Friday, October 21, 2022

A Place for Empathy in Resolving Conflict

"Empathy" (El Capitan, Yosemite)


            It’s not always my easiest sell – and I get it – when you’re doing your best just to sit quietly in the same room, when you’re here in the first place because you have reached the end of the line, when there’s a lot of red-hot conflict between you, it might sound ludicrous for me to tell you that I’m going to work with you to increase your empathy for that other person. But stay with me and let me try to tell you why it will help resolve your conflict.

Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings, thoughts, and motivations of others – even if you disagree with them. It has been referred to as a “super power” in part because it is extremely effective in helping to reduce conflict.  Utilizing empathy helps to separate the personas involved (e.g., husband/dad and wife/mom) from the interests being expressed (e.g., wanting what is “best” for the kids). For example, when divorcing parents can hear that have very similar interests, that each of them love their children and want their children to be happy and healthy, it is a lot easier to come up with custody schedules and parenting plans that meet those needs. On the other hand, if these same parents are focusing on the person with whom they are in conflict, it is too easy to think about all the “bad” things that person brings to parenting, rather than on the specific issue being discussed, that is, what custody arrangements will work best for the kids and for their parents.

Empathy helps take you out of “defense mode” so that you are more open to actually hearing and seeing things from the other’s perspective.  When a person feels empathy coming from another person, they are likely to feel more calm, to stop fighting. Just knowing that you have been heard goes a long way in resolving conflicts – it is like you are being granted permission to put down your armor and end the battle.

It's also said that being able to use empathy empowers the person using it because they can use their empathy to help to control the situation and help resolve the conflict. Similarly, employing empathy helps you to control your own feelings and allow you to respond more and react less – which always yields better results.

Listening with empathy helps to create an atmosphere where needs can be expressed more freely and fully, setting the foundation for working out agreements where people’s needs are met, thus resulting in long lasting consensus. In coming articles I’ll post some “easy listening” techniques to help you listen with empathy, even during moments of heated conflict. 

In the meantime, I hope you find this helpful! You can always reach me at: or 510.210.3796.



Friday, February 4, 2022

Now Is a Great Time to Mediate, Not Litigate

Doorway, Paris

If you’ve read any of my blog posts, or heard me interviewed, or even talked to me for more than five minutes, you probably already know that I adore mediation for conflict resolution. It is effective and saves people money and emotional wear and tear. (Plus, there are a zillion – or at least fifty thousand – more great benefits from mediation instead of litigation, but since I’m trying to keep it brief, I’ll stop here!) 

This week I participated in a Zoom meeting with the Family Law bench and bar, which included updates on Covid requirements, Covid delays, and budget constraints. As I listened to the conversation, the refrain that kept repeating in my head was: Now is a really, really, great time to mediate instead of litigate.  The judges and clerks are working harder than ever but because of budget and Covid delays, fighting in court is taking longer than before. It would appear that for the foreseeable future, there will be new Covid-requirements, adding to the litigation maze, which is already fraught with delays, frustrations, and costly legal bills.

When I put all these facts into the hopper, to me, the message is clear: If you possibly can, choose mediation instead of litigation! Of course, I do understand that not everyone wants to or can mediate – some circumstances seem to necessitate the strong hand of a judge in order to obtain the divorce decree – and still, I’m optimistic that with the current state of the courts, more and more people will mediate instead of litigate. Heck, maybe the court system will institute some formal incentives to entice people out of the courts and into a satisfying mediated judgment instead….

If you want to talk about how you’re interested in mediation but you think it couldn’t possibly work for you, or if you have any questions, please let me know: or 510-210-3796. 


Wednesday, January 26, 2022

What to Do If Your Mediation Goes into a Tailspin


Street Scene, Paris

   It goes without saying that I am a true believer about mediation – otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this work.  Instead I’d be on an island in the sun...Okay but back to conflict resolution reality….

I know that mediation isn’t always easy on people, and still, I believe that considering possible outcomes, financial expenditure, and emotional health, mediation offers much better options than litigation. I could probably talk to you all day long about why I believe in mediation, but I also understand that sometimes mediations do fall apart. 

I have a few thoughts about how to try to keep a mediation from tanking and ending up in a nasty, expensive, court fight.

  • ·        Plan ahead – agree that if a stalemate arises, you and your ex will engage in a set plan (*see below); sort of a conflict resolution inside of conflict resolution;
  • ·        Your plan could include any or all of the following (or anything else that seems reasonable to the two of you) – a cooling off period, e.g., 2 to 8 weeks without trying to work on it, an actual resting period; commit to a discussion w/your mediator to get to the bottom of the reason(s) to quit mediation; active listening and agreement to participate in good faith to try to resolve the conflict within the conflict;
  • ·        If you are already working w/counsel, see if the attorneys can get past the stalemate, in discussion without the spouses, in which the attorneys confer and then communicate with their clients;
  • ·        If working with counsel, perhaps change attorneys or agree to proceed in mediation without attorneys;
  • ·        Consider changing mediators;
  • ·        Before ending mediation and heading to trial, consider if there are some issues that can be mediated (e.g., custody schedule, or spousal or child support, or allocation of assets, or how to divide the book collection, etc.), resolve these by agreement and if the remaining issues absolutely can’t be addressed in mediation, go to court on those issues.

There are some situations, of course, when mediation may not offer a viable remedy. For example, if your ex is stalling and has zero intention of participating in good faith, if there is a time-sensitive issue (e.g., impending re-marriage, death, financial consequence, etc.), or in situations of dangerous domestic violence.  If you’re engaged in mediation and you or your ex want to throw in the towel and head to court, I hope that my suggestions might be helpful to try to save you from a knockdown dragged out court fight.

If you want to talk it over, you can contact me anytime: or 510.210.3796. Hang in there and remember that even miserable times don’t last forever…. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

On Winter, Slowing Down, & Making Decisions

Around this time of year I usually get a flurry of calls. People reaching out to talk – often for the first time saying the words out loud – “I’m thinking of getting a divorce…” I listen and answer their questions as best as I can – the legal stuff, the expectations, the fears – and also often what I hear is hesitation. Although I’m not sure I have the best answers for someone who is “on the fence,” actually, I think some hesitation regarding this major decision is a healthy approach.  Once that divorce ball gets rolling, especially in litigated cases, it grows and often takes on a course of its own. (I usually suggest that divorcing parents watch “Marriage Story”, which is a pretty accurate representation of what can happen.)

Divorce is a very personal decision and only two people know best – the divorcing spouses. Friends and relatives usually mean well; their approach is couched in love and concern. But only the two people in the relationship, those people intimately involved in every aspect of the marriage, are in the best position to make the decision: Should I stay or should I go? (Caveat: In situations of dangerous domestic violence, the victimized spouse often is unable to see and accept the facts and can need active assistance in walking away.)  When I talk with people about divorcing, I do not tell them what they “should” do – initiate divorce or stay – instead I listen and try to help them make this decision.

Over the years, paying attention to my clients, I’ve noticed that December brings an interesting mix of emotions.  Anticipation – the new year with new beginnings is just around the corner – and also a slowness, which seems akin to the human need for hibernation. At first glance these seems to be polarities – one is all about action and the other is all about rest. I have come to see the beautiful value in each of these reactions, and in their interplay.  If we can allow ourselves both of these experiences, I think we can connect with our true hearts and make good decisions about all of life’s choices, and truly, seeking a divorce is a big decision, worthy of our best efforts….

If you want to talk, and want someone neutral to listen, please feel free to contact me: or @divorcewellnessguru on Instagram or @ 510.210.3796. 


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Working through Conflict in the Zoom Room -- A New Era for Mediations


(Working Through Thick Paint)

“Zoom” – which before the last year mostly meant to “move fast” – has taken on a whole new meaning. Prior to the Pandemic, thirty to forty percent of my work with clients was via Zoom. When the Quarantine hit in full force, naturally, 100% of my work pivoted to Zoom. Video conferencing became one of the most talked about topics among colleagues. I attended several (Zoom) meetings about whether we “could” and “how to” hold Zoom mediations. I felt lucky – it was already a platform that I’d been using and I felt pretty comfortable at it.

               A year later, as we contemplate some sort of return to in-person work, I have been thinking about the look of my “new office” – virtual, in-person, a hybrid? Part of my cogitating has been about what face-to-face mediations looked like before the Quarantine, and also about how Zoom mediations have offered different, useful, perspectives.  I haven’t done an empirical study (after all, I’m a mediator, not a scientific researcher) but based on anecdotal observations, what I have noticed is that when I’m helping people work through some difficult conflicts, when emotions are very high, working in the Zoom Room actually seems to be more effective than working face-to-face in my (lovely) office setting. When Zooming from different rooms – brought magically together through the video conferencing platform – in the safety and comfort of their own spaces, people seem to be able to access their emotions much easier than if the “source of the conflict” is sitting three feet away from them, breathing the same air, taking up the same space. The distance afforded by the Zoom Room seems to give people greater tolerance for the emotional spikes that are inevitable – both for the other person and in themselves. I have noticed that as difficult emotional conversations are unfolding, people in the Zoom Room seem to be able to breathe and hear the words which the other person is speaking, instead of simply reacting to the words (which is of course a very common human behavior). Perhaps that nanosecond delay in the video conferencing software provides some literal breathing room, which helps defuse emotional tensions….

               I’m still evaluating what the “post-Pandemic” reality of my mediation practice will look like. Of course, I will be taking into account the prevailing public health recommendations (which at this point are not wholly embracing fully unrestricted in-person meetings).  I am going to also be very mindful of how video conferencing might actually offer something better than in-person, old style, mediations. At the very least, I think that video mediations have provided an effective – unexpected – benefit that can be very helpful to clients. And, as this last year living through the Pandemic has taught us in no uncertain terms…the future is hard to predict and is wide open with possibilities….

If you have any questions about how mediation might work in your situation, please reach out to me: or 510.210.3796…and in the meantime, I hope that you are staying well and feeling hopeful about your future!


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

 A Quick Update

                 2021, it seems, started off with quite a whoosh – it’s hard to believe that we’re nearly halfway through January already! I am planning a nice new year’s post before January slips totally away…in the meantime, a really brief greeting to say happy new year and, last week I gave my first-ever podcast interview, discussing all things mediation with Ryan Lockhart at McKenna Brink Signorotti.  I really enjoyed our conversation and hope that I shed some light about mediation. You can find the interview at this link, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me @ 510.210.3796 or .

               Happy 2021 and I hope to be back here soon with some thoughts about divorce and the new year!

Friday, September 4, 2020

Creating Your Foundation (Not A Panacea)


(Yucatan, 2018)

                          Working with a Divorce Coach isn’t going to solve your problems. (Sorry.)  Following advice to meditate, eat well, walk on the beach, and get plenty of sleep won’t make your divorce issues (or any other issues) go up in a puff of magic smoke.* That would be great, but it probably won’t happen quite like that.

               Your Divorce Coach – even the most excellent and wise coach – isn’t going to tell you “the answers.” Instead, your hard work (and there’s no way to sugarcoat: it will be hard work) is to listen to your coach – even when you don’t want to hear what you know deep inside is true, as you build up your own strength, find your own solid ground, and determine the best answers for yourself.  When you’ve done the hard work, when you solidify your center, you will emerge knowing how strong and wonderful you are. You will trust yourself and from this grounded place, you will be ready to meet every challenge that you have to walk through.

               If you want to get past your divorce issues – if you want to thrive – there is no other option other than walking through.  It’s like that children’s book: Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, you have to go right through it. And although there isn’t a magic pill that someone can give you, maybe after all there is the magic that you find inside yourself….

*To be clear: walking on the beach, meditating, etc. are wonderful and I enthusiastically recommend. If you want to talk about other things that I would suggest for you, let’s talk: – until then, take good care and try to find something beautiful every day!