Elder Issues: Family Meetings and Mediation

family

Previously, I discussed how mediators help families settle disputes concerning estates or trusts and end of life issues. This article focuses on how mediation can help keep families from going through expensive and often destructive litigation. Family meetings can be a useful tool for finding common ground when there are disputes over care of elders, and other end of life issues. In August 2016, the book Mediation for Estate Planners: Managing Family Conflict was released by the American Bar Association. I wrote the chapter “A Mediator’s Perspective: Situations Mediators May Face”. This blog series features some of the salient points in this book.

Difficult Issues Families Face as Population Ages

According to a Gallup survey in 2016, only 44 percent of all American adults have a legal will or other estate planning documents.  While these documents don’t guarantee that there will be no family conflicts, they serve as a foundation for carrying out the wishes and preferences of your loved ones. For instance, a spouse with an ill partner may disagree with his or her adult children about the best decision to make on behalf of their beloved mate concerning life support. Bioethics mediation is a specific subfield of mediation in which a mediator will assist in resolving disputes between family members during end of life care decisions. A common situation which arises in these cases is that one person is not ready to let their loved one move on and make the decision that would allow them to pass in a peaceful manner, whereas the person holding the power of attorney is attempting to fulfill the wishes of their loved one. It’s difficult for both family members. A mediator can help them have this difficult conversation.

[Read more…]

Mindfulness and Mediation

thoughts; head; mind; minfulness; mediation

The term “mindfulness” has become a buzzword in the business world. Multiple studies and articles have been published which examine mindfulness, how to practice it, and what the benefits are. Mindfulness is that moment-by-moment awareness of your surroundings, thoughts, and feelings, or a sense of presence and acceptance.

Mindfulness is often referred to as the practice of being present: living in the moment without projecting yourself constantly into the future, the past, or elsewhere. In the digital age, we are encouraged to respond constantly to stimuli that remove us from our immediate surroundings.

[Read more…]

Thumb Wars, Part 2: Messaging is Terrible for Arguments

text messaging; online messaging; arguments

Texting, online messaging, and other similar forms of communication have grown exponentially in recent years. While messaging apps and text messages may bring some people closer together and lead to more frequent communication, they are devoid of communication clues, such as verbal inflections, body language and tone of voice, that help give context to our statements. This kind of communication is one-dimensional and rigid. Misunderstandings and miscommunication are far more likely to occur than in face-to-face or phone conversations. This article discusses the growth of conflict with the rise in messaging as a major form of communication.

Text Message Explosion

In a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, 72% of American adults owned smartphones. Of those surveyed in the study, 42% of smartphone users utilized a general messaging app to send or receive messages. In April of 2017, Facebook’s Messenger app surpassed 1.2 billion monthly users worldwide. That is a phenomenal amount of typed or texted messages whirling around cyberspace. In addition, according to The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, text message users send and receive 41.5 messages per day on average, with 18- to 24-year-olds at a much higher average of 109.5 messages per day – that’s 3,200 texts per month! Roughly 31% of participants in Pew’s survey prefer to communicate via text rather than to be called on the phone. This medium has become a staple of everyday communication, and it is only natural that conflict and disagreements would creep into the texting world.

[Read more…]

The Trouble with Bubbles

This month I’m delighted to feature a guest article from my longtime colleague, Carolyn Parr. Carolyn has graciously agreed to let us post her newsletter article here. To learn more about Carolyn, click here.


These days we hear a lot about people living in ‘bubbles.’ In mediation I often encounter parties whose positions are encased in a bubble, reinforced by an interior monologue that strengthens their conviction that they are right and the opposing party is wrong. In time it’s possible to pierce these bubbles and engage in conversations about mutual concerns and interests they share with the other party.

In politics, bubbles have taken a more sinister significance. Living just 12 blocks from the U.S. Capitol, I’m sure many think I not only live in a bubble, but in ‘The Swamp’ as well.

[Read more…]

End of Life Issues: How Mediators Help Families Settle Disputes

A brother sued his sister over the accounting of assets when the sister held the power of attorney for their mother as her health was failing. After a four-hour mediation, the case was settled and the siblings were on speaking terms again. Sound familiar?  Similar situation in your family?  Mediation is more frequently being used for disputes about estates, trusts, and other end-of-life issues. This article is the first in a series that will focus on how mediation can help keep families from going through an expensive and challenging litigation process for such emotionally charged issues.  We will also review situations where litigation may be the best alternative. In August 2016, the book Mediation for Estate Planners: Managing Family Conflict was released by the American Bar Association. I wrote the chapter “A Mediator’s Perspective: Situations Mediators May Face”. This blog series will feature some of the salient points in this book.

Why Do Estates Become Contested?

Estate and trust disputes are as varied as the families who are involved in them. These situations are extremely emotionally charged, as the dispute may involve disinherited children, sibling rivalries, contentious relationships, or blended families with second or third marriages. Another situation that is becoming increasingly common and often the cause of disputes is when an adult child or other family member becomes the caregiver for a parent and takes over responsibility for the parent’s finances.

[Read more…]

Destructive Conflict Patterns

Destructive conflict

According to Ruth Abigail and Dudley Cahn in Managing Conflict Through Communication (MA Pearson Education, 2011), a process view of conflict sees the conflict as a dynamic and changeable and moving through various stages. Dysfunctional conflict is generally not successfully resolved. In destructive conflict, people get stuck in one phase, while successfully resolved conflict moves through the five distinct steps or phases. Sometimes conflicts become scripted behavior and people get trapped into responding in their habitual way to a particular set of circumstances or individuals.

Two Primary Destructive Conflict Cycles

Confrontation Avoidance Cycle. This cycle occurs with people whose first impulse is to avoid initiating conflict. They think of conflict as bad, get nervous about the conflict experience, and avoid it as long as possible. When the conflict gets out of control, that individual handles it poorly. In this cycle, there is a prelude and a triggering event but the conflict doesn’t proceed to initiation. An example of a prelude is a past history of poorly managed conflict. A triggering event may occur when one person forgets an appointment or says something hurtful.

[Read more…]

Your Brain on Conflict

the brain; credit: A Health Blog, from Flickr, labeled for reuse

NEWSLETTER EDITION: FEBRUARY 2017

This month I’m delighted to feature a guest article by my colleague and friend Gloria K. Vanderhorst, Ph.D.  I asked Gloria to write a piece about what happens in our brains when we experience conflict.

Your Brain on Conflict

You are heading for a mediation session about a workplace issue and you know it will be tense. Your heart is racing a bit and you take some deep breaths to calm your nerves and prepare to stay in control. The outcome of this mediation is important to you and you do not want to lose control.  Then you walk into the conference room and see your nemesis. Somewhere inside a switch is flipped and your fury is about to burst into the room.[1]

[Read more…]

Workplace & Intergenerational Communication

Labor Force Composition by Generation

Communication between people has always been fraught with conflicts as individuals have their own unique way of communicating and interpreting the messages of others. Combine this with the tremendous generational diversity in today’s workplace and managers have a potential cauldron of trouble on their hands. This article will address some of the communication challenges which result from today’s multi-generational work force and how mediation can be used to address these challenges.

Today’s workforce

In a Forbes article, we find that a third of the working adults in career jobs today, consist of Millennials. Moreover, due to higher costs of living, many Baby Boomers work until much later ages. With such a wide spectrum of ages, managers are faced with the wide spectrum of communication methods and styles. The generation gap can produce much conflict as co-workers and managers grapple with the various challenges. When employees and managers don’t get along with each other and communication goes astray, it is vital that businesses have conflict resolution skills in their tool kit.

[Read more…]

How Stress Affects Conflict Resolution

Stress levels among adults in the United States have risen overall since 2015. According to TIME Magazine, 24 percent of adults reported feeling “extreme stress” in a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association. Money, work, family responsibilities, the economy, and health concerns are the top five most common stressors. With so many adults experiencing such high levels of stress, what does that mean for conflict and mediation? I’ve written previously about instigators of holiday stress as well as misplaced, displaced, and overblown conflicts resulting from stress. Let’s look further at how stress impacts conflict and its resolution.

The Different Types of Stress

There are actually multiple different types of stress, and each type has its unique challenges and impacts on our behavior. Hyperstress is too much stress, such as too many competing deadlines or tasks, while hypostress is too little, such as when you’re not being challenged or stimulated enough at work or school. Boredom and malaise are often the results of hypostress. What we might think of as “normal” stress, then, is our brain responding to demands, and only falls under the categories of hyperstress or hypostress when there are too many or too few demands placed on us. When a person is hyper- or hypostressed, they may become aggressive or angry, irritable, unable to focus, or depressed. None of these reactions or behaviors is conducive to resolving a conflict and is only likely to inflame it.

[Read more…]

Conquering Conflict During the Holidays

The holidays are approaching, and many of us encounter some level of anxiety during these two months. Family conflicts occur because typically your family knows which buttons to push and which topics to broach to cause an argument. Nearly every family has at least one person who likes to stir the pot in this way. According to Chris Logan, a senior lecturer in psychology at Southern Methodist University, we all have a tendency to focus on small differences between ourselves and family members as well as focus on past hurts or negative memories. This makes the holidays difficult, as unconsciously focusing on past hurts or differences between us may lead to passive-aggressive behavior, annoyance, or a sense of dissatisfaction. In this post, we’ll explore some strategies for dealing with family conflicts this holiday season.

[Read more…]