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Working with Challenging Family Situations: A Mediator’s Perspective

If, as a result of age or otherwise, you were asked to do any of the following, what feelings and emotions might you experience?

  • Stop driving;
  • Stop managing your own finances;
  • Get your financial affairs in order;
  • Discuss your living situation;
  • Discuss your ability to care for yourself or the caregiving you receive;
  • Discuss other people’s concerns regarding your health and safety; and
  • Discuss you medical and end-of-life choices.

Now, consider the feelings and emotions you might experience about broaching such topics with a parent or loved one.

Aside from everything else, would you agree that situations such as these involve change? What feelings and emotions come to mind when you think of change? How about if it’s you who is changing and not by choice and the changes aren’t what you consider positive? What if loved ones or others are asking, forcing or attempting to force you to change your behaviors or aspects of your actual self?

What feelings and emotions might be experienced by loved ones and others who are asked to or voluntarily take on such caregiving responsibilities? What about those feelings and emotions experienced by family members and friends who aren’t taking on such responsibilities for any number of reasons? How might the reasons themselves impact such feelings and emotions? How about if you have “a history” with the individual or individuals taking on some or all of those responsibilities?

Is it possible that different people in any such roles might experience any of the following?

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • A sense of unfairness
  • A sense of injustice
  • Disrespect
  • Not being listened to
  • Mistrust
  • Betrayal
  • Unsupported
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Scared
  • Frightened
  • Concerned
  • Sadness
  • Grief
  • Shame
  • Humiliation
  • Guilt
  • Abandonment
  • Unlovable
  • Unloved

Asking these questions caused me to think of the following quotes:

Have you ever heard of the status quo bias?

The following is an excerpt from an article by Rob Henderson published in Psychology Today titled How Powerful Is Status Quo Bias?:

Status quo bias is a cognitive bias that explains our preference for familiarity. Many of us tend to resist change and prefer the current state of affairs….

When individuals are faced with the choice to change their environment or remain in their current state of affairs, even when the decision is between simulated familiarity and unknown reality, most will choose the familiar. It is likely that this is a form of risk aversion that is characteristic of status quo bias—that individuals averse to the risk of losing their current reality will choose to remain, even at the expense of living in real, rather than a virtual, reality….

Even when we understand our current path is no longer beneficial or no longer makes us happy, we must still overcome the natural urge to stay on the path unless the alternative is sufficiently attractive. In order for us to readily pursue an alternate path, we must believe that the alternative is clearly superior to the current state of affairs.

The status quo effect is pervasive in both inconsequential and major decisions. Oftentimes we are held back by what we believe to be the safe option, simply because it is the default. Bearing in mind our natural propensity for the status quo will enable us to recognize the allure of inertia and more effectively overcome it.”

Along these lines, I’d like to share aspects of an email exchange I had earlier this month with someone I know:

I received an email that stated in pertinent part as follows:

Dear Mark,

I have a troubling issue concerning my mother and her estate and would like to engage your professional services at your customary rate….

The issue in a nutshell:

My father passed in **** and his estate has never been settled, including rental properties that have been a financial burden to my parents for ** years and which are being saved for my younger siblings. My opinion has always been the properties should be sold. My relationship with my mother has always been a bit strained because I speak my truth…. My siblings and I get along well and I want to preserve these family relationships as much as possible.

My younger siblings always seem to need money from my mother who will be turning ** this year. My mother is still mentally sharp and in my opinion her money and property are hers to dispose of as she chooses. It is none of my business. However, in the last few months I have heard from my youngest sibling that my mother is planning on changing her Will. My mother hasn’t shared this information with me and that’s ok.

  1. I am somewhat concerned my siblings may bleed my mother dry and I’ll be left to clean up the mess.
  2. I would like to avoid minefields with these rental properties.
  3. We were at one time to be co-executors which I plan on declining for the sake of simplicity.
  4. I have no idea what else I need to know which is why I don’t want to ask just any local lawyer.

I responded by suggesting that, if all stakeholders are receptive, they might consider jointly retaining a mediator and entering into mediation. Otherwise, one or more of the stakeholders might consider retaining conflict resolution consultants, which involves using mediation skills to help people deal more effectively with the other stakeholders.

She replied by proving me with a list of fears and concerns she had in taking any action because of how it might be perceived by her mother and siblings and their possible reactions.

I responded as follows:

Dear ****:

I have read and understand each of your concerns. That being said, I am in the midst of preparing a presentation I will be giving later this month at a monthly Long Term Care Bioethics Consortium Meeting. The description of the program is as follows:

‘How well do we understand the interests, needs, values and goals of our family members, patients, residents, and clients? A great many people avoid important conversations with regard to highly emotional and conflict-ridden issues. Avoiding conflict comes at a huge price and the pent up resentment only festers. Please join us for lunch and a presentation by Mediator and Conflict Resolution Consultant, Mark B. Baer, Esq. entitled:

Working with Challenging Family Situations: A Mediator’s Perspective

I don’t believe you are telling me anything that doesn’t fit within the purpose of that program.

I think of mediation as a problem-solving process. From what I understand, you are wanting to avoid certain problems, which is why I suggested it.

Of course, using mediation in such a way does require that your mother and siblings participate because the existing and potential future problems include them.

Being involved in such a process and agreeing to what you consider a lose/lose situation are two different things. You don’t agree to that to which you don’t want to agree.

You can tell me that mediation won’t work for you for the same reasons people regularly talk themselves out of mediation in family law situations, and I’ll remind you of our many discussions about that issue and how much it frustrates me. This isn’t to say that mediation is 100% effective or will be effective in this case; however, it does have a rather high success rate – typically at least a 60-80 percent success rate from everything I’ve read and those aren’t my statistics.

If I’m incorrect, there isn’t much I can do because all I can do is help people to be proactive, so that such conflicts don’t arise or help them deal with such conflicts in a constructive manner when they do arise. If you’re looking for something different, I can’t help you – it’s not in my wheelhouse. I can either take on the role of mediator or conflict resolution consultant, which includes negotiation and mediation techniques. The difference is that since I am not mediating, I am using my skills to help my client try and improve how he/she is dealing with any given conflict and dispute.

If you fear requesting a family gathering for such a purpose — with or without a mediator, then understand there will be consequences and things will likely only get worse, which is why I keep returning to the same place.

She replied, “Thank you. I agree avoiding discussion is not productive. Let me see what I can do to involve my family. Good luck with your presentation.”

The reason I’m sharing this exchange is that while the circumstances may vary greatly, the refusal to have important and challenging communication is all too common and the harm it causes to family and interpersonal dynamics is very real.

Would it surprise you to learn that a great many family conflicts pertaining to elderly parents arise because of poor or no communication about changes in their health, financial situation, estate planning and other such things? How about if I told you that many families never even discuss end of life care and wishes?

Family crises don’t bring unresolved conflicts and disputes to an end; rather, they tend to magnify them. As such, “there’s no time like the present,” as they say.

In fact, allow me to share with you how ignoring family dynamics tends to play out with regard to family business succession planning.

The following is from an article titled Managing the Family Dynamic During Planning by John W. Ambrecht, Dr. Howard Berens, Dr. Richard Goldwater, and Tom Gorman that was published in Business Succession Planning: Strategies for California Estate Planners and Business Attorneys by Continuing Education of the Bar – California:

Every year hundreds of thousands of families pass their businesses from one generation to the next—or at least they try to. In fact, research over the past two decades consistently shows that less than one-third of family businesses pass successfully to the second generation, while even fewer make it to the third…. In the process, thousands of families suffer emotional upheavals, inter- or intragenerational conflict, and financial losses….

A 5-year study of family businesses revealed that 95 percent of cases break down in the succession process and that three factors explain why…:

  1. Problems in relationships among family members are cited as the key factor in 60 percent of the cases;
  2. Heirs not being sufficiently prepared is cited as the key factor in 25 percent; and
  3. Issues related to transfer taxation are cited as the key factor in 10 percent.

Therein lies the paradox: Although problems in family relationships cause 60 percent of the breakdowns, little or no effort goes into addressing them in the planning process, which focuses almost solely on legal, tax, and financial issues. In other words, estate planners and business owners generally spend their time on activities related to 10 percent of the causes of succession breakdowns rather than on activities related to the factors accounting for 85 percent of the breakdowns. Also, attorneys’ skills and competencies in tax and governance matters are usually the least effective way to address family relationship issues (60 percent of the cause) or the needs of the heirs who are unprepared to assume their new duties (25 percent of the cause)….

Family roles generate strong emotions, and those emotions drive the negative family dynamics that can arise in the basically—or ideally—logical process of succession and estate planning. That is why Dad acts like Dad even in a family business setting and why a rogue child can cause so much trouble during an intergenerational transfer of wealth. Those emotions also prompt testators to create wills and trusts that immortalize resentments, power imbalances, or poor relationships in the family. This, in turn, jeopardizes the implementation of the succession or estate plan (and, of course, family harmony, down the road).

Any seasoned estate planner has seen the symptoms of difficult family dynamics in a business or family governance situation. These symptoms include bickering, silence, factionalism, secrecy, shutting down communication, failing to provide information, and refusing to sign documents. These behaviors—particularly in combination—can prevent timely, satisfactory completion and implementation of the plan. They can even freeze the process.

Attorneys are often aware of these symptoms and even the underlying forces but fear that trying to deal with them—or even acknowledging them—might make matters worse. However, ignoring psychological issues does not make them go away, nor can legal and financial tools alone address them. On the contrary, unless they are addressed, family dynamics, working behind the scenes or out in the open, may undermine the estate planning process….

Even when people do not relish dealing with [family] issues, they will at least listen when they understand that the issues could create financial or emotional pain for them or their heirs….

The last thing a family in conflict needs is an additional adversary. Yet that is what many attorneys are, just by their presence; if they also behave adversarially, they increase tension, foment confrontation, and hamper progress. Many lawyers take an adversarial approach reflexively because the United States legal system is adversarial by design. Although that can help in court, it exacerbates difficult estate planning situations.

The alternative is to act as a facilitator or bring in a facilitator. The type of facilitator needed depends upon the level of tension in the situation…. In difficult, complex situations, a facilitator experienced in family dynamics or conflict resolution, perhaps with a background is psychology, would produce the best results….

Nothing does away with the complexity of human relationships and behavior, and succession and estate planning amid poor family dynamics are inherently complex. Thus, it is helpful to use a model that brings an understanding of human relationships and behavior to the work.

By the way, two weeks after the above email exchange and while I was writing this article, I received the following email, which demonstrates people’s reluctance to initiate these difficult conversations, even when they’ve been advised of the likely consequences of not doing so:

The ‘flare up’ with my mother has subsided for now. I agree, my mother must be respected, all decisions are hers.

Does the subsidence of the “flare up” solve the existing family issues and how they’ll likely play out following her mother’s death and possible preceding disability? Furthermore, she’s apparently agreeing with me about something I never even said. While her mother’s decisions should be respected, her mother should “understand that the [family] issues could create financial or emotional pain for [her] or [her] heirs.” Moreover in Managing the Family Dynamic During Planning, the authors explain why involving the stakeholders and creating “buy in” tends to circumvent the creation of “wills and trusts that immortalize resentments, power imbalances, or poor relationships in the family.”

Unfortunately, this is exactly why I published an article in Psychology Today titled Trying to Help People Help Themselves Can Be Challenging: People believe what they want to believe. By the way, the title of that article is referring to confirmation bias, another of 175 known cognitive biases. As Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D. explains in his article published in Psychology Today titled What Is Confirmation Bias? Wishful Thinking, “People are prone to believe what they want to believe.

Allow me to share the findings of a Final Report prepared by Judy McCann-Beranger M.A., CCFE, Cert. CFM, Cert EM, titled Exploring the Role of Elder Mediation in the Prevention of Elder Abuse that was presented to the Family, Children and Youth Section Department of Justice Canada on November 30, 2010:

The findings of this paper lend much support to the significant potential elder mediation has as a method of addressing age related issues including elder abuse and neglect. More particularly the findings disclose that:

  • Elder mediation provides a user-friendly, effective means of conflict resolution for families facing the stress associated with age related conflicts. Other methods of conflict resolution—litigation for instance—are generally seen to be ill suited to dealing with these types of conflict;
  • The early application of mediation techniques to age related conflicts prevent those conflicts from escalating into abuse;
  • Elder mediation offers resolutions that are specifically designed to the situations at hand and does so in a non-judgmental, safe, respectful and confidential fashion…. Participants in elder mediation often report feeling surprised that they can have such candid conversations with family members. Any agreement reached must be acceptable to all participants…. In consequence, the specific solutions achieved tend to be more flexible and comprehensive than those generated by other conflict resolution models. This tends to result in agreements that are more durable;
  • Elder mediation has been shown to have health and wellness implications as the process reduces the overall stress in family systems, enhances the functionality of the family support network, heightens interpersonal communications…, enhances quality of life, improves fragile relationships, reduces or prevents incidents of elder abuse and neglect…, and delays the utilization of institutional care;
  • The appropriate application of elder mediation to age related conflicts appears to result in significant cost savings to families, to organizations and to governments.

In Elder Mediation: Optimizing Major Family Transitions that was published in the Marquette Elder’s Advisor Law Review, authors Rikk Larsen and Crystal Thorpe convey the benefits of elder mediation as follows:

Far too often when seniors face major life transitions and their adult children are embroiled in conflict, important process issues are not addressed. When family members participate in a decision-making process that allows them to feel heard and understood, they often feel better about the transition. They develop a stronger stake in the evolving solution and may strengthen tender relationships along the way.”

As can be seen, avoiding conflict comes at a huge price and the pent up resentment only festers and dealing with it in an adversarial manner exacerbates it even further.

In fact, in his book Light on Peacemaking: Mediating Family Law Disputes and Avoiding Adversarial Violence, peacemaker, lawyer and mediator Thomas DiGrazia said the following:

When unprocessed emotions, which are a form of self-ignorance – fear, anxiety, insecurity, hit the pavement of an adversarial system, legal warfare is the most likely result. The only real limitation on legal warfare is the emotional and financial exhaustion of the parties.

Along those same lines, allow me to share information conveyed by Douglas E. Noll during an 18-hour training he gave earlier this year on Preventing Bad Settlement Decisions and Impasse at the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law. For frame of reference, Noll is a nationally recognized peacemaker, mediator, trainer and speaker and the Straus Institute is the top rated dispute resolution program according to U.S. News and World Report.

In any event, during that training, Noll said the following:

Our emotions must be processed. We harm ourselves if we deny ourselves the ability to experience our emotions. Emotions motivate behavior. They affect our learning, memory, regulatory variables, goal priorities, and social interactions.

Unfortunately, however, it seems as though we’re in a Catch-22 in that people aren’t thinking clearly and therefore can’t problem-solve when they’re in a reactive state of mind. While knowledge may be power, as they say, we have to be in a reflective mindset in order to actually hear and consider such knowledge.

In her book The Reflective ParentHow to Do Less and Relate More with Your Kids, psychiatrist, founder and co-director of the Center for Reflective Communities, Regina Pally, says the following:

Stress impairs reflective capacity, which returns to normal when the stress is relieved. Even mild stress can reduce reflective capacity to some degree and impair the performance of tasks that require complex, flexible thinking (Arnsten, 2009). When reflective capacity is impaired by stress, parents begin to react in a more knee-jerk fashion and their thinking becomes more ‘black-and-white.’ They lose their ability for perspective taking, which causes them to feel hopeless and helpless and to be more likely to misinterpret the meaning of their child’s behavior….

[Y]ou should not make any important decisions until you are not so stressed…. [S]tress in all people… reduces their ability to see the world from the perspective of other people…. When parents are not reflective, they tend to be more reactive.

This is entirely consistent with what Daniel Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, said in his book, Mindsight: Transform Your Brain With The New Science Of Kindness, which was as follows:

Whenever we feel threatened, either physically or emotionally,… our [reactive] state of mind can turn even neutral comments into fighting words, distorting what we hear to fit what we fear…. On the other hand, … a receptive state turns on the social engagement system that connects us to others. In a nutshell, receptivity is our experience of being safe and seen; reactivity is our fight-flight-freeze survival reflex.

The connection between Pally and Siegel is by no means coincidental, by the way. In fact, in the Acknowledgments section of her book, Pally said, “I am grateful to Dan Siegel, who first got me involved in learning about the brain and for his support of the reflective work I do.

Noll is also in agreement that “until you get [a person] calmed down, you don’t have a chance of sorting out the situation.

It bears mentioning that while experiencing fear, anxiety and the other emotions mentioned above, we tend to be in a reactive state. It’s also important to recognize that many people experience anxiety as a result of ambiguity, uncertainty and not knowing something.

So, the million dollar question is how can we shift someone’s state of mind from reactive to reflective?

Have you ever heard the following phrase coined by Siegel?

Name it to tame it.

Pally explains how to help shift someone’s state of mind from reactive to reflective as follows:

When we are able to put our emotional distress into words, it is inherently calming. If a child can’t put their feelings into words, they may be calmed and contained when their parent is able to label their feelings and narrate what they may be experiencing. Even if you don’t get it absolutely right, the very fact that you’re listening and trying to put what they feel into your own words gives them the connection they need to feel less worried.

Now, before assuming that Pally’s advice is limited to parenting children, let me share with you that Noll gives the exact same advice in his book, De-Escalate: How to Calm an ANGRY Person in 90 Seconds or Less. He states as follows:

“When you wish to calm someone down, you must ignore the words and pay attention to the emotions….“When you wish to calm someone down, you must ignore the words and pay attention to the emotions….
This seems so counterintuitive to what we know. After all, words are symbols that express and communicate meaning. Why do we ignore them?
First, if you are listening to the words, you cannot listen for the emotions. Our brains have the capacity to focus on one task at a time. So, when we consciously choose to ignore the words, we are freeing up our brain processing power to focus on the emotions.
Second, angry people say nasty, mean things. If you listen to the words, you are likely to become emotionally triggered. You can easily be sucked into the conflict whirlpool. By ignoring the words and focusing on the emotions, you are insulating yourself from the upset. The words lose their bite because you don’t have time to think about the insult.
Affect labeling is the process of listening to another person’s emotional experience and reflecting back those emotions in short, simple ‘You’ statements. A typical affect label would be: ‘You are angry.’”
When people are no longer in a reactive state of mind, they can be reflective, the importance of which Pally explains as follows:
“Being reflective is the most ordinary and natural way human beings understand each other and understand themselves. The ability to be reflective is essential for relating well to others, because it enables us to try to see the world from the other person’s perspective as well as our own and to accept that there is always more than one way to view a situation….
Reflective capacity is technically defined as a mental skill in which the mind is able to recognize (a) that all human behavior has meaning in terms of what is going on inside a person’s mind, such as their feelings, desires, intentions, motivations, and beliefs, and that this applies to one’s own behavior as well as the behavior of others; (b) that all people have a mind that is subjective, separate, and private; and (c) that what is in one person’s mind may be the same or may be different from what is going on inside someone else’s mind….
Reflective capacity attaches meaning to behavior so that we can make sense of how a person is acting. When we reflect on our own mind, we can make better sense of our own behavior. When we reflect on another person’s mind, not only can we make better sense of their behavior, but we are also able to guide our responses toward them….
Whenever a person performs an action, there is always a reason why. There is always some intention or purpose underlying the action. As important as it is to know what action a person is doing, it is even more important to how the intention or purpose of that action….
Using your reflective capacity is not limited to being a reflective parent. All your relationships will be smoother if you can see the other person’s perspective as well as your own….
Empathy and validation only mean that you are being reflective and can understand and see your child’s perspective – not that you agree or are caving in to their perspective.”
What we’re discussing involves emotional intelligence, an aspect of which happens to be empathy, the core of which is perspective taking. Furthermore, I believe that empathy is the key to conflict resolution or management, which also happens to be the title of one of my articles that was published in Psychology Today. The following is an excerpt from that article:
“To the extent that a conflict stems from a misunderstanding, as many do, it should be rectifiable through gleaning understanding….
Regardless, let’s assume that a misunderstanding didn’t lead to the conflict, or that the conflict is somehow unresolvable. Does that mean that a relationship of any type is somehow doomed?
According to John Gottman, a world-renowned relationship expert, not all conflicts can be resolved. ‘Unresolvable ‘perpetual’ problems exist even in the healthiest of relationships due to ‘lasting personality differences between partners.” Gottman has found that “only 31% of couples’ major areas of continuing disagreement were about resolvable issues…. Sixty-nine percent of the time, couples conflicted about perpetual issues in the relationship that never get resolved. What mattered was not solving these problems but the affect around which they were discussed. The goal seemed to be to establish a dialogue with the perpetual problem [even differences in deeply held values] that communicated acceptance of the partner, humor, affection, even amusement, and active coping with the unresolvable problem rather than the condition of ‘gridlock.’’
It would be a mistake to believe that this reality is somehow limited to marriages and relationships of a romantic nature, especially considering that Gottman’s research on couples relationships has been successfully applied to ‘relationships in the world of work.’
Returning to Gottman’s findings, it bears mentioning that words have meaning and it has long been recognized that the meaning of words influences human behavior. Notice the importance of dialogue in Gottman’s findings and the fact that he did not use the term ‘discussion’ or ‘debate.’…
A great deal has been written about the fact that when spouses feel compelled to win their arguments with each other, they end up losing their relationship. It would behoove us to keep this in mind because the need to ‘win’ arguments is not conducive to happy marriages, positive family dynamics, or interpersonal relationships of any type.
Notice that Gottman also used the term ‘acceptance’, rather than ‘tolerance.’…
Gottman also refers to the ‘active coping with the unresolvable problem rather than the condition of ‘gridlock.’’
Interestingly enough, the presence of empathy ‘results in feelings of satisfaction, relief and trust. Furthermore, it supports patients, resulting in new coping strategies. A lack of empathy causes feelings of frustration and disappointment.’
Empathy is one of the most important skills to develop and practice. It allows us to understand the world as others see it, is a key component of compassion, and is incompatible with shame and judgment. Absent empathy, critical thinking is impaired because not all perspectives are considered, which precludes a deeper understanding of problems. It also happens to be an amazing form of bias reduction and helps to keep your biases in check.”
Sincere non-judgmental curiosity is central to perspective taking. In fact, according to social science researcher, Brene’ Brown, “empathy is incompatible with shame and judgment.” In other words, it’s impossible to be empathic toward someone you’re judging. Pally, Siegel, Noll and others who understand the nature of human conflict tend to agree. As Pally says, “Avoid shaming, blaming, or naming. That only makes things worse.”
We should all know what she means by “blaming.” By “naming”, Pally is referring to name-calling or otherwise labeling someone. This is related to “shaming,” by which she is referring to the need to separate the person from their behavior. Rather than expressing our disappointment as it pertains to people’s behavior, we often shame them instead. As Brown says, “separating self from behavior is the difference between shame and guilt. Shame is very correlated with addiction, depression, suicide, aggression, violence, bullying, and eating disorders. Guilt, on the other hand, is inversely correlated with those same outcomes.” You are a mistake versus you made a mistake is an example of the difference between shame and guilt.
With regard to value-based disputes which were referenced in the excerpt from my article, Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation suggests the following in an article titled Four Conflict Negotiation Strategies for Resolving Value-Based Disputes:
“In conflicts related to personal identity, and deeply-held beliefs or values…, there are four practical steps that negotiations can take to tone down particularly contentious negotiations, and help talks move forward in a constructive manner. Here are four conflict negotiation strategies for resolving values-based disputes:
Consider interests and values separately: Separate the person from the problem and engage issues individually at the negotiation table. Determine what worth your counterpart attaches to her positions and bargain accordingly.Engage in relationship-building dialogue: Build relationships through establishing rapport or common cause, bringing your counterpart to your side while helping yourself to understand her interests and values at the negotiation table.

  • Appeal to overarching values: Appealing to common or shared values can help bridge the gap at the bargaining table by bringing you and your counterpart closer together in terms of bargaining interests. By establishing a common negotiating ground, you can begin to create value (and claim more value) using integrative negotiation strategies.
  • Confront value differences directly: The areas where you and your counterpart do not see eye-to-eye are areas of growth and opportunities for value creation. Understanding your differences, you can best work to reconcile them in order to achieve bargaining success.

Even in cases where resolution of a dispute is not possible, these four approaches will allow for greater understanding between parties, and clarify where the differences of identity and values lie. In many cases, however, following these steps will help ensure that a values-based dispute can be negotiated successfully….

Negotiators caught up in values-based disputes need not aim for settlement in the traditional sense. Increasing our respect for views contrary to our own and learning to live with fundamental differences in values and beliefs are themselves laudable goals. When we engage in values-based dialogue, we may not resolve our disagreements, yet we can strive to learn more about one another so that we can more easily live side by side.

To the extent that we know any conflict de-escalation techniques and information as to constructive problem-solving approaches, we need to stop passing the buck. Yet, that’s exactly what family members, friends, colleagues and others do by not using such techniques, failing to share such information, “helping” recommending that they involve an attorney – the nastier the better, or by referring them to such lawyers when asked, rather than attempting to talk them off the ledge.

It bears mentioning that even if only one person involved in a conflict were to process their previously “unprocessed emotions”, it would change the overall conflict dynamics, almost certainly for the better. Regardless of the degree to which any particular person may be responsible for the conflict, it takes two to tango, as they say.

As Eldridge Cleaver said, “There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.


Mark Baer

Mark Baer is a mediator, conflict resolution consultant and collaborative family law attorney. He has decades of experience working with families, received his basic mediation training in 2008 and has been an ongoing student and thought leader in mediation, conflict resolution, and peacemaking ever since. He has crafted a reputation… MORE >

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