Tension Level, Divorce Mediation and Church Mediation

When people are trying to work out a particularly difficult problem in mediation, whether church mediation or divorce mediation, a couple things happen. Tempers begin to flair, of course, and often cutting and/or sarcastic remarks are exchanged. What else happens?

Often the fight or flight response comes on in your brain.When that happens, people have about 7 seconds to calm down, so experts tell me, before the brain is flooded with biochemicals. Now that isn’t bad when you’re a primitive person trying to deal with a tiger or a fire that might be coming your way. But it’s not very helpful when it comes to civil discussions. After 7 seconds, even if people do calm down, those chemicals stay in your system for 12 hours or until you sleep next. So in a sense, even if you do calm down after being upset, you’ve still lost, because those biochemicals are going to hang out in your brain, making arguments or emotional withdrawal much easier.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to call it a day for the mediation session. Sometimes you can continue to work if you are in separate rooms, but it’s slower. If you do manage to calm people folks down in those first 7 seconds, then it is still best to take a break or at least work with just one party or group.

This can make divorce mediation or church mediation slow, tenuous and spread over many days. But often doing it this way is the only real opportunity for change in a challenging situation. The only other alternative is court, sad, but true

Tradition, Mediation and Church Disputes

So many church disputes are a result of folks forgetting the tried and true ways of doing things. A pastor leaves, a key member moves or passes away. In time, if  a church is not careful, it can slide into a way of doing things that doesn’t work very well. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that many churches can solve conflicts by simply returning to what worked in the past. Not in term of programming (that changes from generation to generation) but in terms of how things get done. Too often, work gets done by a select few while others, intentionally or not, get excluded from service.

In a conflict it is best to return to what once worked, and see if it could still work, or work again. then and only then should you look at major change. It could be that the wisdom that was passed down via constitution works just fine.That will save much effort in trying to “reinvent the wheel.” If it no longer works, however, then you are more likely to engage many church folks who are more traditional, because you tried the old solution. And if you try what once worked and now doesn’t, then you can explain that you tried the past solution, it didn’t work, and why.

When new solutions are needed, there should be a deliberate attempt to slow down, study things, and let overheated emotions cool. Brainstorming and testing a variety of solutions, not just jumping to a conclusion immediately, is key. Use groups that represent as many different viewpoints as possible: often a solution is found by combining several different approaches in new ways. Give the solutions time before discarding. A month or 3 months is not unreasonable for a test period. Many church folks will dislike a solution simply because it’s new.

Mediation and Being Stuck

It is very common for people to come to mediation “locked-in” to their position. There are good reasons for this. Some people are like like pit bulls: they clamp down on a position without the slightest change, through thick and thin. This is a valuable trait if 1) you know you are absolutely 100 % right and 2) circumstances do not change. The only problem is, about 99% of the time both people are at fault, and very few situations remain unchanging.

In churches, this often takes the form  “A worked for this church during the “golden age” of the church,” In the “golden age” membership was huge, there were hundreds of kids in Sunday School and money was always there when you asked for it and frequently offered unasked. But the “golden age” usually took place when nearly every American child was baptized, most people attended church, and the American economy was strong. People in churches might fight over Sunday school style when the right answer for this place and time might be no Sunday school at all, but a different way of giving children a religious education! In my own state, churches were built every 6 miles or so out in the Minnesota countryside. We can mourn the closure of most of these, but the fact is, they were built when most people drove horses to church and every 160 acres was a large family. In a time when rural folks are scarce and farms are 5000 acres or more, when people have cars and can easily drive 60 miles in an hour, church buildings don’t need to be so close most rural church buildings aren’t needed.  Circumstances change.

With couples, this can take the form ” When we were together she was like this and she always will be.” This could be true, she will always be the same in some ways. But many other ways she might be very different. It’s easier to lock people in time than it is to realize people can change and grow. It’s easier to think the other person was all wrong than to admit that at least part of the marriage difficulties were self made, or simply the bad combination of two good people. People could be like chocolate  and garlic. Both are great in certain foods but combine them? Yech!

Mediation is about new possibilities. Without the possibility of change, then one is doomed to relive the same conflict over and over. Sadly that is what happens to many folks in churches or post divorce. Yet, if one admits to the possibility of change then mediation can succeed. Good mediators can take people from “no’ to “maybe” and when they do, new possibilities emerge!


Why You Should Consider Mediators Who Are Not Attorneys.

Why You Should Consider Mediators Who Are Not Attorneys

Why You Should Consider Mediators Who Are Not Attorneys

By Glen Bickford, Minnesota Qualified Neutral and Trained Mediator

Most Mediators in Minnesota are attorneys. Only a small percentage of mediators are what the attorneys call “Non-Attorneys.”

Mediation, many attorneys believe, should be something practiced by attorneys alone, as only attorneys know the law.  Many attorneys in Minnesota have tried, and continue to try to lock out non-attorney mediators. The argument goes like this. Mediated settlements are legal documents. Only attorneys know the law so only attorneys should be mediators.

In some ways this argument makes perfect sense. It’s great to have a mediator who knows laws. But are attorneys the only people who know laws? No, we all know many laws, or else we’d have chaos in our cities and on our roads. We know we shouldn’t hit people without a good reason (and most often, even if we do). As drivers we shouldn’t speed or run stop signs.

Likewise, non-attorney mediators should know enough law to help make an agreement. A skilled “non-attorney” professional mediator can help a couple reach an agreement on parenting time without needing to understand patent law. When agreements are reached, if a licensed attorney looks over the agreement and writes it up for court, no laws are going to be broken.

Another idea is hidden in what many lawyers say. When they say only lawyers should be mediators, they are saying the most important part of mediation is knowing law. But is it? Disputes are legal and logical, but they are also emotional. Anyone who has ever seen two people argue knows that.

To be a good mediator, a mediator should understand emotion, too. Unless a mediator can get people to settle down, people will never understand each other, understand positions, or listen to reason. In arguments people often get into “fight or flight” mode. They get angry, afraid or even shut down completely. When people are upset or worse yet shut down, no amount of logic or knowledge of law is going to help.

Another big part of being a good mediator is being neutral. This goes against what attorneys are taught in law school. Attorneys are taught to be zealous advocates for one side: their side. It is hard work for lawyers to undo their training and be neutral with both sides.

So if lawyers aren’t always the best mediators, what’s the alternative? Someone who is trained to be neutral, someone who has years of practice being neutral. Someone who is skilled in dealing with emotions, skilled in getting both sides to trust them. Choose your mediator carefully. Psychologists, counselors and pastors can be good mediators, only if they know enough law not to make stupid mistakes.  Attorneys can make good mediators only if they can be neutral and are comfortable dealing with emotions.

Above all, find a mediator who understands that mediation is more than just win/lose.

Mediation is helping people find win/win and make an agreement everyone can live with.

More Barriers to Mediation: Why You Might Choose a “Non-Attorney” to be Your Mediator

More Barriers to Mediation: Why You Might Choose a “Non-Attorney” to be Your Mediator

More Barriers to Mediation: Why You Might Choose a “Non-Attorney” to be Your Mediator

By Glen Bickford, Minnesota Qualified Neutral and Trained Mediator

In MN, the vast majority of mediators are attorneys. But are attorneys always the best mediators? I would argue no, though for certain cases they are a must. And before signing a final agreement, one is wise to run a settlement past a trusted attorney for her or his opinion.

Attorneys are taught logic in law school, and judges rule mainly on the facts of a case. But mediation, deciding what is best between two or more people, is often about understanding emotions. The emotions between two people in a dispute are often complex. Mediators should understand how best to use that emotion to help, not hinder, settlement. The best, most persuasive attorneys are those who not only make an airtight logical argument for holding a particular position, but can sell why it is important to hold that position. This may involve using not only logic, but emotion, using language the person you are trying to persuade can appreciate.

Even if the people involved are not yelling at each other, badmouthing or showing anger, there are usually good emotional reasons behind the positions we hold in an argument. We may not even realize how emotional we are, but if we continue to disagree, emotions show up sooner or later. For example, one person feels put down, disrespected, or feels he/she is not being listened to.

With most people, the form of the argument you make is as important as the logic of the argument itself. Or put it another way, most people only trust the logic of an argument when they have learned to trust the person making it. Attorneys are great at making arguments, but often not nearly so good at inspiring the trust of both parties at the same time.  This trust factor in mediation is not strictly logical, as arguments should stand or fall on their own merits. But it is most often true.

When interacting with people who are being emotional (and all people are somewhat emotional), it may be wise to consider a person who understands emotions. An attorney who is not skilled in emotions may not be the best choice of mediator, especially if the argument is both emotional and logical. A mediator should have equal parts of head and heart skills, able to use either as the situation requires.

Why You Should Go to Court When You Get Divorced

Why You Should Go to Court When You Get Divorced


Glen Bickford, Minnesota Qualified Neutral and Divorce Mediator

Many people are relieved to get an attorney. It means they don’t have to do as much work. After all, an attorney works out the agreement for you. She or he fights for your rights so you get what’s yours. If you have an attorney and an agreement, you don’t even have to appear in court; an attorney can do it for you. Sounds attractive, doesn’t it?

But not everything that sounds good really IS good. The other day, I spoke with a man after his divorce. David said even now, years later, he didn’t understand half of the things in his divorce papers. When he was getting divorced he agreed to a lot of things to get things settled in a hurry. Now, the only way to undo things is to spend a lot of money and go back to court.

Mediation is different. Mediation means you do things yourself. You have to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Now that sounds like a lot of work, but a mediator can help you get there. A mediator asks questions like “Have you thought about this?” and “Why is that important?” A good divorce mediator can help bring out creativity and wisdom you didn’t know you had. When you go to court (you don’t have an attorney to go for you) you’ll understand what the judge wants and why. You’ll have the satisfaction of doing it your way!

You see, when a judge rules on a divorce she or he has to follow the law closely. But when a couple has an agreement they bring there are a lot more things that the judge can allow. So working out an agreement yourselves means you understand what you want, what the agreement means, and most often the judges sign what you want into an order with few if any changes.  Mediation means you understand what you want and why you want it. And most often the judges agree, or give you free advice that works even better! That’s why more and more couples are deciding to mediate first, before they go to an attorney. With a good divorce mediator, many people can do it themselves.


Mediation and Hormones: Mediation and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

The mediation industry is affected by hormones. No, not the hormones you’re thinking of: the hormones we get when the seasons change. In the late winter most people get testy from lack of exercise and sunshine. They’re prone to argue and that’s why most church fights take place in late winter and I get church mediation work then. Mediation and seasonal affective disorder, go hand-in-hand

The same thing is true in personal lives, too, but the dynamic is different. In churches, people will start to fight midwinter. Most church fights settle down and a few need mediation so they call me. (usually a lot fewer churches need mediation than actually get it!). But in homes, people fight and when things get really nasty, they realize they’ve got no place to go. Sadly, most of my mediation with families is divorce mediation (if people would come to me BEFORE it gets to divorce I can help save a marriage but that’s another blog post…). When couples think about splitting, that means two households and moving in the middle of winter is no fun and most people have little energy in late winter. So people most often hunker down and live with it without calling me. Things often get worse and worse, and the kids suffer the most. But when spring weather hits, those spring hormones kick in after a few hours in the sun and people feel better, feel like a change, and have the energy to make a change. So they call me in spring for divorce and child custody mediation.

Many fights, whether church or personal, fade away when the nice weather hits, if they haven’t reached the point of no return. But that doesn’t mean the fights were only caused by crabbiness. Issues usually don’t go away on their own. Unless resolved, most fights will recur at stress points in church or marital life and will almost certainly come back in worse form the next winter, if not before. like I said above, mediation and seasonal affective disorder go hand in hand. That’s why it’s good to call me first, before things get worse. Mediation can really help!

Psychology and Mediation

Mediation is best done by someone with knowledge of psychology. The difference between negotiation and mediation can be described as a difference in psychological outlook. In negotiation, most often one is out to get the best deal one can get and many people are willing to be as zealous advocates for themselves as possible in the process to get there. that’s why attorneys can make excellent negotiators. In the game of chess that is negotiation, one wants the best thinker on your side, to think several moves ahead, and lock down a position the other party can’t  squirm out of. Pin them down, force them into a corner etc. are terms I’ve often heard regarding negotiation. Attorneys are trained to be such advocates. The emotions of the other party are deemed irrelevant.

But mediation is more an emotional process of reaching agreements. A skilled mediator understands that the emotions of each party, not their positions as such, are the moist important things to regard. If one party leaves the mediation process unsatisfied and even unhappy emotionally regardless of the agreement, then there is a good chance this party will attempt to redress the perceived wrong in court at a later date. the mediator needs to learn to open an avenue for a change in emotions of each party so long lasting agreements can be achieved.

In this sense, it is better for attorneys to think of the “opposing” party in negotiation as a jury rather than an adversary. A good attorney seeks to persuade a jury that their client’s position is “right,” and what he/she and the attorney’s client is reasonable and appropriate. Good attorneys in court will use arguments the jury will understand, will try to sway their emotions and use words to put the jury in the shoes of their client. If attorneys could learn to do that with the other party, there would be a lot more negotiated agreements.

The world of true mediation is as foreign to many attorneys as the realm of psychologists, emotions, is. True mediation treats both parties’ interests as important. That is a hard shift for many attorneys to make. that is the shift attorneys must make if they hope to be good in mediation, be good mediators themselves, and are considering becoming a judge.

To ignore logic in court or in mediation is folly.Psychologists, if they do not have the ability to be logical, are poor mediators in many situations. But equally, to ignore the emotional needs of each party in true mediation is at best problematic and in fact may even be impossible. If one ignores emotions one can argue, then mediation becomes, and even degenerates into, negotiation. That’s why many attorneys are poor mediators. Knowledge of the law does not include knowledge of emotions. A good mediator has equal knowledge of, and skill with, both psychology and logic. Most people use logic to support their emotional positions rather than to use logic to reach a position and get comfortable with that. Without emotional understanding on the mediator’s part, a large portion of mediated agreements is ignored. Sadly, this portion is even more important to good mediated agreements than logic.

Christmas and Conflict II

Christmas and Conflict II

There are awful things about conflict during the holidays, but there are many potential benefits, if you can take advantage of the season. Both parents can have fun with the kids during break, instead of one parent being the school parent and the other being the “Disney” parent.

But what can be great for Christmas with two families is that the kids get showered with attention from both sides. It is not at all unusual for children of divorce to have two or even three Christmases. Also, if parents are apart, when the children are with a parent, that parent can be focused on the kids. When the kids are with the other parent, it is much easier to hide presents and prepare for Christmas without interruption. If parents are able to anticipate friction points early, elegant and fun solutions can be enjoyed by all. For example, parents could agree to take the children shopping for the other parent. kids and one parent can make cookies for the other parent with the favor being returned. the kids, of course, get to have tasty treats in both houses. And some of that holiday cheer might spill over into parenting cooperation the rest of the year!

Churches, too, can benefit from deposits into the “friendship” bank account. Singing Christmas carols together can synchronize hearts but did you know that people who sing together have similar breathing and heartbeat patterns? Sometimes having fun with someone you’re annoyed with can in the long run be the best contribution to conflict solutions! Happy Holidays!

Christmas and Conflict

Christmas is a season of joy and fun for families and churches. Most people try desperately to get along when they have a conflict around Christmas, but it often bubbles up in unfortunate ways. Christmas time is a time of family values, and “we always do it this way.” When couples are separated or divorced, there is often a tug of war with the kids at Christmas. They’re not fighting just on their behalf, they fight because they don’t want to displease Mom or Grandma with a kidless Christmas. If you can’t decide together, having a Parenting Consultant to make the decision of where the kids spend Christmas can save a lot of grief and pain. Old conflicts can be reborn at Christmas along with Jesus if family members aren’t careful.

Churches can be just as tricky. One church I knew had a battle over who got to be baby Jesus. Tradition had it that it was the youngest member of the church. But the youngest baby in the church that year was a child born to regular attenders but they were not members. It looked to be a major battle  for the family who didn’t get to have Baby Jesus until the non-member stepped aside. Christmas conflict require an extra measure of Christmas grace