Month: April 2015

Listening to reach agreement

When we are in conflict with another it can be difficult, if not impossible to really listen to what the other person is saying. And really, why should we bother listening when we clearly disagree? Yet, we may be making assumptions about what is being said because we are defensive, which can escalate the conflict further. If we are ever going to make progress and reach agreement, we have to listen.  Here are three quick tips which can help.

Access calm

The first step is to calm ourselves. This is really important because until we are calm and centered, not only can’t we hear the other person, it is very difficult to articulate what it is that we want and need. You could ask to take a break, count to 10 (or 20 or 30…), breath deeply a couple of times, think of your happy place, etc. Whatever you do that soothes you, DO IT!

Pretend you’re a reporter

In conflict with someone we know, it is easy to believe we know what they’re going to say before they say it. This often angers the other person which ratchets up the conflict. Instead, tap into your curiosity. Ask open-ended questions (who, what, why, when, where) in a neutral tone of voice. Listen deeply for the interests and needs this person is expressing and those things you may not have heard before. After all, listening doesn’t mean you agree, you’re just collecting information.

Clarify what you’ve heard

Repeat back to the person you are listening to what you’ve hear. Saying something like, “Let me see if I got what you’re say…” makes it clear that you are seeking to understand. Again, understanding does not equal agreement, but the person speaking is going to be a lot more likely to hear what you have to say if she or he thinks you understand them.

When it’s too tough to talk directly with one another, a mediator can help. Having someone who is trained to facilitate conversations without choosing sides can increase the chances you will be able to hear one another and make progress. If you’re having a hard time with a specific person or a theme has emerged in your conflicts, a conflict coach can help. Having someone support you in your efforts to better deal with conflict can help you try new approaches and offer tips on how to have more successful results.

Summe Break is Almost Here: “I’m Bored”

If your house is like my house, about the second day of summer recess you hear, “I’m bored”. I know this is coming every year and I still look at my kids each year in disbelief, “REALLY?”

Spring is taking its time to bloom in Rochester, but soon the leaves will be on the trees, grass will be green and the flowers will grace our yards with their beautiful colors and SOON THE KIDS WILL BE OUT OF SCHOOL. It is not too early to start thinking about activities to keep kids, both young and old, from being bored.

Once springtime hits, we start to think about outside activities. Yard work is a must, and really must get around to buying that mini excavator brush cutter to help me tackle those weeds, but what are some fun things to do with the kids and as a family?

Getting the kids outside and engaged is very important. Kids are attached to their Ipods, Ipads, computers, and phones, so getting them engaged with others and off the couch can be a challenge, but keeping them active will keep their minds and bodies in shape. A sure-fire way of getting your kids active and in the sun is by using the temptation of a trampoline. Trampolines are something that kids are fascinated by, and purchasing one for your backyard will certainly encourage them to jump and get outdoors. This positively promotes activity and outdoor play. One great way to encourage activity is to consider taking them to a fun indoor center where they can climb walls and experience different courses to get them more active. To find somewhere like this close to you, you could always consider searching the internet for “centers offering entertainment near me“. Hopefully, your kids will enjoy these sorts of challenges, reducing their boredom!

Activities should be age-appropriate and safe. Think back to when you were a kid and things that you enjoyed to help you with ideas.

Here are some outdoor (and indoor/rainy day) activities to chase the boredom away and keep your kids from turning into couch potatoes this summer. Most of these are inexpensive and once you get them set-up you can let their imaginations run wild. Kids love when their parents play WITH them, so make time to participate in some of these fun undertakings.

AT HOME shutterstock_113043922

  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Kickball, bocce, or any yard game
  • (Do you remember SPUD & freeze tag?)
  • Add a twist and play flashlight tag at night
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Outdoor movie theater
  • If you have woods on your property, make a fort
  • Backyard camping – set-up a tent for overnight and for daytime play
  • Make an obstacle course
  • Water balloons or sprinkler, for those really hot days
  • Ride a bike
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Neighborhood Game night
  • Bubbles
  • Hide and Seek
  • Make some slime
  • Puzzles


  • Museums
  • Bowling
  • Indoor Trampoline
  • Zoo
  • Hiking/Nature walk
  • Park or playground, Rochester has many parks
  • Volunteering


Be sure to use YOUR imagination.

Renee LaPoint, M.S.

Friends and Your Divorce

group of young women on coffee break, enjoying in discussionThe difficult time of separation or divorce is emotionally and sometimes financially stressful. Unless you’ve been through it before, you are sailing uncharted waters. During this time, having a good support system is very important. You may need your friends more than ever. That said, for any of your friends that have not experienced separation or divorce themselves, it can be hard to relate to what you are going through. They may not understand your choices, especially if you initiated the divorce. They might not get that it was the best of some not-very-good options, and realize just how hard it is for you. Some may even be a little jealous of your new–found ‘freedom’.

Even as you need your friends, you must remember that the situation is difficult for them as well. Try to stay in touch, and offer opportunities for them to express any feelings they might have, so you can keep the communication open. If you reach out to a friend and they don’t respond, let them go. You don’t need to spend energy trying to convince them to stay right now. People who were mutual friends of you and your ex may feel uncomfortable maintaining the friendship with one or both of you after the split. Bashing your ex, or revealing intimate details of the problems in your relationship can push them away. Even if what your ex is telling them makes them take your ex’s side initially, with time, by taking the high road, you may find them back in your court.

You want to stay in touch with the friends who will be supportive. Your close friends should be available to you for emotional support. If you are comfortable and it is appropriate, these friends might also be called on to help you network for a new job, look for an apartment or give your kids a ride once in a while. As important as it is to keep in touch with and ask for help from trusted friends, it is equally important to know how much to ask of them.

Be mindful of how much complaining you are doing and negative feelings you are expressing. While friends may be very accommodating, after awhile it may become too much for them to enjoy being with you. If you have very strong feelings, or they continue for a long time, a therapist can help you sort through those feelings and offer you constructive ways to handle them so you can heal and move forward. Using a divorce coach is another way to be supported through the process in areas that your friends or therapist can’t help with.

So allow your friendships to help you through this difficult time, but remember that even in periods of difficulty, friendships are a two way street. Keep in mind how much support is available from each relationship so you don’t overburden it, and always express your gratitude to your friends for their support.

Teaming Up Against Destructive Conflict

three white cubesDestructive conflict often sends people spiraling downward in a negative cycle of me versus you. This creation of “other” is the basis of conflict escalation which allows one person or group to dehumanize the other which makes it “okay” to perpetrate everything from indignities to violence.

Why does this happen? One explanation may have to do with empathy or lack thereof. Over the past several years researchers have been considering what is called “empathy gap”–otherwise seemingly reasonable and empathetic people behave in ways that are not empathetic toward those they perceive as their enemy.

Of course most of us would say that’s ridiculous and we would never behave that way… turns out how we think we’ll behave and how we actually behave in a “hot affect” situation (such as when we are scared or angry) are quite different. Worse? We’re not very good at predicting our behavior. Worse still? In the midst of a “hot affect” situation people tend to act primarily in their short-term interests throwing long-term interests out the window. (,

This may not be as surprising when you considered what Goleman dubbed the “Amygdala Hijack”–evidence that when we are flooded with strong emotions it is literally impossible to access the reasoning part of our brain. (

While most people’s brains light up with recognition (representation) of the pain or suffering of another, it doesn’t automatically translate to empathy for the other person. In fact, research being conducted by Bruneau at MIT shows that the empathy we access and express can depend upon the individual or group in question. His early studies have shown that people can create an “empathy gap” toward those they perceive as an enemy while at the same time expressing deep empathy for those in their group or other groups. (

In the meanwhile…

Where does this leave us when we are grappling with a conflict escalating before our eyes or between us and another person? Humans, it has been well-documented, have the tendency to feel affinity for those within their own group. Being on the same team or in the same group increases empathy for in-group, while increasing the likelihood of conflict with out-group members. Yet Sherif’s famous Robber’s Cave experiment showed that when working on a shared problem (a.k.a. on the same team) conflict decreased. (

Problem-Solving Mediation uses this tendency to help people focus on their common interests and see themselves as aligned together against the problem. Narrative Mediation, similarly, invites people to externalize the conflict, see its ill-effects as separate from the person, de-construct the conflict-saturated story, and work together to develop a new story. 

Prevention is always the best course when discussing conflict. All those silly team-building exercises, it turns out, may help. Anything that you can do to solidify the sense that you are on the same team may increase your odds of constructively working through conflict when it does arise. Reflecting on a time you worked together well, may also underline this. Determining together what your common interests are and listing them where you both can see and access them (e.g. increasing the bottom line, raising healthy kids, etc.). Even using words like “us,” “working together,” or “on the same team” may help to create a more cooperative atmosphere.

And if all else fails and you find yourself in the throes of a conflict, don’t let your Amygdala get hijacked! Taking a time out, counting to ten, or even thinking about or doing something else for a while might be the best thing to do for yourself and the other person.