Archive for month: September, 2013

theater interior, view of balcony seating

Stuck in an Argument? Check Out the Balcony View. A Massachusetts Divorce Mediation Tip

Ever get so frustrated in a disagreement because you just know that you are right? That your point of view seems so crystal clear?

Of course, you have. I certainly have!

It feels good to stick to your guns. Doing so may even occasionally work in your favor. Most of the time however the tension will remain or get worse. The conflict will become more and more entrenched as the disagreement either escalates or goes underground. Resentment will build.

The View From the Balcony

I learned an important lesson in a leadership program. My teacher, John D’Auria, taught that an effective leader takes in the balcony view. With distance, he argued, a leader can dispassionately view, evaluate and appreciate all elements of an issue.

Take My Own Advice? A Massachusetts Divorce Mediation Professional?

Some time later I was in an argument with someone and becoming more and more frustrated. I was not happy!

Did I take my own sage mediator advice? Did I immediately take the high road?

Nope. I festered. I complained to my wife. I plotted my rebuttal. I was going down a road someone who preaches conflict resolution and provides divorce mediation in Massachusetts should avoid.

Oh Yeah…

That balcony thing.

I thankfully remembered John’s words. I forced myself to step back, climb the steps to the balcony, and look down at what was transpiring.

It opened my eyes.

I gained a better understanding of the conflict, the other person’s perspective, and the negative implications of staying the course. I still had my view on the situation — and my strong feelings about it — but was now able to take a different approach and have more respect for the other person’s point of view.

As a result, we were eventually able to talk about the issue and find some common ground.

During some of my Massachusetts mediation sessions I have introduced the concept of taking the balcony view. It has helped divorce and parent-teen clients in the same way it helped me!

When you are angry or frustrated and feeling stuck take a walk  — or the elevator — up to the balcony and look down. Check out the view. Watch what is happening as if in a theater.

What do you see?

angry couple staring at eachother over office table during divorce mediation

Avoid Destructive Divorce Messages

While I was at the gym today listening to my favorite sports radio station I heard a commercial about divorce in Massachusetts. It made me stop in my tracks.


I mean it. I must have looked ridiculous. I just stood where I was listening to my headphones.

The advertiser, a local law group, directed the message to divorcing men. I heard messages like:

…men have an uphill battle in court…we know the dirty tricks wives play…fight back before it’s too late…we can minimize the destruction…the hidden dangers of court…they get kids to turn on their fathers…

I would have been petrified if I had been facing divorce!

I would think things such as: …I need to protect myself…the odds are stacked against me…I need to go on the offensive…I’m going to get robbed…

I can understand why some would contact this law firm.

When I Thought The Propaganda Could Not Get Worse…

I got home and googled the firm. I was shocked (again) when I saw a link titled ‘The Pitfalls of Mediation.” This group is not only scaring men to court but they are claiming that divorce mediation in Massachusetts is inappropriate.

Mediation for Divorce Is NOT For Everyone

I will be the first to admit that certain divorces are not a good fit for mediation.

I could tell you that mediation is wonderful and ideal for everyone. But then I would sound just like the radio ad, only selling the reverse message.

So yes, mediation is not a fit for all circumstances. A good example is when there is significant history of domestic violence.

For many couples however divorce mediation is an ideal approach to divorce. Divorce is emotionally grueling in the best of circumstances. But, it can also be resolved effectively and often more amicably without attorneys or judges making decisions for you about your finances, your kids, and your future.

There are a plethora of articles outlining the merits of divorce mediation in Massachusetts. Feel free to review my description of divorce mediation from my website or read one recent succinct divorce mediation blog post by mediator Josh Hoch.

Couples go through divorce mediation in Massachusetts all the time without being fleeced, taken advantage of, or subject to nasty tricks. Rather, they usually leave satisfied with a fair agreement that they were able to craft on their own terms.

The Point Is Not About Selling Mediation for Divorce in Mass, But…

The point of this blog post is simple: Learn about your options and make an informed decision about the best way for you and your spouse to divorce.

Mediation or litigation, please do not fall for clichéd scare tactics preying on your fear and anxiety about divorce. Instead, educate yourself. Learn about the benefits of securing a divorce attorney versus mediation.

Whatever choice you make I hope it is informed and not based on a cheap attempt to scare you.

Please share your reaction to this post and comment below — I would love to hear from you!

Top view of young businessman making decision, thought cloud above head with a question mark

Decision Making That Will Stick: Mediation Examples You Can Learn From


I hear “I should…” all the time.

General Life Examples of I Should Decision Making:

  • I should go to the gym…(but watches more TV instead)
  • I should go on a diet…(but digs in to her ice cream instead)
  • I should save more money…(but shops online instead)
  • I should call her and mend fences…(but holds the grudge instead)

I should, I should, I should…

Mediation Examples of I Should Decision Making:

  • Divorce Mediation: “I should stop bringing it up…” (but she does anyway)
  • Parent Teen Mediation: “I should stop suffocating her and give her more space…” (but she texts every hour anyway)
  • Marital Mediation: “I should apologize…” (but he remains defensive anyway)

I should, I should, I should…

Red Flag Decision Making

How often do you say I should in a week when you are trying to make your own decisions?

Too many times would be my guess.

To my ears any sentence beginning with I should is a red flag. It most likely means that you are feeling pressured or compelled to do (or not do) something based on the expectations of someone else. It is natural of course for our decisions to be influenced by others.

But think about it – isn’t there a difference between being influenced to make your own decisions and the influencer making decisions for you?

The thing with I shoulds is that they often do not lead to action. More often than not they are code for “Well, I kinda want to but not really.” And what normally happens with a “well, I kinda want to but not really?”


Decision Making 2.0: Mediation Examples Illustrate a Better Approach

There are a lot of strategies to help folks make better decisions like this one I read that provide four useful strategies. But what if you were to make just one change?

Stop saying I should and instead say I will.

What do you think would happen if you replaced I should with I will?

Would you be more likely to follow through on your decision making? More likely to make your own decisions (versus someone else making decisions for you)? My guess is yes and yes. After all, the way we think and talk can have a great influence on the way we behave.

Let’s take a look at the three mediation examples from earlier – when I replace I should with I will, do they sound or feel different to you?

  • Divorce Mediation: “I will stop bringing it up…”
  • Parent Teen Mediation: “I will stop suffocating her and give her more space…”
  • Marital Mediation: “I will apologize…”

In what ways do you think replacing I should with I will can change the way you make your own decisions? Or someone you know?

Please comment below – I would love to hear from you!

little girl throwing a tantrum in a grocery store

Family Communication, Parenting Help, and How to Stay Calm: Lessons Learned From a Sobbing Hysterical Tantrumming 6 Year Old

A “Hysterical” Miscommunication

A few weeks ago my son had an out of the ordinary temper tantrum – OK, he was flipping out — during a sleepover with his grandparents. They were calling me, I was calling them, and all the while he is yelling and crying in the background.

It was stressful all around and the uncomfortable feeling lingered for days.

A Few Days Later

I was in an important meeting. My father was taking my son out for dinner and this was the first time they were alone together since “the tantrum incident.” I learned that part of the problem had been related to a miscommunication. I explained to my kiddo what a miscommunication was and how to deal with it but I was not feeling optimistic.

OK, OK, I was sick to my stomach. Dreading getting “the phone call” with the chilling sound of six-year old shrieks in the background.

My phone was on the table to manage time and use an app related to the meeting. So, when it vibrated receiving a text I became distracted and noticed. A picture of my son eating a big cup of ice cream with gummy bears on it appeared (hey, one person’s idea of disgusting is another’s delight)! Cute. Good sign.

Fifteen minutes later it vibrates again and a picture from my brother appears of my niece. There’s a caption but since I’m in the meeting I don’t read it figuring I’d check it out after the meeting.

Five minutes later I receive a text from my father again with one word: “hysterical.”


Cold sweats start coming over me.

I’m thinking “I can’t believe we’re going through this again and I don’t have the time or energy to deal with this. What’s his problem this time?”

I do what I can to remain focused in the meeting but was distracted by images in my head of my son kicking and screaming, beads of sweat appearing on my father’s upper lip, and the stressful conversations that are to come with my parents.

Finally, the meeting is over. I find a private space, take a few deep breaths, call my father, and ask how things are going.

His response: “Great!”

Great? GREAT? What in the world was he talking about?

The Ice Cream is Always Right

Well, as it turns out my father also received the text of my niece from my brother. It was a funny picture with an even funnier caption, and my father replied – to all – “hysterical.”

This comedy illustrates a dynamic that I see play out in mediation all the time, especially parent-teen mediation and divorce mediation: interpreting information out of context. I knew they were recently at an ice cream shop and my son looked as happy as could be.

Yet, I was so anxious about the possibility of my son acting out again that I automatically assumed that “hysterical” meant “my son is hysterical AGAIN!” An honest and reasonable misinterpretation of this situation but a potentially damaging one when it occurs in a tension filled relationship.

Apparently, having a difficult time dealing with miscommunication is not limited to six year old boys.

The Role of Context in Family Communication

I have found that the most successful mediations occur when clients are able to pause before reacting. When they take a few deep breaths before responding. When they clarify information to ensure that their assumptions are accurate. These steps are critical to avoiding miscommunication.

The narratives we have in our heads are just not always accurate.

Before getting hysterical make sure you have the facts and stay open to the possibility that there may be a different storyline than your interpretation.

Do you have any hysterical anecdotes that you’d like to share about miscommunication?

Please share your thoughts and comment below!

a path through tall grass

Dealing With Marriage Communication and Relationship Issues? Stay Out of the Weeds

It is often said that the “devil is in the details” and certainly this is often sage communication advice. Other times, especially during arguments, divorce mediation, marriage communication, and conflict in general, I would argue that the “devil IS the details.”

Devilish Hypocrisy

Consider these points of conflict that I have recently heard during mediations:

  • You were late dropping off the kids last Saturday by 12 minutes — are you going to pick them up 12 minutes late to make up for that time next week?
  • You told me three years ago that I need to be less flighty and here you go forgetting to pack the kid’s thermos in his backpack!
  • He is such a hypocrite! How can he expect me to let him have the kids on Columbus Day when I went out of my way to be with them last Columbus Day to cover for him when he went out of town?

I can definitely relate to getting caught up in these ways of thinking in the heat of the moment. The rub is that calling people on their contradictions may feel validating but almost never leads to effective problem solving.

Weeds, Marriage Communication, and Relationship Issues?

I was once co-mediating a divorce mediation with a great colleague, Nnena Odim, with a high conflict couple. Several sessions went by with the “devil is the details” type of discussions. Nnena stepped in at one point and encouraged them to “stay out of the weeds.”

To my surprise this simple statement made a world of difference. At one point, one of the clients said something like, “I know I need to try to stay out of the weeds. She is really driving me nuts but I want us to get this thing done. So, I’ve put a lot of thought in to this and I want to propose that…”

He got out of the weeds!

This line of thinking led him to pitch a new proposal that was focused on his future and the kids’ happiness and put aside some of the past points of conflict that were contributing to the mediation being so stuck.

There are times when the devil is in the details. There are other times that it is far better to stay out of the weeds.

Could staying out of the weeds help your marriage communication?

What do you think of this communication advice?