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The Lesson of the Hummingbird

By on Apr 22, 2019 in Blog |

There are always different stories and metaphors to understanding collaborative practice. Certainly, we can all understand it concretely – any one of us can describe the process of collaboration to the uninitiated and as well, any one of us can engage in deeper conversation about collaboration and its impact upon our clients’ lives. But there are lessons all around us which can lead us to a more intuitive understanding and practice, if we will but take the time to observe. My lesson was taught by a group of hummingbirds. Flighty, skittish and argumentative, hummingbirds are elusive creatures that I delight in watching. But I had to lure them to my home and the mere placement of a hummingbird feeder was not enough to encourage their presence. There must be cover for their protection. There must be shade, so their nectar does not become too hot and mold. Several feeders turned out to be better than one because they don’t share easily with one another. And most important, the nectar must be freshened and the feeder must be cleaned frequently and consistently. I had my feeders in place for a whole season, with nary a visitor. They were around, I could hear them but they would not come to my feeder. I became careless and less attentive to cleaning and in no time, my feeder had black mold. I packed up my feeder for the winter. The second season, I tried again and started to experience some success but again, the tiresome chore of changing the nectar with consistency became a problem and my hummingbirds went away. The third season I tried again, and this year there were two feeders set out, as well as some attractive hanging flowering plants. I cleaned my feeders and placed fresh nectar in them at least once a week (and twice a week when it was in the 90s) and I had hummingbirds! Trusting, thirsty, responsive hummingbirds became my tiny companions. Morning and evening they came to my deck, and enjoyed their nectar. I grew accustomed to their calls, and began to recognize individuals among them. We created trust and reliance between us. They would drink and skitter about in the tree, buzzing close...

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Are We Good Candidates for Mediation?

By on Jan 8, 2019 in Blog |

Many people inquire about mediating their divorce and usually their motivation is to keep the costs low. No one wants to spend hard-earned money on a divorce and when you meet with an attorney and learn that legal fees are incurred for “time spent” – whatever THAT might mean – you can’t help but wonder if there is a more affordable way to divorce The reality, however, is that mediation is only more affordable if you can reach an agreement. Nobody wants to waste time and money spinning their wheels uselessly. So before you choose mediation, you must first decide if you can mediate. Here are some things to consider: Our case is easy. No, it isn’t. No one’s divorce is “easy.” There are always twists and quirks that arise and you have no idea what they might be, because you aren’t knowledgeable in accounting, or financial law, or real estate transfers, or child development, or IRS regulations, or all of any number of potential roadblocks. Your mediator is. You might have an overall idea of what is “fair” but don’t expect your mediator to just write down your ideas, pat you on the head and say “well done.” You’re hiring a mediator, not a scrivener and you need to be prepared to get some education here. Our case is too complex to mediate. Many families face complexity. It could be a detailed financial portfolio, or an ongoing health crisis, or a relocation to a different state. It may feel insurmountable to you because you’re in the middle of it. Your mediator will break these issues down into manageable pieces, so that you can begin by working around the edges and making small agreements, and that will break down the big pieces of your case into manageable bites that you will successfully mediate. My spouse is very controlling/charming/manipulative. Again, not really. Your mediator is trained to work through personality issues and relationship dynamics. If one of you is not a talker, be prepared to be drawn into the conversation. If one of you is the talker, be prepared for some push-back. That’s the mediator’s job – to make sure everyone at the table can speak and is listened to....

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Mediation – The Graceful Art of Restructuring Conflict

By on Sep 27, 2018 in Blog |

  Conflict often seems to be an inevitable part of our lives – whether on the national scene, at the workplace or in our families. Frequently conflict will seem to sort itself out, usually with a compromise or even a capitulation of one person and while it rarely goes away, it can lie beneath the surface so that we forget its presence, at least until the next time conflict peeks out at us. But what about the conflict that doesn’t go away? Maybe you’re dealing with an intractable fellow employee, who seems determined to destroy your reputation at the workplace. Perhaps your child or step-child is thwarting your every effort to parent competently. Or it could be that your partner in life has somehow changed, or maybe you have different goals now and it appears that your marriage is ending. These types of conflicts can threaten our very well-being and may clash with our perspective of who we are and where we think we stand in the world. We become competitive and defensive. Our viewpoint narrows and hardens into concrete positions. We start to describe our lives as a series of episodes, where we are the wronged party, the victim, the helpless one. We no longer know which action to choose. We lose the capacity to resolve the conflict in our life. The paradigm of mediation suits the resolution of these conflicts well because the mediator gently moves the participants away from firm positions and complaints into a discussion of goals, concerns, dreams and interests. This is the area that is rich with solutions because now we can discover areas of commonality and mutual understanding. When participants are invited to take a step back and to take a long view of the crisis, conflict can recede as options – not compromises – begin to present themselves. The co-workers can agree that they each want to advance to positions of more responsibility and that the success of the company is important to them both. They can now move beyond mutual sabotage and plot a course built on their respective strengths and value to the company. The parent and teenager can understand that independence is an important and necessary part of...

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Collaborative Practice as a Spiritual Practice

By on Sep 30, 2016 in Blog |

Article appeared in “The World of Collaborative Practice”. A Magazine Promoting Collaborative Dispute Resolution for the Full Range of Possibilities   What do we think about as practitioners when we consider adding or maintaining a collaborative component to our overall law practice? Certainly there are the basic considerations of marketing and cost-effectiveness that make any practice component financially justifiable and for many, the analysis may end there. Beyond that, however, there is the lure of creating alternatives that support and empower a client through a difficult time. I’m writing here of a collaborative practice that permits the practitioner to reach deep into one’s self to access curiosity, generosity and empathy in order to create solutions that satisfy not only the deeper needs of the client, but as well, allows the practitioner to experience a spiritual satisfaction that goes far beyond bottom line considerations. Divorce for many clients can be a defining moment: it can be a time of taking stock, of reflecting upon one’s choices, of admitting to mistakes, of acknowledging historical patterns, of exploring new, previously unthought-of directions, of experiencing sometimes frightening emotional highs and lows. At its very best, the divorce process can present an opportunity for the client to have a deeply spiritual experience. I’m not talking here about a traditional religious experience but of one that expands the individual’s awareness of their own human spirit. To be part of that growth and to nurture its nascent roots within a collaborative paradigm is the privilege of the practitioner. By accessing one’s own generosity and compassion as support for the client, the practitioner as well has an opportunity for personal spiritual growth through the guidance of the client’s journey. Clients come to the practitioner vulnerable and in distress. To say that they are not at their best is an understatement. They are being divorced from, or they are realizing that they will have less time with their children, or that the financial stability to which they’ve grown accustomed will be altered. Despite their stated willingness to enter into the collaborative process, there is a piece in them that is angry, resentful, afraid, tentative, defensive and reactive. They listen with acceptance to the theory of interests-based negotiation but...

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The Unexpected Collaborator

By on Apr 12, 2016 in Blog |

Article appeared in “The Collaborative Review”. The Journal of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals FALL 2015 / VOLUME 15, ISSUE 12.   I volunteered to create an icebreaker for a recent retreat for about 25 multi-disciplinary collaborative professionals. I chose a simple concept – tossing a ball of yarn to a participant, who would then tell a little bit about themselves before tossing it to another participant. Some folks were a little nervous, some clearly didn’t want to do it, still others wanted to just get on with the retreat. There was laughter, and constant reminders to hold onto the yarn before tossing. A simple enough concept, with extraordinary results. People chose to challenge themselves. While occasionally a participant would toss the yarn across the table, most chose to hurl the yarn far down the single table, with the result that the yarn became stretched and interwoven in increasingly complicated ways. And as the yarn pattern became more intricate, the stories became broader, richer and more intimate. The initial nervous laughter at the table decreased and then disappeared all together. The participant-speakers became more thoughtful and revelatory with regard to the story each chose to share. The participant-listeners became more engaged and respectful of the intimate knowledge of another’s story. We recognized at that moment how little we really know of the collaborative professionals with whom we work. In addition, there was the unspoken communication that arose from the handling of the yarn. One or two participants set the yarn on the table before them as they spoke but most continued to handle the yarn in unconscious ways either spooling and unspooling the ball, or twisting a thread of it, or tossing it lightly back and forth between hands as they spoke. Several people held the yarn and twisted it so, so tightly. Others gathered their thoughts by staring into the ball before they spoke. One woman continued to pull the yarn as she told her story so that she had a pile of yarn before her that had to be rewound before tossing to the next participant. How the yarn was handled spoke to the depth of the sharing. At the end we stood, still holding our...

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