Words Matter



“Words matter. They’re contagious. And hopeful words infect people.”

-Angela Maiers


My girlfriend asks me what brand of eyeliner I use. I can’t remember that kind of stuff so I tell her it’s purple and I think it’s oil-based because you smear it with a brush after you stroke it on. She asks me again what brand it is. Maybe she can’t understand that I don’t recall names like that? So, I tell her “I don’t know but it reminds me of dirt, and it sounds mean.” She turns to me and asks, without hesitating “Urban Decay?” urban decay words matter

That’s it!

One of the things we talk about in the collaborative approach to dispute resolution is how much words matter. We all learned that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” but I’m here to tell you that that’s just not true. Words can be very painful and the damage they inflict can result in far worse injury than just hurt feelings.

It is for this reason that, prior to the first full team meeting, the collaborative facilitator usually meets with each spouse to discuss her goals, issues, concerns, and relationship history. He will also discuss the protocols of conduct, and will explain how she can help to make the process as effective and successful as possible. This will include arming her with techniques to stay calm, one of her most important tasks during the process, as well as with methods to enhance her ability to communicate with her spouse, such as active listening skills and positive body language signals.

The facilitator then prepares a comprehensive report to help the team understand both clients, including tips on how to communicate with each of them without causing them to become defensive or to shut down.

Words matter! They can be very painful and the damage they inflict can result in far worse injury than just hurt feelings.

sticks and stones words matterCommon triggers for divorcing spouses are finances, trust, loyalty, and parenting. While a client’s trigger may seem irrational on the surface, it is only because the client is in a very emotional place, and it must be adequately addressed or it will impair the team’s ability to proceed effectively. Team members should recognize these triggers so that they may choose their own words carefully and can re-frame any negative comments inadvertently made by the spouses.

Before meetings, a lawyer will often remind her client that, to work towards settlement efficiently, it’s important to communicate appropriately during the meeting. She’ll remind him to be cognizant of body language, facial expressions, word choices, and tone. She’ll suggest avoiding “you statements,” which make other people defensive. People who feel attacked often react by defending themselves, counterattacking, or withdrawing. These responses hinder the collaborative process, so well-considered communication is important.

Remember, words do matter!

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