In Alaska, professionals involved in a Collaborative case refer to any meeting with a client that doesn’t involve the entire team, as an “offline” meeting. These meetings are very important for addressing specific aspects of a case and how they are conducted informs the overall outcome and success of the case.
Regardless of the offline topic or involved profession (attorney, FP, MHP, therapist, child specialist, employment specialist, education specialist, etc.) there are certain guidelines for the first offline meeting that can help ensure a tone that supports the collaborative effort and that aids an optimal, collective outcome:
- Confirm that the foundation is in place. The first offline meeting should only occur after both clients are committed to the Collaborative approach and are aware of alternative options. It doesn’t hurt to take a few minutes to confirm this, before you begin.
- Plant the seeds of alliance. The offline professional should allow time, at the beginning, to simply listen to the client’s story, establish a connection AND an environment they feel comfortable in.
- Demonstrate your expertise and professionalism. This isn’t about bragging. You simply need to let your client get a clear sense of how you do your work and why you are skilled at it. This can be communicated with poise, informed questioning and an overview of how you typically approach a Collaborative case.
- Glean an impression of the client’s rigidity/flexibility. In the book, Navigating Emotional Currents in Collaborative Divorce, authors Scharff and Herrick discuss the rigidity/flexibility continuum. Essentially, they are referring to the likelihood or lack thereof, of a client’s capacity to “transform” through the Collaborative process. You are trying to glean whether or not the clients will be able to surmount the often unavoidable forces of polarization that arise in any divorce situation. This will help you to prepare for the road ahead and better address challenges in a way that suits the clients’ dispositions.
- Educate. Even if your client has bought into the Collaborative process, they surely have questions about how it will look. The first meeting is an ideal time to give them insight into the framework that will inform the process. Of course, your information should be based not simply on your overall understanding of the process, but also on your particular component/role in the process.
- Pay attention. This is most certainly a time for first impressions and they can reveal a lot about a client’s psychological profile. You don’t need to be an MHP to observe behavior and demeanor—then apply that to how you interact with the client. Listen to how they make certain points and what they emphasize. Look at body language. Make note of particular interests or comments about the environment they are in. You must also pay attention to how you behave with the client. These initial interactions are the seeds that will grow into your relationship with the client over time.
When you prepare for your next offline meeting, take a few minutes to think about these six guidelines and incorporate them into your agenda and approach.