchanges go on, the more problems that can arise because at that point people just get tired, right?
Todd: Again, like with you, at some point, I'm like, "Leh, enough."
Leh: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Meriwether & Tharp Radio. If you're just tuning in, thanks for tuning in. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. We're partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio. In this show we share our experiences and knowledge to help people navigate challenging times in their marriage and with their family. If you want to learn more about us, you can call or visit us online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh: Now, all this show, we've been discussing communication pitfalls and particularly in the divorce situation. Now, everything we're talking about really implies to the work, it applies to your marriage-
Todd: Communication. Wherever communication takes place.
Leh: Right. Or doesn't.
Todd: Or doesn't. That's right.
Leh: That's what we're talking about, and when you have a divorce setting ... as we talked in the first segment of the show ... when you have a divorce setting, you've got high emotion and parties wanting to win. In the last segment, we broke down the hierarchy of the different types of communication and why in-person communication is better, followed by telephonic, or I guess verbal. You may lose the visual part, followed by email and letters, and then followed by text messages. We broke down why we thought that there was a hierarchy of what's better than not.
Todd: Again, if I can ... just very quickly ... This is based on our experience using a lot of these communications against opposing parties, or defending against the use of that kind of evidence against our clients. We see how communication breaks down, and when it breaks down oftentimes things are done and said that, not only can be, but are used against clients to their detriment.
Leh: Right. Now, we probably should give this caveat right here ... There are situations ... When we're talking, we're talking sort of the most common situations, like 80% of time. There are those situations where we don't want the parties talking in person, or maybe not even on the phone, because they're may be some sort of family violence.
Todd: Safety concerns, that's right.
Leh: Safety concerns. There may be a personality disorder. In those situations, really everything does have to be in writing. There's still ways to communicate in writing to help communicate the right thing. Sometimes when you communicate can make all the difference. One of the things I wanted to talk about ... This is something I learned several years ago. It's this concept called ego depletion. Now that's just a term of art that Dr. Roy Baumeister had coined in his book "Willpower" that he came out with several years ago that was sort of the summation of 20+ years of psychological research. In his book, he found that most people have ... Basically, willpower is like a muscle, and it can be exhausted. It's something that exists in the brain, but it's still something can be exhausted. The course of the day, we're bombarded by hundreds of questions or decisions we have to make.
Todd: External stimuli.
Leh: External stimuli. You walk into a grocery store, and you've got 60 different kinds of hot sauces and 100 different kinds of cereals. Which ones do you pick? That literally ... Each of one of those decisions ... Because we're actually in a society where we have so much choice that it can literally exhaust your willpower. For some people, they say, "Well, I don't have that problem. I just go in, and I grab my cereal." Or "I have my favorite hot sauce." Well, you've actually got into a habit, and when you're in a habit of doing things, it doesn't deplete your willpower. You go and you almost do it on automatic. This is physiological. It's been proven. There's a book out by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit where he breaks down why certain people can do things that doesn't actually exhaust your willpower.
Leh: There was one example. Personally, I can drive home sometimes, and I pull in the driveway and don't even remember the drive home because I've driven that drive-
Todd: You took a nap during the drive. It's-
Leh: Yeah, my brain went on autopilot. I don't remember the drive because I had driven that way hundreds of times, and so my brain doesn't' have to process everything. It recognizes there's that tree, there's that intersection, there's that traffic light. It's literally become a habit.
Leh: Now, I can sit in a car where I'm not doing anything except spinning a steering wheel, physically speaking, but drive eight hours to a location where I've never been before, and when I get there I am exhausted. I want to take a nap. My brain, because it's never seen this, is processing all this information going by at 70 miles an hour, and I've never seen that sign before, I've never seen that tree before. Am I going to miss my turn? Your brain is literally processing billions of bits of information every moment. That's why I know, personally, I'm pretty tired at the end of the drive.
Todd: I've experienced that, as well. Even recently, we've had some storms here, and the long and short is I usually go to work and come home the same way. Sometimes you can't. A road is closed, or you look online and traffic is really bad on that route, and so I have tried to take some other routes. It's not that traffic was so terrible on those routes, but I know that because I had to spend a lot more time paying attention to not get lost ... "Oh my God, where am I going to turn now. Oh yeah, here's where I turn." By the time I get home, you're right, you feel a little bit more tired, as opposed to just going the way you go every single day, and next thing you know you've been thinking about this, listening to music, whatever, and you're home, and it really didn't deplete anything.
Leh: Right. Once you start to realize this, this becomes really important in a divorce setting because the willpower that you exert in a divorce setting is the ability to restrain yourself, really, and to pull back to make sure you're properly processing information. Like in this section, an example of the text message exchange we got, you could hear her getting more and more frustrated. It was at the end of the day, and all of a sudden this communication broke down into sarcasm, and then you can only imagine how bad it go after that. If that communication had started in the morning, she would have the willpower to resist getting sarcastic or-
Leh: Potentially, yes. Maybe she didn't get a good night's sleep. One of the things to look out for is what time of day are you communicating? I have seen, personally, in our cases so many nasty text message and email exchange in the evenings. You get to the evening. You have had a hard day of work. You've had to process a lot of information, or you've had to make a lot of decisions, and you get home and you've got the kids, and they're jumping up and down. You've got to figure out what their homework is, and let's say the parties are separated and, all of a sudden, you check your email and there's this vicious email in your inbox. You're like, "Aaahhh!" And there's that temptation just to launch into a really ugly email exchange.
Todd: The problem is ... The way you couched it was a vicious email. The problem is it may not have been a vicious email. It may not have been intended to be vicious, but you are so exhausted. Your ego has been depleted to such a point that you're going to take almost anything that's written as a negative attack on you.
Leh: You've lost the ability to process what could this person have been really trying to communicate? You almost lost your ability to communicate because now you take some words on a page, and because your emotion that's involved, the desire to win, and now your willpower's depleted ... Your willpower can't pull back and go, "Wait a minute, am I allowing my emotion to change these words on a page and turn them into a completely different story that doesn't exist?"
Todd: Yeah, well, going back to the definition that we adopted for purposes of this show, there was no reaching of mutual understanding in the example that we played. Her comment at the end was a sarcastic comment meant to basically poke the bear. It was just, "You know what? I'm tired. I'm not going to be dictated to. I'm not going to be talked to like that, so you know what? Poke." That's all that was. There was no mutual understanding.
Leh: Or attempt to achieve a mutual understanding.
Todd: Exactly, and there was no connecting of these people, and so ... I'll be honest with you, it's my belief that did fall outside of the realm of communication. That was two people talking at one another. There was no communication value there.
Leh: I know that ... I'm going to shift to a marriage situation, too ... They say you shouldn't go to bed angry, so some people will try to work it out before they go to bed. The problem is the more tired they get, the worse it gets. The reason I say this is because I've had lots of people that try to not go to bed angry, and they wind up in our office because really what you have to do, at that point, is go, "You know what? I love you enough that I respect your opinion even if I'm not agreeing with it right now. Can we go to bed and forgive each other's positions right now, and sleep on this and talk about it in the morning?"
Todd: You had me at hello. You're right. Jokes aside. You have to know your partner, but it comes down to you have to be willing, also, to put the weapons down and reopen the channels of communication. If you don't do that, you're going to end up in our office.
Leh: And you have to aware what time of the day it is. You have to be aware of you and what could be impacting you. I know one thing that's impacting us right now is that we are again out of time. Gosh, this goes so fast. Hey, in the last three segments, we have been talking about the common communication pitfalls. You don't want to go away because when we come back, we're going to give you some tips on how to deal with these pitfalls.
Leh: Welcome back to Meriwether & Tharp Radio. If you're just tuning into the show, welcome. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. We are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. In this show, we share our experience and knowledge to help people navigate challenging times in their marriage and with their family. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh: Now, you're catching us at the end of the show, but to give you a quick wrap-up, the first three segments ... I can't talk ... we explored communication pitfalls. We talked about how communication is challenging for most people. Most people don't understand even what that fully means, and when you add a divorce situation to it, it becomes worse because you've added high emotion to the situation and this underlying current of this desire to win on each side. Suddenly you've got situations where dialogue moves away from ... You've got people trying to communicate in dialogue, and they go to argument because they move from trying to listen, to understand, what the other person's saying to trying to listen so they can prepare their counterargument.
Todd: Trying to win. They're trying to win the argument.
Leh: In the second segment, we explored the hierarchy of communication and which communication is better than the next, and, Todd, you had some excellent examples of intonation.
Todd: Yeah, just the way you say things. You can take a sentence and just change just one word, and it can change dramatically the meaning. If you go into your conversations with people ... Again, it's a tool that you should be using every time you engage with someone where it's not just talking. You're not just ordering a hamburger. If I were to say, "'I' didn't say Leh is fat." I mean, right? That would change. "I didn't 'say' Leh is fat." "I didn't say Leh is 'fat.'" But see, as you can see ... Did I say that too many times on air? I'm sorry.
Leh: What are you trying to say? I need to go back to Crossfit, Todd.
Todd: Trust me, I'm not throwing stones. I live in a big, fat glass house. The point is that the way you say things matters. You need to think about art of communication because it truly is an art. I'm not trying to overplay this, but when you're talking about serious issues, you can go down one path where you just want to win, and you just want to talk at the person. In your heart of hearts, you know you're not going to accomplish much, but if you can step back, be calm, be rational, and really engage in that effort to find meaning with the other person, more often than not, you're going to accomplish something.
Leh: Right. Let's get practical, then. Let's talk about ... We talked about the pitfalls, so let's talk about some practical things to avoid those pitfalls.
Todd: Well, like we were talking about, verbal communication is going to be, in terms of the hierarchy, better than written communication.
Leh: We should, number one, try to talk either on the phone or in person?
Todd: That's right. In person, the best. On the phone is good, not as good. If you have to do something in writing ... and sometimes a follow-up email is good to a conversation ... Because, again, as an attorney, we love to have the written record, but emails can be better than texting because email you can walk away. You can really choose your words carefully. Not get caught up in the emotion. Texting is more immediate and requires an immediate response. Unfortunately, it's more prone to an emotional outburst, to an emotional response.
Leh: I would add a few more practical tips to those. What I recommend in texting, I recommend that it should really only be used to communicate dates and times. "Hey, I'll meet you at this time. Hey, I'll meet you at this place." Just something short, but not something where you're having to gauge into something really substantive. I'm going backwards. On emails, I would strongly recommend that you write it in a word document, so you can't accidentally hit send. How many times have we seen somebody write just something awful that they were just venting, and they accidentally hit send, especially on a smart phone. Don't write it in a word ... If you're on a smart phone, open up the Notes app-
Todd: I do that, as an attorney. We do that because we will write opposing counsel. Sometimes we'll get an ugly communication from opposing counsel.
Leh: Or at least we interpret it as being ugly.
Todd: That's correct. Sometimes they're ugly. All I want to do is just send back a scathing response to explain why they're wrong, but I do it in a way that I'm not going to get unfortunately caught in a situation where I write something that I regret later, so I write it ... Usually I either put a second set of eyes on it, or I walk away at the very least, and then when I'm comfortable with what I wrote, I send it.
Leh: Then we go where we move that, cut and paste it into the body of the email, then write the subject line, and make sure the subject line matches what's in the body of the email ... and this is just a tip in case you need to look for that email later ... that you if you match that ... and then you fill out who it's going to. The thing is, when you create those barriers to firing off that email, you have not created a separation between the stimulus ... when you've gotten that bad email ... and the response to it. You've given time to really process, so you don't make a mistake. Then the verbal communication, especially in the in-person, the one key thing is you've got to be careful of your own body language. Someone says something to you, you don't roll your eyes.
Todd: A lot of times people don't realize it. It takes effort because there are some people where they will talk, and they don't mean it. Have you ever called someone on it? "Hey, you just rolled your eyes." They're like, "No, I didn't." "Yeah, you did." I think I've had that conversation with my kids before, and it's like, "Yes, you did roll your eyes." "No, I didn't." Roll the tape. I wish I had it on video, but it's because it's an involuntary act, so you have to be aware of, not just the words that are coming out of your mouth, but also your body reactions to it.
Leh: Right. When someone's explaining their side of the story, you should also watch your body language. If someone's trying to tell you where they're coming from on something, don't cross your arms and lean back and go "Pfft." It's those sort of nonverbal cues like we talked about. Watch your own body language when you're communicating. The other advantage of the in-person communication is that you can recognize if someone's taking what you said the wrong way, you can say, "Oh, you know what? It looks like you're this is upsetting you, so I may not be communicating very well. What is it you're hearing?" It gives you the opportunity to sort of change on the fly.
Todd: On the fly. Yeah, change your approach and figure out where the problems are coming out.
Leh: Which you can't do with email.
Todd: Right. Let's go into just a few more other tips. I would say go into conversations with a willingness to engage in meaningful communication, which is a lot of what we're talking about here. If you go in with that mindset, you're going to accomplish more. If you just go in, and you're focused on your anger, you won't accomplish anything.
Leh: In order to do that, one of the things you do is you ask yourself a question. What is my real goal in this conversation? Make sure it's a good goal not I'm going to win this argument.
Todd: I'm going to antagonize my spouse until they yell and scream and go running off into the woods.
Leh: You're pretty much insuring that you're going to be paying a big attorney bill by doing that. What is my true goal? What am I trying to accomplish with this communication?
Todd: Next, I would say don't expect the worst from the other person that you're communicating with.
Leh: That is so powerful.
Todd: Don't assume that everything that they are saying has some negative connotation.
Leh: Just look at the words on the page. That's where that high emotion kicks in, those words on the page suddenly take on a life of their own and create a story that doesn't even exist. If you can assume ... What would a reasonable person write? Maybe you're in a divorce. If we were dating, what would my wife or husband have meant by this? That changes the way you think about that.
Todd: That's right. If I was in a happy place ... to your point ... If this relationship was in a good place, and I got that exact same communication, would I put that same negative connotation on it? The answer is probably not. Sometimes if it says, "Hey, pick up the kids at 4:00, and, by the way, you're stupid" there's really no other way to read that other than that was pretty much an insult. Most aren't that clear and black and white. Most communications ... It's going to be a lot more subtle, and the inferences that you pull from it are sometimes based on your own emotional place, meaning where you are emotionally rather than what was actually intended.
Leh: That's another good point. Thinking of that emotional place, what time of the day is it? Did you get a bad night's sleep? If you didn't get a good night's sleep ... because that's actually when you replenish your willpower ... so if you didn't get a good night's sleep, maybe that's not the best time to communicate. You get a communication in the evening, you start to interpret it the wrong way, you recognize that and you respond to the email and say, "I just want to let you know, I got your email. I'm really tired, and I don't feel like I've got the energy to give it the attention that your question, or your email, deserves. Can you meet tomorrow morning for breakfast?" Those type of intense conversations are usually better in the mornings after you've replenished your willpower. Then you can keep aware of trying to achieve the positive goal of the conversation.
Leh: That makes me aware of the fact that we are out of time for the whole show. I am so bummed.
Todd: The ego has been depleted.
Leh: The ego has been depleted. Hey, well, this is Leh Meriwether and Todd Orston on Meriwether & Tharp Radio. Thanks so much for listening. You can always read more about us online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Recording: This audio program does not establish an attorney-client relationship with Meriwether & Tharp.