Category: Communication

“Mediation Won’t Work Because We Can’t Talk”

CommunicationSome couples who decide to end their marriage or partnership stopped communicating effectively with each other a long time ago. Many things can cause this to happen: different communication styles, a power imbalance in the relationship, lack of problem-solving skills and loss of interest or respect are a few.

When couples that want to separate or divorce consider the process that is best for their family, they may be afraid that they won’t be able to work together to make decisions for their separation or divorce agreement. Our mediators are trained and experienced in working with couples in conflict. Mediators facilitate your conversations and create a safe place for each of you to advocate for yourself. They help you clarify your thoughts and feelings on a topic, and assist you in discussing them in a way that your partner or spouse can listen and understand you.

We have seen over and over that couples that mediate may not be communicating well at the beginning of the process, but as they work with the mediator, good communication and understanding returns. They are able to successfully create fair agreements that give each person the opportunity to move forward in the best way possible. For parents of minor children, this allows them to regain confidence in their ability to continue to work together effectively to co-parenting their children in the future.

Holding On To Your Goals In Separation and Divorce Mediation


What is mediation 2 d-sYou are in a stressful state as you navigate the choppy waters of divorce. Focusing on the shore can keep you headed in the direction you want for your future. There are three main components to any separation or divorce: the financial one, the emotional one and the legal one. The key to getting the best possible outcome for your future is to keep your emotions from interfering with the legal and financial aspects of your process.

To ease conflict and create a collaborative atmosphere during your separation or divorce, it is important to keep your interactions with your soon-to-be-ex businesslike. Don’t let yourself get drawn into an emotional argument. You have a choice in how you respond to your spouse or partner’s negative emotions. Be responsible for your interactions with them, and try to keep them positive.

During the divorce or separation process you will experience all kinds of strong feelings. That’s completely normal. The key is to only engage with your spouse or partner when you can think and speak from a practical mindset. You can do this by staying focused on your future, and the goals you have for getting there. If you find you are getting drawn into an argument, simply say that you will get back to them later. You may need to avoid talking to them about the decisions that go into your agreement outside of your mediator’s office. Sometimes it takes the mediator’s help for the two of you to have an effective conversation.

Remember that having clearly defined goals that you are working towards will help you manage your interactions, and end up with the best possible outcome.


When post-divorce mediation can help

Separate couple artThings change as you move through life. Sometimes the agreements that were made at the time of your divorce or separation no longer work for one or both of you, or are not being followed. Mediating the issues that have come up can lead to new understanding and willingness to compromise.

There can be new issues that have come up that were unforeseen at the time you filed. If you have children, their needs are continually changing as they get older. There may be things that you didn’t initially address in your agreement that need to be worked out now, such as paying for club sports, braces, or college. Changes in the kids’ activities might mean your current parenting schedule no longer works well. One of you may want to move farther away. One or both parents may have remarried and need to accommodate stepchildren in the scheduling.

There can be issues with certain parts of your agreement. A property or business that you continue to co-own may need to be dealt with, or perhaps there was a payment plan set up for one spouse to pay money owed to the other for the distribution of their assets that is not working. There may be an issue with payment of the child support. There may also have been a change in income, and you need assistance working out a new support amount and filing it with the court. Those issues can be addressed in mediation and any new agreements you make can be added to your court filing.

Coming together with the help of a mediator can lead you to re-establishing effective communication and coming up with mutually acceptable solutions to these issues.

Typical issues in post-divorce mediation:

New parenting schedules

Adjustments to child support/payment of child support

Decisions on paying for college or extracurricular activities

Selling jointly owned businesses or property

Payment of spousal support

One parent moving away

Disagreement over an issue affecting a child/the children



Call the office for more information at 585-244-2444.



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.

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.

What’s a BATNA and why do I need one?

Hands Holding Negotiation Multicoloured Word ConceptThe “Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement” a.k.a. BATNA.

Why do you need one? If you are preparing to negotiate and you don’t know your alternatives you are more likely to agree to something you could regret.

Here’s a common example. You decide it’s time to replace your car, start looking at cars, and a salesperson approaches you. Her interest is to make a sale today for the most money possible. If you haven’t researched your options, you’re likely to spend too much money and make a choice you later regret.

So, how do you determine your BATNA?

First, brainstorm as many options as you can–don’t limit yourself. If you are negotiating support, alternatives to getting or paying the full formula include sharing additional costs like cell phones for the kids, paying a smaller or larger amount of educational costs, having your spouse pay fully or paying fully for health insurance for the children,  decreasing monthly costs like cable television, increasing income from other source, etc.

Next, narrow your options to those you would actually consider. It’s always better to have more than one BATNA if possible. It encourages you to negotiate assertively and get your needs met.

Then, gather quality information about the options you’ve selected. The more you know, the more confident and empowered you will feel to make good choices. Seek advice, read and research. Good information makes it less likely you will be persuaded to make a poor choice.

I say quality because opinions are just that–personal beliefs. I’m amazed how many times mediation clients say, “well my best friend told me…” as if it were fact. If their best friend is an attorney giving advice on the law, I might give it some weight, but if Fred simply had a bitter divorce, he’s not an expert.

Finally, give some consideration to your range and your bottom line. We all make trade-offs in negotiation and in life. I might be willing to pay a little more if I can get heated seats in my new car. But I also know if the price goes above a certain point or the dealer tries to talk me into a financing option I am not comfortable with, I need to walk away.

And above all, don’t forget to take the other person’s perspective into consideration. You’re more likely to succeed in a negotiation if both parties interests are fulfilled.

If you need help negotiating with someone else, a mediator can help by offering a structured process that surfaces the interests and needs of both parties.

Balanced is the New Busy

mini conf photo “Balanced is the New Busy: Practicing Self-Care in a Frantic World”  — Keynote Kristen Skarie.

The New York State Council on Divorce Mediation is presenting a fantastic conference Saturday September 6, 2014 at the Inn on the Lake, in Canandaigua, New York where the Keynote Speaker- Kristen Skarie will speak on the topic “Balanced is the New Busy: Practicing Self-Care in a Frantic World”. This promises to be a great opportunity for to refresh our minds and add new skills to our toolkits as divorce mediators.  The program includes tools for managing mental health concerns, best practices, pensions, spousal maintenance and issues related to the “Gray Divorce” (the over 50 age group).  The venue is right on the shores of beautiful Canandaigua Lake, in the glorious Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York!  We look forward to getting together with our fellow divorce mediators and any other individuals interested in the attending the program.  You can find the registration form online at  Or contact Julie Mersereau, or Barbara Kimbrough at 244-2444 for more information, or email us at [email protected]

Parenting Teens After A Divorce


Teens are a tricky age group. They are by nature pushing boundaries and wanting autonomy and freedom. Finding the right balance of setting limits and giving them responsibility for themselves is tricky in general, and that can be compounded with the added pressures of co-parenting from two different households.

Although they may not express it, divorce can have a de-stabilizing effect on older children and young adults. Teens need to understand that the relationship between you and your spouse is the only one that has changed, and that each of you continues to have the same relationship with them as their parent.

The more both parents can work towards creating the same expectations for the children in each household, the better. Sometimes, due to different parenting styles, the need for both parents to work full time, the amount of conflict between the parents, or other reasons, there can be very different rules in the two households.

In that situation, parents should strive to work together to instill in the children respect for the rules of each household. The more parents support this, the more the children will feel compelled to follow them. Don’t try to gain your child’s favor by commiserating with them about things they don’t like at the other parent’s house. Helping them to think through situations that challenge them, and encouraging them to talk over with their other parent any issues they have, will show them that you care, help them feel heard and work toward actually solving their problem.

When teenagers understand clearly stated rules that each parent expects them to follow, the less license they will have to ignore or circumvent them, and the more secure and grounded they will feel. Teens need to know that their parents are paying attention to where they are and what they are doing. As annoyed as they may act, they know it means you care.

Getting Your Needs Met

It can often be difficult to express what you want in a way that the other person can hear your request. Very often, especially when we are upset, the person we are talking to hears our request as a criticism or a demand and they become defensive. Here are a few suggestions about how to communicate your needs in a way that might be better received.

First, practice what you want to say in advance, where and when you will say it. The more prepared you are for the conversation, the less likely it is that it will degenerate into an argument. Next, spend some time thinking about how you feel and take responsibility for your own feelings. Feelings are emotions–not accusations. “I feel sad” is different from “you disappoint me.” Identifying and stating your feeling can help the other person to empathize with you because we have all felt sad, afraid, or angry. Then, identify what you need. Needs are universal. All of us need food, water, air, and shelter, but we all also need connection, meaning, autonomy, and a sense of well-being. Again, if you can articulate your need, it is more likely the other person will relate to you, rather than rally against you. Finally, make your request.

Here’s an example. After practicing and deciding that right after work, while the children are out of the house and they won’t be interrupted, a wife approaches her husband. “I would like to talk for a minute, if now is a good time?” Getting agreement, they sit down at the table together. “I have been feeling irritable lately because I have a need for intimacy. I am wondering if you would be willing to schedule two nights or days each week with me that we could have time alone, without the children, to reconnect physically?” There is no guarantee that her request will be met, but it could begin an honest conversation that will help them both to clarifying more deeply what they each need from their relationship.

To learn more about these techniques, you might want to read Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. You can also contact a mediator who can help you facilitate an honest conversation that might feel to difficult to have on your own. Mediators offer support and help to manage strong emotions as they arise. For more information, email [email protected] or call 585-586-1830.