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coParents: Reasons to Balance Emotion and Logic

Having been a child of two sets of parents whose divorce was extremely contentious and heavily litigated, I’m fed up with people playing the “blame game.”
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Mark Baer
Mark Baer is a lawyer, mediator and conflict resolution consultant.

coParents: Reasons to Balance Emotion and Logic

Having been a child of two sets of parents whose divorce was extremely contentious and heavily litigated and after working with families in conflict, I’m fed up with people playing the “blame game.”

It’s almost always the other person’s fault. If only the other person were “reasonable.” It’s all very easy when both parties are actually “willing to cooperate.” Court is the only option if one party can’t “cooperate” or is “being a jerk.” These were actual comments to my article titled Why Court Really Should Be A Last Resort.

The Oxford Dictionary defines reasonable as follows: “Having sound judgement; fair and sensible.” Through technology, we now know which portions of the human brain are activated when people are experiencing emotions of any sort. Neuroscientists have placed a great many people in MRI machines while asking them questions and have observed which part of their brains light up during the decision-making process. What they’ve found is that human beings are ninety-eight percent emotional and two percent rational and that emotions motivate our behavior and impact our attention, learning, memory, regulatory variables, goal priorities and social interactions. Furthermore, the feelings we experience are physical reactions to our emotions.

Meanwhile, our emotions – and therefore the decisions we make – are driven and even determined by our personal biases, beliefs, assumptions, expectations and values, which are formed as a result of our personal backgrounds and life experiences. We all have personal biases, beliefs, assumptions, expectations and values. The question not whether or not such things are impacting our decision-making, but how much our lack of self-awareness is skewing our perception of things and therefore causing us to make poor choices, regardless of our intellect.

Our personal backgrounds have very much to do with our parents and how they raise us. Our life experiences have to do with everything we experience in our lifetime, including people we befriend, schools we attend, courses we take, books we read, our sources of news, etc. Ultimately, our life experiences are strongly associated with our personal choices in terms of what we do, if anything, to try and broaden our worldview. If our parents didn’t teach us to see things from other people’s perspectives, we either need to take it upon ourselves to learn such things or we live in a false reality that our perspective is the only perspective.

Interestingly enough, it’s been found that perceptions regarding morality and fairness are influenced by emotion to a far greater degree than are other decisions.

This is why the importance of emotional intelligence has become such a hot topic of late and explains why people with average IQ but greater emotional intelligence levels have been found to outperform those with higher IQ levels seventy percent of the time.

Emotional intelligence consists of the following four domains and competencies: Self-awareness (emotional self-awareness), Self-management (emotional self-control, adaptability, achievement orientation, and positive outlook), Social-awareness (empathy and organizational awareness), and Relationship-management (influence, coach and mentor, conflict management, teamwork, and inspirational leadership).

The competencies that comprise emotional intelligence are soft-skills, each of which can be learned and improved upon. It is well recognized in psychological circles that the stress of divorce itself is monumental, often reaching nine out of ten magnitude on the Subjective Units of Distress Scale (SUDS). Under such circumstances, people’s IQ performance level has been found to drop by as much as thirty points and not return to its normal level until an average of eighteen months after finalization of the divorce.

At the same time, while emotional intelligence should help people to handle stress better, stress reduces our ability to fully access our emotional intelligence abilities. So, while parents are separating, divorcing or otherwise engaged in a dispute regarding custody of their children, the stress involved reduces their ability to fully access both their IQ and emotional intelligence abilities.

Who then is helping parents in conflict to not let their emotions get the best of them? Their relatives, friends, colleagues, and third parties such as child specialists, therapists, and lawyers who may be supporting their perceptions, even if distorted, and aligning themselves with their positions? Bear in mind the following information set forth in the article titled Emotional Intelligence for Lawyer by Ronda Muir, Esq. that was published by the American Bar Association: “Emotional intelligence does not correlate with IQ. Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you’re likely to have a high EI. Some professionals, such as lawyers, exhibit high average IQ scores (in the 115-130 range), while at the same time scoring lower than the general population on EI (85-95).”

The thing about reasonableness is that it’s a matter of perspective. After 25+ years in the field and over 52 years on this Earth, I’ve come to realize that the other party to conflicts and disputes typically thinks the exact same thing – that they are being reasonable and the other party isn’t. The fact that people in conflict aren’t able to reach agreements on their own or communicate well or at all with each other is far from unusual. Of course, from each person’s perspective, they’re being reasonable, while the other is being unreasonable, uncooperative, and is acting like a jerk.

Times in which your ability to fully access both our IQ and emotional intelligence abilities has been reduced is not the time to engage the Greek Choir to align and help you to run with your perspective and position. Rather, that’s when people should consider working with a well-trained and experienced mediator they both trust. Mediators, peacemakers and bridge builders are not needed in times of peace and absence of conflict. Unfortunately, however, people are predictably irrational because of how our brains function.

In their chapter in The Handbook of Dispute Resolution, the winner of the National Institute for Advanced Conflict Resolution’s 2005 Book Award, Frank E. A. Sander and Lukasz Rozdeiczer advise starting off with mediation because it’s a safe, non-binding process for both sides.

The ultimate question is: Are you going to allow your emotions get the best of you?