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?

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?

mother and daughter or two sisters arguing

Angry at a Family Member? Learn Family Conflict Resolution Skills to Deal With Family Issues

“I just don’t understand why my brother won’t listen to me!”

I was asked this somewhat rhetorical question yesterday while explaining mediation to someone.

This woman was frustrated by how her brother berated his son in front of other people. He refused to follow her advice. She felt he was embarrassing his son for no justifiable reason.

She was curious to know what I thought of the issue as a mediator.

I asked if she knew why he behaved this way and she gave her take. I then asked if she had ever asked him why he talked to his son in a way that seemed to embarrass him. She hesitated, and then answered with a simple, “no.”

What this woman came to realize was that she really had no idea what was going on for her brother when he used such a harsh tone with her nephew in front of other people.

Was he having difficulty managing his temper?

Was he upset at something else and didn’t realize he was taking it out on his son?

Was this the 20th time that his son defied him?

Was his wife giving him a hard time for not being stern enough on his son?

So, I encouraged her to be curious.

Yes, curious.

Why Curiosity is a Great Family Conflict Resolution Technique

I do not know what she will learn if she asks him.

I do know that until she understands his perspective he will remain defensive to her well-intended suggestions. Once he feels that she understands his point of view – truly listens and understands — it will be easier for him to hear her point of view.

On a practical level, it is only with a good understanding of his underlying perspective when she can offer a suggestion that addresses the real issue.

One of My Strategies When Mediating Family Issues

She is planning to employ a communication technique that I refer to as “being curious”.

Rather than offering up her solution for the nth time in a row, she is going to approach her brother, point out that she notices that he berates his son in front of others, and ask if he could help her understand why this happens.

If she is genuinely curious about his perspective, she will likely be surprised by what she learns. And then maybe he will start to understand her perspective too.

I am a mediator but I am also a father, son, and brother.

When I get frustrated there are times — like most people — when I offer unsolicited advice.

Just ask my wife!

My unsolicited adivce only frustrates her and usually worsens the situation. Yet, when I remember to take a deep breathe and shift to my “curiosity” mindset I learn a lot about her point of view.

And when I finally do offer a suggestion it even occasionally helps!

When you get frustrated with someone, try to become curious — what you learn might be quite curious!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this mediator tip of “being curious” — please comment below!

LINKEDIN USERS: LinkedIn does not have the capability for your comments on LinkedIn groups to appear on the original blog post. if you are commenting on a LinkedIn group would you mind copying the comment directly on to the blog so my other readers can benefit from your ideas and reactions? Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
couple in a counseling or mediation session

Lessons Learned Providing Mediations: Ben’s Mediation Blog

I am a family and divorce mediator.

When I say I love mediations to people I often get one of the following responses:

  • Really? (Translation: why in the world would you want to do that?), or…
  • Really? (Translation: I have no idea what that is but I’ll play along), or..
  • Really? (Translation: my aunt’s sister’s next door neighbor got divorced last year and I think they used a mediator)

To the first question, yes, I really love mediating. I have been helping people resolve their differences through formal and informal mediation as a social worker, an administrator, and as an educator. I love it because it works, it is empowering to those involved, and it strengthens families. Mediations help people from all walks of life communicate more effectively and work out conflict situations in a satisfying way.

Bottom line — it helps solve important problems.

Why a Blog About My Mediations?

I constantly find myself observing or participating in moments that provide me with clarity about the dynamics of human conflict. In just the last two weeks I have seen a husband make a blunder due to false assumptions; a father send a text to his son that had a double entendre (and the incorrect meaning was how it was read!); and a student trip over his words so poorly that he got himself in to more undeserved trouble. I hope that by sharing my observations readers may make personal connections that lead them to positive change.

Plus, by getting the word out about parent teen mediation, marital mediation, divorce mediation, and family mediation, I want to educate readers about the mediation process and its many benefits. The more people perceive mediation as an effective and efficient means to working out problems the better.

And I certainly aim to provide posts that are enjoyable, entertaining, and helpful.

Spreading the Word About My Mediation Services Blog

I would love and appreciate your help connecting others to the Mediation Blog. Please share this with your colleagues, friends and families. Post a link on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter (or any other social media!). Provide comments! Feedback — of the good, bad or indifferent variety — are all helpful in my efforts of making this useful and relevant to readers.

THANK YOU so much for taking the time to read; for sharing this with others; and helping me get the word out about the wonderful benefits of family and divorce mediation.