Sep 2011 22

Forrest Mosten, known affectionately as Woody Mosten, is one of the country’s top mediation trainers.  I visited his office awhile back and he took me on a tour of his mediation office and talked a little bit about why he set his office up as he did.

I know it might sound like over-kill, but mediators need to be very mindful of how their offices are set up because setting the intention for clients is very important.

What does your office say about you?

Does the Class AAA space say that clients are paying your rent? or does your modest address tell clients that you don’t care about details?

Do the files and file boxes everywhere in the conference room tell clients that you will treat their file in the same way, with papers strewn about and their names written on files and boxes for everyone to see? Or does your lack of paper and files in your office tell clients that you aren’t very busy, and as a result that you aren’t very good?

Oh how I wish I knew the answers to these questions!

I used to feel like putting all my diplomas on the wall was stupid, and like bragging.  Besides, I’d written a book!  I didn’t need to explain my credentials to anyone.

Ah, youth!

Then I went to the dentist. He was putting a crown on my tooth. This was my first major dental work (thanks to my father being a dentist and working on the team that developed Crest toothpaste!) and I was scared.  I looked up at the wall and saw the certificates, awards, continuing education program completition certificates and membership in professional organizations and immediately felt better. My dentist cares about what he does! He keeps up with his continuing education! He is involved with professional organizations!  He’s a mindful practitioner!  What a relief.

So I went back to the office and put up my own “wall of fame.”  After all, we’re dealing with one of life’s most important transitions, and people’s futures.  As divorce mediators, we deal with everything people give a care about in the entire world–their children, their savings, their hopes and dreams for their marriage or partnership… I can put a few certificates on the way to silently say that I care and that I believe in what I do.

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!

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 24

Forrest “Woody” Mosten is a master mediator and, I’m convinced, one of the top mediation trainers in the world.  He is really at his best when he is teaching and training. His passion for both really shine through.

Woody casts a wide net with his mediation training, and he teaches and speaks at conferences all over the world.

In this short tour of his office, he talks about a training he did in Germany for mediators from all over Europe, and all over the world.

I go to a LOT of mediation trainings and conferences, and occasionally I even train mediators myself.  It’s never a dull moment when Woody Mosten is presenting, and he always has challenging and thought provoking ideas. You can check his schedule here: Mosten Mediation.

Speaking of challenging and thought provoking ideas, my other favorite trainer and speaker is Robert Benjamin.

I get a lot of requests for “what’s the best training?”  If you’re in Los Angeles, here’s what I suggest:

40 Hour Mediation Courses

Forrest “Woody” Mosten’s course is the gold standard.  But it’s not cheap ($1500).  But I’ve been to mediation courses all over the country and his is the best.

His Study Groups are excellent.  They meet about once a month and cost $75 (CEU credit is given).   I attend myself when I’m available. Highly recommended.

Loyola Law School offers a mediation training course for $675.  I have not taken it but it’s taught by Mary Culbert, a very experienced teacher and mediator.

Lee Jay Berman offers training through his American Institute of Mediation. I suspect his classes are very good—he has certainly been at it long enough.

Pepperdine offers a range of highly regarded classes:   The conferences aren’t a 40 hour training, but I suspect that you’d learn enough to be able to get started mediating.

There’s also a certificate program at Cal State Northridge:  I haven’t heard of anyone who’s been through it, but I’d be curious to see what they’re up to.

Peace Talks has a 25 hour course on DVD (condensed from a 40 hour course).  It’s great for what it is, and I’m the teacher, but given that we’re in Los Angeles, you really ought to get an in person training so you can get the hands-on experience. It would be different if you were in some remote rural area that offered no training.

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

May 2011 12

An excerpt from our book, Making Divorce Work, was published by this week and went out in their newsletter. Hooray!

You can read it here: 8 Peace Practices

If you’re not familiar with, they’re a portal for all things mediation. They have a great free weekly newsletter (which is where the 8 peace practices was featured) and offer all kinds of services to mediators. They’ve been in business a long time and I’ve met the owner-operator numerous times at mediation conferences.

I’m not affiliated with but love them. They are very generous with their knowledge and do their best to help mediators and arbitrators stay on top of their game.

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