Acknowledgement Is Not Agreement

On January 5, 2021

One of the simplest and potentially life-changing insights I have gathered from my time as a family mediator in Toronto is knowing the key difference between acknowledgement and agreement. However, before we get to that point, we need to talk about the fundamental purpose of having conversations with our spouse or partner during the mediation process:

  • Are we interested in mutual understanding and appreciation?
  • Or are we more concerned about being right?

The answer won’t always be one or the other, but can flip from topic to topic. Rest assured that neither of these approaches is right or wrong, but each produces very different life paths.

How is Acknowledgement Different from Agreement?

The definition of agreement in the context of family mediation is fairly simple to understand. An agreement is reached when both parties share the same views and come to the same decision about important matters. Agreements are often preceded by constructive conversations that involve a family mediator who is trained in conflict resolution.

Acknowledgement is different from agreement because it is used to demonstrate our understanding, even when we don’t agree with what the other person is saying. Acknowledgement allows us to hold space and show respect and understanding for the other party’s opinions without having to agree with them.

Example of Acknowledgement

After giving you time to say how you feel, I show my acknowledgement by describing what I heard. I may not necessarily  like or agree with what you said, but I bear my discomfort so that you know I’ve understood your meaning. Once you know I have heard what you care about, then I can speak about what is important to me.

This more detached listening allows you to objectively reflect on what is being said as a whole. You can respond without taking a position, holding on to your side, or taking the opposing view.

The Benefits of Acknowledgement

When we’re having a tough conversation with a friend or partner, we’re sometimes more focused on how we need to respond rather than listening to the message in a way that promotes understanding.

Imagine how different a tense conversation would play out if one of the participants shifts from offering an opinion and instead starts to ask questions about why the other feels the way they do. How would the dynamic change if that participant simply confirms what was said to take care of any doubt we have about their intended meaning. This constructive and respectful style of communication can help both parties maintain a positive attitude, which can lead to favourable outcomes for everyone involved.

Why is Acknowledgement Important?

There are two equally valid experiences going on simultaneously during any interaction. When our views aren’t being recognized throughout a conversation, we start to focus more on proving that we’re right.

This is one of the most common conflicts we have with those we care about. Acknowledgement allows us to be the agents of change and offer the recognition both people are seeking. For acknowledgement to work,one person will need to take the lead and create the space for the other so that a new path to the conversation can unfold.

Acknowledgement and Separation Mediation

For people in mediation or for those who are thinking of separating from their spouse, their past experiences will continue to lead to aversion, defensiveness, and confrontation without interest in and effort applied to change the pattern.

Acknowledgement can help people break this pattern and transition from an intimate relationship, where asking for emotional engagement and care is normal, to a co-parenting relationship, where each person is more self-reliant and child-focused.

With this perspective, both parties can listen deeper and have a chance to speak and be heard. The requirement to be proven right or in control of the conversation may arise within us, but it no longer has to be followed. 

Are you looking for family mediation in Toronto? I can help you and your spouse start a respectful and goal-oriented dialogue through professional conflict resolution management and conflict coaching.

Contact me at Aligned Choices mediation today.

Richard Brydson

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