Category Archives: THOUGHTS

Here are some thoughts Janet has about conflict – also some things that might inspire.

10 Tips On How to Hire a Mediator

As we get older we anticipate more calm and less conflict. It is disappointing when we realize that we are still human and that somehow life has not magically become more Zen. In our fifties, sixties and beyond, we still have difficulties with siblings. We lose jobs, look for work, and have other employment changes. We get divorced and strike up new relationships. We have grandchildren AND aging parents. Life has not slowed down at all. Conflicts arise everyday at home, at work, with children, parents – it feels like the list of potential difficulties grows, not shrinks.

The point is: we never outgrow conflict.  It is entirely appropriate to hire a mediator, somebody who is neutral and who will help you through the conflict so that you can keep going to experience the calm you are looking for. The problem is, hiring a mediator is confusing. What is a mediator supposed to be good at? How DO you hire a mediator?

Here are TEN TIPS to help you find the right mediator for you. First, make a list of three to five mediators by asking your friends and colleagues for referrals and search online for mediators in your area. It should be relatively easy to come up with a short list to interview.   Here are some tips to help you succeed in finding someone really good:

#1 Lawyers and judges rarely make great mediators. It is common for lawyers and retired judges to do mediation. Lawyers might be capable lawyers and judges might be fair judges, but it is rare that either one is able to completely take off his/her advocate/judging hat to do what is required to be a great mediator: be neutral, nonjudgmental, and comfortable with conflict. This leads us directly to number two:

#2 Mediators should be extremely comfortable around conflict. Believe it or not, many mediators are actually conflict avoidant. These mediators believe the best way for them to help is to keep order in the room. They set ground rules (like no interrupting) then police these rules (have you ever had a normal conversation and not been interrupted?) They make agendas and then keep people from veering off the agendas. They tell people to calm down and to act respectfully. Do they not know that when people are upset they ACT upset? Truly great mediators welcome conflict into the room. They know that you cannot avoid conflict and have a high-quality process for the participants. It is important that the mediator not stir up the conflict, that is, we should not be digging it up and forcing it to come out, but it is indeed our job to tend to any conflict that is present.   Agendas are useful, but not if it keeps parties from discussing things that are very important to them.

#3 If you are in a situation such as divorce which is fairly amicable, you likely DO NOT need a mediator. Many lawyers tell prospective clients who are divorcing but have little conflict that they don’t need a lawyer and they should go find a mediator.   Most mediators will indeed take these cases and it is a waste of people’s money. Here’s what to do if you are divorcing and in fairly low conflict: go online and either start filling out the forms online (some states have their own online government filing website or there are online businesses that do this for every state) or search online for your state’s divorce forms, print them out and start filling them out. If you get stuck and start fighting, THEN call a mediator.

#4 You should feel some amount of good chemistry with the mediator. Call it what you want – trust, openness, neutrality, comfort – you should feel some of this stuff when you are interviewing a mediator. If you feel judged, misunderstood, cut-off, bossed around or closed down: find a different mediator. Bottom line, if the mediator sort of bugs you, don’t hire him or her. There are lots of us and you should take the time to find someone who makes you feel steady, heard, and empowered.

#5 Good mediators must be good communicators. Mediators should not be awkward  nor should they be dominating. Good mediators often help by modeling good communication skills for their clients.   Also, a mediator should not be talking for you nor relying on caucuses (private meetings with each of you during a session) as a regular way of operating a mediation. Mediators, by the way, should welcome anyone into the mediation room whom the parties want to (and agree to) include, such as attorneys and other experts and support people.

#6 Ask how much they charge. Some people are afraid to ask about the money part. You would ask a plumber or housekeeper before you would hire them, why not ask a mediator? If the amount is a hardship for you, you should feel free to ask if the mediator works on a sliding scale. Oh, and their high price and years of experience are not always indicative of their efficacy. THIS is why you must interview them.

#7  Mediators should charge you by the hour and not require a retainer. Period. Mediator services should be unbundled. Retainers do not benefit the client. After one meeting with the mediator you may decide that this mediator is not for you and go back to your list. Or you may feel that you can continue on without a mediator and discuss things yourselves, which is always preferable. If you then run into an obstacle, call again for help. Also, you are not required to pay them to write up a memorandum of understanding. These documents are normally not necessary or useful, and they generally are not legally binding.  Some mediators will give you notes after the meeting for a small charge. You may also take your own notes and not ask the mediator to do this for you, if they are going to charge you for it. If your mediator wants to do some of these extra services and charges for them, make sure to ask why they will be useful to YOU.

#8 A mediator should not be spending much time separately with each party. In order to maintain neutrality, and even the appearance of neutrality, a mediator should not let you go on and on about your story over the phone. It is really hard to NOT do this as the potential client, but a mediator should tell you early on that it is his/her job to be neutral and that means not getting too much into each side’s details. Mediators should offer to speak to each party (if they have spoken to one party) and may offer a free initial session for parties to come in so they can get a feel for the mediator.

#9 A mediator should be available in a timely manner. Once you make the choice to go with a particular mediator, often you want to move ahead right away. Go for it! Do not let someone convince you that you should wait a bunch of time. A mediator should work some evenings and weekends to accommodate YOU. Once you are a client you definitely should not have to wait a long time before you are fit back into the mediator’s schedule. It is not ethical for you to have an initial appointment with a mediator and then for them to not promptly schedule your next appointment (should you need one).

#10 Mediators are as different as attorneys are different. This will prove out to you when you call a few and interview them. You will notice different affects (casual vs. formal, comfortable vs. strict, chatty vs. spare, etc.), different philosophies (problem-solving vs. process oriented,), etc. and you will notice as you ask them questions how willing they are to engage with you. If they are frustrated by your asking questions, this is meaningful. You will note many differences, including mediators who disagree with what I have written here.

Copyright 2015. Mediation Unlimited LLC. All rights reserved.




A Buddhist Parable

2008 July Fishing-078

I have been writing and working on my book on how (and why) to welcome conflict, and I have been negligent about making blog posts! And I have much to say!  Today I am noting in particular that, as I am writing the book, I find interesting tidbits to add in for illustration or inspiration. Here is a Buddhist parable that I am finding particularly inspiring. This version is adapted from the book, Triggers, by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter.

A farmer was covered with sweat as he paddled his boat up the river. He was going upstream to deliver his produce to the village, trying to make the round trip before dark. As he looked ahead he spied another vessel, heading rapidly downstream toward his boat. He rowed furiously to get out of the way but it didn’t seem to help.

     He shouted, “Change direction! You are going to hit me! To no avail. The vessel hit his boat with a violent thud. He cried out, “You idiot! How could you manage to hit my boat in the middle of this wide river?” As he glared into the boat , seeking out the individual responsible for the accident, he realized no one was there. He had been screaming at an empty boat that had broken free of its moorings and was floating downstream with the current.

The moral of the story is: it’s always an empty boat. The parent who never acknowledged you, the driver who suddenly cut you off, the boss who promoted the slacker – they are all empty boats. They were acting based on their own unexamined or unresolved psychological suffering. It had nothing to do with you.

STOP labeling people DIFFICULT PEOPLE or HCPs

Nowadays it is chic to label people. If we then turn that label into an acronym we sound even smarter, it appears.  At the top of the list of most-used labels is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). While people used to be merely “selfish”, a term that might lend itself to being at least somewhat transitory, we now label people narcissistic which guarantees that from then on every move they make will be proof of the label – a self-fulfilling prophecy, for sure.

In the world of alternative dispute resolution (ADR, as long as we are slinging around acronyms) mediators, evaluators, attorneys and judges love to hate-on difficult people or high-conflict people (HCPs).

According to Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq., “High-conflict people (HCPs) have a pattern of high-conflict behavior that increases conflict rather than reducing it or resolving it. This pattern usually happens over and over again in many different situations with many different people. The issue that seems in conflict at the time is not what is increasing the conflict. The “issue” is not the issue. With HCPs the high-conflict pattern of behavior is the issue, including a lot of: A. All-or-nothing thinking, B. Unmanaged emotions, C. Extreme behaviors, D. Blaming others.” (

Let’s look at this. If you understand conflict, you know that when people are in conflict that they generally are not at their best. They are sadder, angrier, more sensitive, more volatile, more stubborn, and/or more confused compared to their normal selves.

The “All-or-nothing thinking” is an attribute of most mediation participants when they first meet at the table. “Unmanaged emotions” as well. Sometimes people arrive to the mediation table quite calm and then, as the conversation progresses, they might get more upset! Progress in a mediation is not a straight path to an agreement. It is often convoluted and unexpected. It usually gets worse before it gets better. Think of cleaning out a room. You pull out all the stuff to go through it and suddenly the room is messier instead of cleaner. Same in a mediation: often the process is a bit messy.

Getting back to the attributes of so-called HCPs, “Extreme behaviors” is next on the list. Yes, extreme behaviors may be a sign of dysfunction, but at the mediation table, more importantly, it is definitely a sign of feelings of powerlessness. Judging people for these behaviors only adds to the difficulty.

The fourth and final attribute is ironic, at best. “Blaming others”. Everyone, and I mean everyone, blames the other participant in the mediation. If they aren’t blaming each other, they likely don’t need mediation. Like the other attributes, blaming is a symptom of powerlessness. People are more self-absorbed than they would normally be when they are in conflict so it makes perfect sense that they would not yet be able to accept responsibility for their part.

It appears that labeling people HCPs is a way of blaming them for mediators’ inability to deal with very difficult cases. We need to stop blaming the participants and start figuring out ways of improving our own skills to accommodate very difficult situations. These are the cases that are most in need of mediation.

All four of these attributes of so-called HCPs are consistently a part of high-conflict mediation. But labeling a person in the mediation as high-conflict, is a vote of discouragement and judgment. It devalues their opinions and struggles. It affects our neutrality, which is essential to a high-quality process.

These are not HCPs. These are people who are in conflict. Perhaps they have been in conflict for a long time and are steeped in their upsetness. Regardless, we must stop labeling people HCP’s because it changes the course of the discussion. It changes the interventions we choose as mediators. It closes down the discussion instead of opening it up. We should be welcoming people who are angry or upset and telling them explicitly and through our actions that we understand why they might be acting that way.

The best mediators know that it is important to understand that when people are upset, they act upset. We welcome high-conflict cases because that is exactly what we are supposed to be experts in: conflict. We don’t judge people because they are stubborn or sad or angry, even those who appear unmovable. We actually expect this and know how damaging it is to the process to judge them for their behavior.

Mediators (and others) who label people as HCP’s and difficult people are preying on potential clients that figure now they are finally going to be understood because their soon-to-be-ex-spouse is certainly an HCP! Can’t you just hear someone going through a divorce reading about HCP’s in an article or on a website and exclaiming, “Have you read the definition? It fits exactly him, doesn’t it?”

It might be true that one reason to label people is to then be able to find empathy for their behaviors, for their condition, for their struggles. Regretfully, this is not what truly happens. When we label people, what we inevitably do is stop listening with an open mind, we stop taking them seriously, we start making assumptions based on their label, which ironically, we just made ourselves.

These are people who are acting angry, interrupting, won’t calm down, won’t get to the point, and/or won’t compromise. Once someone has the HCP label, it means that we walk into the room with our guard up, watching out for the others, keeping arms length physically and emotionally, and we pretty much don’t believe them with the same openness that we do if they would just behave themselves. They suddenly have fewer rights than others do because they have been labeled HCPs.

Mediators who complain about HCPs are the same mediators that accept, and likely prefer, cases that have little or no conflict. If there is little or no conflict, ideally people would try to work things out on their own. Then if they get hung up on certain aspects of their agreement, they can find a mediator who truly welcomes and has expertise in dealing with difficult situations.

Come to think of it, there ought to be a label for people who are constantly labeling other people. Just in case there isn’t, I’m going to go against my own advice and label them. Let’s call it: Excessive Labeling Disorder (ELD).





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It is also like being held in your own prison. Prison or poison, how do you get rid of resentment and anger if that is what you are feeling? Easy to say – very hard to do. We know intellectually that anger adds stress to our lives and that stress is hard on us emotionally and physically. But doing something about resentment takes a lot of work.

A first step might be to notice any physical symptoms that you have. Are you suffering with stomach aches, indigestion, headaches, losing sleep, or ?? If so, the idea of living symptom-free can be a good motivator to help us accept other people’s humanness in exchange for better health and productivity. This is merely a first step, of course.

The next step might be to ask yourself why this person’s behavior affects you so greatly. How can you make the behavior matter less? How can you appreciate the person as a whole person and not just see him/her as that one behavior?

Oh! And have you ever tried talking directly to the person? It’s surprising how much relief one can feel from having a good talk and it’s shocking how many resentments go undiscussed.

Anybody have other ideas about how to get rid of resentments?

The above quote has been attributed to many people, most notably Nelson Mandela, Carrie Fisher, and Malachy McCourt.


2008 July Fishing-107

“Peace is not the absence of conflict…”  This is the beginning of many quotes by many famous people.  However, all of the quotes end differently.  People disagree about what peace is, but we generally do agree that just because we don’t see conflict, doesn’t mean that there is peace.  Who knows what lies beneath that beautiful field or that smiling facade?

Conflicts go hidden and undiscussed all the time.  Why?  Because people are uncomfortable with the visible conflict – the emotion, the upset, the anger.  We are told we must calm down and say things correctly in order to have peace.  This is a falsehood.  We must not be forced to hide emotion in order to solve conflict.  We must understand that WHEN PEOPLE ARE UPSET, THEY ACT UPSET.  If we truly understand this, we allow people to make mistakes, act with emotion, and show their true selves.  In order to do this we must listen to them, believe them, and wade through the difficult times with empathy.

The exchange of listening and being listened to is what brings peace.  Stop trying to determine right or wrong, logical or illogical, sweet or nasty.  Judging in any way does not bring peace.   Peace is the feeling of being included, of being heard, of being accepted even when we are not at our best.

Do you have anything you would like to add to this?  Any comments?

That’s it for now,



Negotiators Article
Otherwise known as: “Taking no hostages, just turkey.”

This is a fabulous article about conflict resolution written from the views of FBI agents and hostage negotiators!  This is the best advice I’ve seen in a long time and it comes from the New York Times.  Click the link and then let me know what you think, okay?


This Brenda Ueland quote is one of my favorites.  What do YOU think?DSC_8008

“Now before going to a party, I just tell myself to listen with affection to anyone who talks to me, to be in their shoes when they talk, to try to know them without my mind pressing against theirs, or arguing, or changing the subject. No. My attitude is: ‘Tell me more.’ This person is showing me his soul. It is a little dry and meager and full of grinding talk just now, but presently he will begin to think, not just automatically to talk. He will show his true self. Then he will be wonderfully alive.’ …Creative listeners are those who want you to be recklessly yourself, even at your very worst, even vituperative, bad-tempered. They are laughing and just delighted with any manifestation of yourself, bad or good. For true listeners know that if you are bad-tempered it does not mean that you are always so. They don’t love you just when you are nice; they love all of you.”

Brenda Ueland, Strength to Your Sword Arm: Selected Writings



When we are in conflict, listening to each other is extremely difficult and it is the absolute one most important thing we can do.  Even when you hear things that are ugly and mean and hurtful, if you keep listening you might find that the other person calms down and then might eventually be able to listen to you in return.  Truly listening while in conflict takes practice.  TRY LISTENING LIKE YOU ARE LISTENING TO MUSIC that you don’t like very well!  Learn something new about someone’s perspective.  Stay open and try to observe the situation from the outside to help you from taking things personally.  You will be amazed at the progress of the conversation when you concentrate on listening.  


Orange bird looking at the camera

“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”
-Tagore Rabindranath

In our deepest despair, when conflict and sadness and anger and confusion overwhelm us, hope for the future can be hard to access.  Remember that this is just one moment in time. Have faith that there is something ahead that will help things progress, bring about change, and lighten the day.  It is fine to merely sit with that faith and not worry so much about how it might occur. It will occur. Big changes often happen in baby steps, so they are hard to recognize.

I have found it useful, in dark moments, to literally put a tiny smile on my face. I am not feeling it; it is just a physical change. It is interesting that this slight change of turning up the corners of my mouth affects my attitude. It allows me to feel a little hope and slightly change my attitude, which is about all I can control. Baby steps – even towards faith.