Clean and respectful communication

Do you find communicating with your ex tough? Is it hard to reach agreement? Try some of these suggestions for changing your communication style. It only takes one of you to change and the whole conversation changes.

When thoughts and feelings are shared respectfully, others can listen and receive what is being said more accurately. Communication that is mixed with negative emotions and blame becomes muddled and is less likely to be more effective in helping you to reach agreement.

Begin with your end in mind. What do you want to achieve by having this discussion? And how important is it to you?

Ask yourself what do you really need? What are you most worried about? What matters most? Once you have answered these questions, go down a level and ask yourself, why is that important to me? So, for example, if the answer to your first question is that what matters to you most is to achieve a calm and friendly hand-over of the children, then the next question to ask is why is that important to you?

Ask yourself how much you want the discussion to work. Difficult discussions are hard and are only likely to succeed if you engage with the process. If the discussion doesn’t go well, what other options do you have and how do you feel about taking them. If your alternative to mediation is court action, make sure you have checked the costs and timescales of this.

Before you even begin a conversation, you need to be clear about why you are having the conversation and how important it is to you.

Once you start talking, keep these tips in mind

  • Avoid judgemental words and accusations, even if you feel they are factually correct. For example, try to avoid statements that go something like, ‘You are always late and don’t care about anything but yourself.’ Try instead to describe your feelings, using ‘I’ words instead of ‘you’ words. For example, ‘When you are late, it makes me feel that you don’t care about the children.’
  • Avoid generalisations. For example, ‘You are always late and don’t care about anything but yourself.’Try instead, ‘On Monday you were late and it made it hard for me because I was then late getting to work.’
  • Avoid going over old ground and history. This also means try to avoid proving who said what to whom or who is right and who is wrong. Try instead to be future and solution focussed.
  • Separate the person from the act. For example, don’t say, ‘You are a thoughtless person.’ Try instead, ‘What you did was thoughtless.’
  • Avoid threats. They are rarely helpful in helping your message to be well received.
  • Keep body language open and receptive. Rolling your eyes or shaking your head while the other person is speaking is almost always unhelpful.
  • Let go of your need to ‘be right’. It is natural that we want others to agree with our own point of view. But who is right tends to matter less than we think.
  • Be clear about both what you want and why it is important to you. You won’t get what you want unless you can explain it.
  • Stay open minded and be creative. It is often not the obvious solution that is the best solution.
  • Listen to others point of view. You may not agree with it, but if you don’t listen to it, you will not understand it and so you have little chance of accommodating it – which is essential if you are to reach agreement.
  • Don’t interrupt when the other is speaking.
  • Don’t use abusive language.

Be kind to yourself. These conversations aren’t easy. Choose just one or two of the ideas above. Which ones do you think will make most difference to your conversations?

Polly Gavins runs Abingdon Family Mediation, a mediation service that
aims to provide a practical and effective mediation process that is delivered with kindness, respect and understanding.

If you would like to use mediation to have a difficult conversation, call Polly on 0770 651 3496 or email