Sep 2011 05

My mom died January 1, 2010. Within about 6 weeks my dad was engaged to be married….to one of her best friends.  Needless to say, this sent a shock wave through our family. If you’ve been following Project Vic on this blog, you’ve seen how difficult it has been for my brother and me to navigate all of this…the loss of our mother, the rocky relationship with our father, and now the question of how the heck someone can get engaged in 6 weeks after being married 55 years.

The good news is that Bea, my father’s fiancee, is lovely.  We’ve started calling her Mom 2.0 and I think she’s embraced our now-blended family pretty well.

She came to the book signing party for Making Divorce Work in Indianapolis in 2011 and was just a delight. The video shares her thoughts about the experience and the party. 

My brother and I would rather have our mom back, but Bea is a great second choice.

Now we just wonder how long it will take her to realize that our dad, Vic, is actually a “project” and to realize exactly what she’s in for if they actually get married.  Hmmmmm….

The truth and reality of life is that families are what you make of them.  We could let all of this ruin our lives, or we can choose to move on.

And move on we have.  My brother is newly married at 53 with a baby on the way. His youngest child just graduated from college. My husband is Jewish and I was raised Presbyterian. Bea’s son is disabled.  Yet we all come together as a family. Sometimes more successfully than others, but we’re still family.

And that’s the mesage I try to convey to our mediation clients.  Parents with a 2 year old hear, “You’ve got to figure this out, because you are going to be co-grandparents.” And I’m not just saying that to convince them to settle or to mediate their differences–it’s true.  It’s a little hard to hear when you have a toddler, I suppose, but once you’ve chosen to marry and have children, you’re just adding additional squares to the patchwork quilt that’s already your family.

Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010). Join the conversation and community on our video blog and check out Diana’s divorce blog on the Huffington Post

Whatever it Takes (Balloons):
Aug 2011 12

There is a lot of fighting among mediators (nobody can fight like mediators!) as to what is “the” correct way to mediate.

Should you be directive, and tell clients what will probably happen in court anyway, and then muscle them into agreement?

Should you be facilitative, and let them have a free flowing discussion?

Should you be transformative, and guide the participants to a new level of understanding of their situation and role in the process?

Or all three?  How do you mediate for success?

I’ve never really tried to shoehorn Peace Talks or myself into a particular category. My style is that if participants are having a great discussion, it’s my job to get out of the way. If they need a nudge in the right direction, it’s my job to make a suggestion.

The process is designed around them, not just our Peace Talks Mediator Handbook.

I got a surprise, though, when a very nice set of clients came in a couple of months ago. They were amicable; they’d been married a long time and just wanted to be fair with each other.  We see that a lot at Peace Talks:  really nice people having the worst day of their life and just trying to do the right thing.

Where this case became different, though, is when the husband decided he needed to take a break from the proceedings and he laid down on the floor. Not to be derailed, I got him a blanket.

When he woke up (I’m pretty sure he fell asleep) he knew that what he needed to do to keep himself calm was to……blow up balloons and bat them around the room.

That was a first for me. And I thought in 23 years I’d seen it all. Maybe now I’ve seen it all, but who knows?

And I learned something that day, as I batted balloons around with him, my co-mediator (a very patient Stephanie Maloney, CDFA) and even his wife, who was also rolling with the punches.

I learned that:

  • Mediators need to be ready to do whatever it takes to help people settle a case, even if it’s outside their comfort zone
  • Mediators need to embrace participants who know what they need and aren’t too shy to ask for it.  We need to listen and let clients do what they need to do (within reason, of course)
  • Mediators need to loosen up their ideas of “the” right way to do mediation and adapt to the participants’ needs.

Of course, if the balloons and nap had made the wife uncomfortable we may have needed to take different action. But since it didn’t, we needed to step outside our own comfort zone and adapt to what the participants’ needed.

It’s not about us, it’s about them.

And they settled.

And yes,  got their permission to share their story in a confidential way.

Not sure you believe me? Watch the video!

Aug 2011 11

I’ve had so many friends ask me divorce advice that I finally started compiling my best tips. Well, they must be pretty good tips because they made the Huffington Post’s headline today!

May 2011 31

I’ve been a full time mediator since 2000, and I find I’ve always got something new to learn.  Clients never stop surprising me.

Just when I think I know it all, something happens and I realize that I actually know a lot less than I thought I did.  Let’s face it, I really only knew everything when I was 16 years old. It’s been all downhill from there, LOL.  Part of the wisdom of getting older is realizing exactly how little you know and how much you still have to learn.

So one day we had clients come in and they were really at odds.  Every single issue was an impasse, a fight, or worse.

I’m using every mediation skill, technique and intervention that I can think of. I’m even making a few of them up.  When clients mediate, at least at our office, they expect us to be pretty pro-active, making suggestions, moving the discussion along, and keeping things productive.

But nothing is working.

I wasn’t blaming myself. These folks had been in conflict a long, long time.  To hear their stories, you’d think they were taking about 2 different cases.  I was really working hard.  Not every mediation works out. I wasn’t going to go down without my best efforts, but sometimes if you’re working harder to settle the case than the clients are, maybe it’s time to step back.

So I stepped back.

I was really at a loss. So I asked for help. “What do you think would work?” I said.

Not really expecting a productive answer, I wracked my brain to figure out what to do next.  Just then, the husband made a brilliant suggestion.  He came up with a totally unique way of looking at things and what he suggested, although a little out of the ordinary, would probably work perfectly for them.

And before I could say a word, the wife said, “That’s a great idea!”

I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears.

When was the last time these folks had said a kind word to each other? When was the last time they’d problem-solved instead of arguing? If the first 90 minutes in our office was any indication, it had be quite some time.

Yet at the 90 minute mark, with a tiny prompt, suddenly a solution sounded more appealing than staying in the conflict.

The other 20 agenda items fell into place like dominoes, quickly, one after the other.  Once that big issue had been resolved, all of the other things either resolved or became unimportant.

People settle when they are ready to settle.

As much as mediators may think they (we) do the hard work, it’s really the clients who are pulling the weight.

Diana Mercer is the co-author of 2 books, Your Divorce Advisor and Making Divorce Work. Her full time mediation practice, Peace Talks,  is in Los Angeles.

May 2011 20

What makes a marriage successful?  I do a lot of research and reading in this area. My thought is that if I can figure out what makes marriages work, I might gain some insight into what makes them NOT work, and if I know what works and what doesn’t, maybe I can better help my clients in mediation. After all, people who mediate have a lot of courage to go through the mediation process. It’s pretty uncomfortable talking to mediators (strangers, really) about everything you care anything about in the entire world.  As mediators, we never forget that.

Anyway, I am always interested to hear what others have to say about this, so I always carry my Flip video camera with me.  I know, I know, I could use my Droid, but I feel like my Flip is my friend and it’s so easy to use.

So when I can find someone willing to talk on camera about what works in a marriage, I’m all ears.

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