Like many long-time residents of the Tampa area, there is a special place in my heart for the Cuban Sandwich. It is a piece of home. Like a favored memory from childhood, a warm freshly pressed Cuban sandwich on buttery bread brings me back to positive memories of people, places and events.
Over the years I have cultivated my “favorite” Cuban sandwiches. It is to these select places and these sandwiches that I return over and over again.
During this summer of COVID-19, I have on occasion brought my teenage daughter to spend the day at my office. Usually we have some appointment or other to do (like picking up her yearbook from her high school) where it made sense to have her spend the day at work. On one of those occasions, I took her to a nearby bakery to grab Cuban sandwiches for lunch. I told her about how this was one of my preferred places to get a Cuban sandwich. That conversation spiraled into discussing and ranking which place made the best sandwich.
Each subsequent time that I brought my daughter to work this summer we intentionally went to a different sandwich shop to taste the difference. Each one good in its own way. Each one unique. On our last Cuban sandwich day we deviated from type and tried a restaurant which did a Cuban Sandwich / Bahn Mi mashup. It was not exactly the “true” Cuban sandwich that we had started our quest to find. But it was also a delicious change from what was expected. It worked, but in a different way that what we were used to seeing, and that was good.
The collaborative teams that we engage in are often like my favorite Cuban sandwiches. They involve known people, with known personalities, and a shared history of experiences from past collaborative cases. Without realizing it, the comfort of our “favorite” teams become a pattern of repetition. The result is the existence of a small handful of other professionals with whom we end up engaging in collaborative cases. We become blind from being in our comfort zone about other collaborative professionals with who we might do great things to help our clients transition through the collaborative process.
This unintended limiting of our teams impairs our ability to grow as collaborative professionals. It also impairs the growth of collaborative practice as a whole. Think about how many fresh faces we see at the NexGen and Pod meetings in the months after we host our initial training. Think about how many of those fresh faces last more than their initial year of membership, and of those who disappeared whether you ever saw them participate in a collaborative case.
Each one of us started out with our first case. Each one of us grew from being able to be part of collaborative teams. Much as the Cuban Sandwich quest with my daughter was enriched by trying that something different, our collaborative practices will be enriched when we try someone different. We should each make a point of trying to involve a “new” collaborative professional in each of our teams. They don’t have to be new to collaborative practice, just “new to you” in the context of a collaborative team.
If we all make this effort to expand the scope of potential collaborative professionals who get to participate in our collaborative cases, we will enrich our own collaborative experiences. We will also help keep them engaged in collaborative practice so that the fresh faces don’t keep disappearing from our meetings and from collaborative practice. It could be that the best Cuban Sandwich in Tampa, the best collaborative team for your case, is one that you have not had yet.
I had an amazing dream last night!
In my dream, I got to do my favorite thing. I got to conduct a peacemaking meeting. But here’s the wonderful, only-in-a-dream part: I got to do it wearing gym shorts, sitting in my favorite rocking chair, in my own house, with a view of butterflies in my backyard.
But wait, because it gets even better…In this crazy dream, I simply pressed a button and no one in the meeting could make a sound except me. I could stop the bickering instantaneously!
To top it off, at the end of this too-good-to-be-true dream, once the meeting was done, I found myself just a few steps away from my kitchen where I promptly made myself a delicious cheese sandwich with a side of chips and a pickle.
OK, I know this is kind of transparent, but you have to admit that there is a lot to like about conducting peacemaking meetings by videoconference. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of it recently and in a variety of contexts. I conduct Collaborative meetings, Parenting Coordination meetings, Co-Parenting Consultation meetings, and psychotherapy meetings this way now. I do still see a couple of families in person at my office (with careful physical distancing), but everything else happens remotely—and it really does work!
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1) Get very familiar with whichever system you are using, be it Zoom or Skype or Google Hangouts, etc. The time to learn is before you are in a meeting with clients, not during.
2) Make sure (in writing) that everyone understands the limits of confidentiality and internet security that come with remote meetings.
3) Take steps to keep the meeting private at every portal to the meeting. Each participant should be in a soundproof space (using headphones as needed, with protections to prevent interruptions. Parents need to be reminded that children are curious and have bionic hearing, so measures need to be in place to insulate the conversation (which may require conducting meetings when children are not present in the home).
4) Remind all participants that meetings are not to be recorded (unless there is a shared agreement to do so).
5) Set reasonable time limits on meetings and provide breaks every 30-40 minutes. Attending to all of the participants in a video meetings can be more taxing that doing so in person.
6) Take advantage of the opportunity to have breakouts with one or more participants as needed. It’s easy to do and it helps clients recognize the flexibility that exists in a video meeting.
7) If you are the host (in a Collaborative meeting, this is ideally the Neutral Coach or Facilitator), don’t be afraid to mute everyone when needed. This is one thing that is easy to do in a video meeting but often difficult (if not impossible) in an in-person meeting.
Of course, beyond the many benefits of convenience, comfort, and cost-efficiency, there are challenges, too. Let’s start with the fact that technology sometimes fails us. Also, internet service can vary in quality and sound quality can fluctuate, which is particularly problematic for clients and professionals with hearing challenges. And not all clients or professionals are yet fluent in their use of these applications.
There is also the challenge of not having our clients close at hand. This is something that MHP’s frequently comment on, as observing a client’s body language and facial expression is more difficult to do when the client is on a screen. In addition, it is harder for us to use our body language and facial expressions in connecting with clients when we are not in physical proximity. We can’t hand a client a tissue or offer the same type of nuanced cues that we can in person. Still, we find ways to connect, albeit at a different level.
But back to the benefits. Perhaps most importantly, many clients really like meeting remotely. For them, it can take away so much of stress and discomfort of an in-person meeting with a disliked or feared spouse. It saves time and money, both of which are often in short supply during a divorce. Meetings can also be more easily broken into smaller units (e.g., three shorter meetings instead of one long one), making the process more efficient and less daunting.
Video meetings are a great option for peacemaking providers. It’s clear that their utility will lead them to be an important methodology even beyond the time of COVID-19. It’s not that we won’t ever use in-person meetings again; we certainly will. But video meetings offer some tantalizing benefits for all of us.
Oh, and just to be clear: While I do wear gym shorts to meetings, I also wear a button-down dress shirt and often a necktie. And I am very careful to keep the camera positioned from the chest up!
Jeremy S. Gaies, Psy.D.
Certified Family Mediator
Parenting Coordinator and Co-Parenting Consultant
Collaborative Divorce Coach/Neutral Facilitator
Mindful Co-parenting: A Child-Friendly Path through Divorce
A Clear and Easy Guide to Collaborative Divorce