The Safety Checklist

by Mark Weiss January 15, 2013

“Participation Agreement signed? Check!”

“Client meeting scheduled? Check!”

“Safety for all? Uhh …”


Collaborative Practice trainers and practitioners often talk about the importance of “safety” or a “safe environment” as critical to help parties can reach a good agreement. If so important, then how do we ensure “safety” in Collaborative cases? On an airplane, we buckle up, turn off our cell phones, and rely on an extensive system of checks and balances to ensure a safe arrival. 

Some consider safety just a feeling that is organic. It seems to me that in the Collaborative process “safety” can be parsed into its components which we as professionals can address, much as a 747 captain might address items on the aircraft checklist and thereby create safety for her passengers. 

What Safety Provides

Just as safety allows your flight to arrive at its airport destination, safety in the Collaborative process allows clients to reach their destination – to have satisfactorily resolved their disagreements. 

We know that one key premise behind Collaborative Practice is that disagreements can only be resolved by communicating. Without communication, disagreements simply cannot be addressed. If not addressed, differences are not resolved, are likely to fester, and could create problems later. 

One way to formulate the concept of safety in Collaborative Practice might be to define the elements that fosters the good communication necessary to allow parties to reach agreements. So formulated, a “safe environment” will allow parties to:

  • Be able to identify what is most important to them;
  • Be willing to talk about those items with the person with whom they are in dispute;
  • Be understood by the person with whom they are in dispute;
  • Be empowered to approach the discussion from a problem-solving perspective; 
  • Be freed to consider and choose from alternatives that might address the question; and
  • Be confident in relying on their own judgement and decision making as a result of having an adequate understanding of the substance, process, and dynamics. 

If the environment that describes safety can be broken down to its elements (your list might be different), then the formulation can become the source of own “checklist” that will let us reliably create safety with and for our clients. 

A Safety Checklist Can Helps to Make Good Assessments

How nice it would be if clients arrived as blank canvasses! Instead, they arrive with disputes that are framed by both a history and (likely) a hurt relationship. Their canvasses are messy paintings in progress that reflect fears, anger, shame, and other emotions, all of which get in the way of safely discussing their differences. 

Clients are often afraid of discussing what is most important, lest they be ostracized, shamed, intimidated, or punished. They likely do not understand some or much of the substance of what they are being asked to decide upon. They are often afraid of a different perspective to their own, and will be tempted to taunt, bully, or push the other into accepting a solution that would be unacceptable. These undercurrents are often present, even if our clients don’t always show them when the paint is surface-dry. 

Where to start working with clients to address these dynamics and matters? A “safety checklist” can help us assess what to leave alone, what to touch up, and what to repaint. 

What’s On Your Checklist?

Do you have a “safety checklist” for Collaborative cases? If not, should you have one? 

If you have a checklist, what’s on it to help create client safety? What are the things that should be on every checklist? 

Please add to the discussion below.


Comments (1) -
kevin@scudderlaw.netUnited States
2/11/2013 8:31:23 PM #

Mark, good points.  

May I suggest that your next post be on a Safety Checklist for the Professional Teams with whom we conduct our Collaborative cases?  Just as with our clients, we need to have a safe place for the Professional Team to have the hard discussions required of every Collaborative case.  Or is the safety checklist for clients the same as it is for Professionals?

I would like to hear from other professionals on this issue of what we can do for the clients to provide a safe environment in which the case exists.  I understand that each professional has his/her own training and biases that they bring to a case.  I wonder, however, if Coach's idea of what a safe container is differs from the child specialist differs from the Financial Neutral differs from the attorney.

Is the safety different for different contexts in which the clients meet?  Does the safety required depend on the power dynamics of the couple with who we are working?  Is "safety" different in financial settings than in child-related settings?

Is it possible to have a safety checklist, or do we need to rely on our instinct to say "something is going on here" so that during a prebrief or debrief the Professional Team can brainstorm on how best to create the safety that they see is needed by the clients.

View my profile on

Add comment

  • Comment
  • Preview


The Bigger Conversation

Be a part of the conversation! Learn about the latest thoughts, trends and developments in Collaborative Practice from IACP’s Brain Trust, and then join the discussion with other members across the globe. This is your opportunity to be heard; share your experience, knowledge and insights with the rest of us. We’ll all benefit.

Our Featured Bloggers will rotate over time. If you are interested in becoming a Featured Blogger and posting regularly, please contact us at We also welcome periodic submissions from Guest Bloggers. If you have a post to share as a guest, please send your post to us at



Month List