Dealing with Others is Dealing with Ourselves Dealing with Others

Remember: dealing with others isn’t just dealing with others.  We think of it that way, but that’s a mistake.  Dealing with others is dealing with ourselves dealing with others.  There are no others apart from us, and there is no us apart from them.  Our problems with others are our problems with ourselves and vice versa.  Recognizing this is the first principle.  Practicing the discipline of relationship is exactly training ourselves to understand and act in relation to others in ways we are not used to acting….   Gradually we learn that when we are different others are different too, because, without our understanding that we have been doing this, we have been co-creating with others the conflicts and interpersonal hassles of our lives.

By Norman Fischer

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Blaming is Useless by Norman Fischer

Blaming is useless. It is a smokescreen, a blind, a weight that drags you down and doesn’t get you anywhere. It is important to notice this as soon as you are frustrated and start blaming. Catch yourself. (This takes practice—you have to be quick.) Then focus instead on observing the actual feeling of frustration.

What does frustration feel like? Does your breathing tighten? Do your shoulders tense up, or does your face get red and hot? Do you clench your teeth? Your fists? What thoughts fly into your mind? Are there memories that come up? Visual images? What is frustration really like?

Oddly, if you accept frustration as frustration and study it without trying to relieve it by blaming or becoming angry, it will not overcome you. Instead, it will dissipate fairly quickly, or at least more quickly. You will simply digest it naturally.

Every human being already has a degree of persistence: we need some persistence just to stay alive, to hold down a job, to keep a human relationship functioning. All of us show up for our lives to some extent. We are all more patient and forbearing than we know, and we should recognize this and congratulate ourselves for it. We don’t need to create the quality of persistence out of nothing. Rather, we need to expand and strengthen the persistence that is already there. Cultivating persistence takes persistence.

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No One Likes a Bully…They Bring Out the Worst In All of Us

By Catherine Conner and Katherine Miller

I remember distinctly one of the most intense encounters with a bully in my professional life.  I was representing a mother who desperately hoped to settle to save their children from the father’s hostility and placing the children in the middle of their conflict.  He was representing himself as he was quite certain that he knew the only feasible outcome and was outraged in a meeting when I pointed out that his proposal was much more favorable to him and much riskier for my client.  He stood up and started pacing while speaking louder and more vociferously about why he was right and the terrible things that would happen to my client if she didn’t agree with him.  I could feel my protective instinct building and my blood starting to boil.  I stood up, walked up very close to him, and told him something along the lines of “sit down and stop being a jerk” but in more colorful language.  He did sit down and toned down his bullying in the moment, but continued to try coercing my client outside of my meetings with her.   Since that incident, I have spent a lot of time thinking and trying out more effective ways of dealing with bullies.

Check Your Own Reaction

The first step is to check on your own reaction to their behavior.  Are you now caught up in a familiar pattern when faced with bullying behavior?  Perhaps you react as I did by meeting them with a competitive and coercive attitude and actions.  Or do you become contemptuous and try to crush them with your intellectual prowess?  Or perhaps you move into a victim role and attempt to pacify them?  Or just withdraw and refuse to engage?  If you can recognize your favored fight-flight-freeze-fawn reaction immediately, you can make a choice to act differently rather than be controlled by it and remain stuck in a conflict trap.

  • Empathize
  • Acknowledge
  • Imagine

It’s hard to imagine that working on managing our own reactions can have an impact on the bully.


The next step is to take time to reflect on why the person is being a bully.  When there are other ways to deal with conflict, why is this person choosing the bully path?  What happened previously in his or her life or is happening now which has convinced him or her that this is the best approach?  Is there something you can empathize with that will help you move out of your conflict trap?

It may be that you already know enough about the situation to make an educated guess about what is driving him or her.  But it may be that you need to learn more by asking questions.  The tricky part is to be able to ask them with genuine curiosity and interest rather than as an opportunity for more judgment.  By putting yourself in his or her shoes and asking curious questions, you may learn enough to feel and express empathy for him or her and their situation.  “I can see that as the person who has handled the finances for many years, you have given a lot of thought to how this situation might work out.  And that there are a lot of pieces here that could affect the future financial health of the family and you are worried about that.  And it is very frustrating when your wife isn’t agreeing with you as she has always done in the past.”  Sometimes verbalizing and acknowledging that you see them in a positive way can make a difference.


When faced with conflict, some people may feel guilt or blame and respond with aggression to deflect some of the guilt or blame to the other rather than feel the entire burden themselves.  It may be that you or your client has contributed to the difficult situation, but that contribution has not been acknowledged so the other person doubles down in trying to share the blame or guilt.  If you can acknowledge each person’s contribution which has led all of you to the current conflict as a joint problem, you can then search for the intent and motivation to each contribute to finding a path together out of the conflict.

Dealing with a bully can be challenging.  Sometimes despite our best efforts and attention, the pattern is too entrenched and other measures such as obtaining court orders are necessary.  However, there are times when taking the time to pay attention to the conflict trap, empathizing and acknowledging each person’s contribution will shift the dynamic.

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Divorce and Animal Custody by Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton, Esq.

d-vodahamilton-bio-picHow can you, as a conflict professional, nip conflict in the bud-before it comes back and nips you and your client in the butt when handling divorces involving animals and animal custody?   Courts do not adequately address the feelings and emotions surrounding an animal that has played a central role in a married couple’s life.  This is especially true when that animal is their child.

When your clients come to you and ask about sole or shared custody of their animal how do you answer their query?  They are likely contemplating that a conflict will arise in the divorce discussion over who gets the animal.  You can’t cut the pet in half.  Courts rarely want to get involved with custody issues surrounding pets.  The law cannot respond to the feelings we have for and receive from our animal that creates the basis for a conflict needing resolution.  As a practitioner, sit down with your client in a collaborative process or clients in a mediation and spend time listening to them about how they see the pet in their life before, now and in the future.  What is it they want/need from the continuation of their relationship with the pet?

Here is an example of what a recent litigation attorney told their client in divorce about their present and future life with Roscoe the dog.  The attorney said that since their client paid at least 50% of the dog’s expenses they deserved to spend 50% of their time with the dog. They encouraged their client to fight for 50% of the time.  Their client spent a great deal of time and money in litigation.    Interestingly, the couple asked to be referred to a mediator before the judge decided who gained full possession of the dog.  Each attorney wished the mediator good luck because these clients were entrenched and immovable on 50% of the time with their dog.

After about four hours of discussion in mediation about how each party viewed the dog in their life, the parties began, independently, to reality test what 50% of the time with the dog would really look like.  All the while the mediator simply listened and supported the speaker, their view of the facts and their love of the dog.  In reflecting back what each of the clients were saying, the mediator had the opportunity to facilitate listening for understanding on both sides of the stories they had in their heads.  It became clear to everyone in the mediation that there was a solution right in front of them, they simply needed to find their way to it on their own.

What were not explored in litigation were the individual parties’ stories involving the dog in their life.  One of the parties was a schoolteacher and really only wanted the dog during vacations.  The other party stayed at home and worked from the home.  They loved having the dog around all day but also really wanted to travel.  By the end of the mediation, they realized that, in fact, if one of the parties took the dog during school and summer vacations, the other person could care for the dog during school and travel too, without having to pay for kenneling fees.  It worked out perfectly.  Mediation allowed them to do something no one had ever done with them before; explore what it was they wanted their relationship to be with this animal.

In mediation and collaborative practice, we can create the opportunity for couples to have that discussion about what their future with the dog looks like.  It works with cats, birds and horses too!  If you step away and don’t add the conflict over an animal to the litigation, you can solve for the best outcome for all, especially the animal.

Unfortunately your pet does not hate your ex. Maintaining an open line of communication truly puts the best interests of your pet into the equation.  Be brave, engage in proactive animal conflict resolution.  Here is a wish for everyone going through a divorce with a pet: that you have the ability to recognize what it is you want in your relationship with the animal first, discuss what that is second, and then finding a resolution where both of parties can enjoy the life and love of their four-legged animal comes naturally.

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To be human is to tell your tale and listen to someone else’s.  But it would make a difference to know that stories are stories.  They are real, but not in the way we think they are when we take them too earnestly and allow them to mesmerize us.  Stories are true as stories but not true as life.  They require interpretation and reflection if we are to draw lessons from them.  Stories teach us through their shapes, sounds, structures, and suggestions, their between-the-lines content that speaks to us through our souls rather than our minds or even our hearts.

To know that my story is not exactly mine, but is rather a wave rising up within the sea of stories, is to appreciate my story and everyone else’s in a new, wider, and more significant way.  Maybe by looking at stories this way we can see them as large and mysterious.  Then perhaps we won’t need to cling any longer to one particular version of our story as the only true story, the story of victimization or trivialization or despair or boredom;  instead we might began to see our many stories as stories of humanness, of being-aliveness, not just our own small possessions.  And then, perhaps, we can be inspired by our own stories, and begin to make use of them in a new way.

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A Story of Yearning… by Katherine Miller

I posted an ad for an associate on a local law-related listserv. The ad goes on to require a number of very specific and unusual application procedures.

Here’s what it says in part:

We are a growing law firm providing non-litigation resolution of family law matters where possible. Our mission is to change how people divorce particularly focusing on developing good parenting plans so that children can still have two good parents following divorce. 

 We work hard to provide value to clients above and beyond providing exemplary legal and mediation services. We need an attorney to provide litigation services where mediation isn’t possible immediately and grow into mediation and Collaborative Law.  The ideal candidate will be a great, compassionate attorney with family law experience, willing to learn mediation and collaboration skills.

The ad was real but this writing isn’t about a search for employment…it’s a story of yearning.

I received a number of responses from lawyers complimenting me on the ad.  I also received the following from one person:

Katherine: Your post moved me. It is the single most inspiring and creative description of what we as lawyers set out to do. I only wish I wasn’t so far – in xxxxxxx, or I’d be there in a heartbeat, because I so wholeheartedly believe in your and your firm’s philosophy. I read through your firm’s website, and found it humbling, while inspiring and moving at the same time.

 After 27 years in this business, it’s often so disheartening (particularly in matrimonials, as well as other litigation): people tend to lose focus and forget the ideals that propelled them into this work in the first place.

 I want to thank you- it did me good to hear from you and your partners, and realize that there still are really good, smart, and dedicated people still in this profession. It recharged/renewed me and actually might keep me going a little bit longer!

 Another person wrote:

Great ad, i almost want to work for you and I don’t do family law.

It seems that the way the ad describes the work that we do, strikes a chord for some lawyers and reminds them of the ideals that led them to go into the law in the first place.  The work we do using the Understanding Based Model allows us to make a real difference in the lives of our clients and touch them as human beings not just paying clients.  Whatever area we practice in, lawyers, as people, crave connection with ourselves, each other and with clients.  We often get lost in the doing of what we are told we are supposed to do, in the structure of the practice and we lose our humanity.  Worse, we are taught that it is weak to be compassionate.

The Understanding Based Model assumes the opposite is true; that there is opportunity in understanding.  Strength in compassion.  Truth in connection.  We all feel the power of these ideas but we are taught to be afraid.  A door was unlocked for me when I attended my first training in this way of working many years ago.  Unlocking that door, pushing it open and seeing the possibility and power that lies in working through conflict together—honoring ourselves and each other—has completely changed the way I live my life not only the way I  practice law and have built my business.  I am incredibly grateful to have found a way to love what I do and to learn and grow as a person through my work as a lawyer.



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Don’t Be One Sided by Norman Fischer

Don’t be One Sided.  This one is very important in human relations, and it runs exactly counter to the usual way we approach things.  Usually we are exactly one sided: there’s our side and the other person’s side, and it’s our side that is important, correct, or right, so much so that we may not even notice that there is another side.  But there’s always another side.  This may be so, but that also may be so.  This may be so today, but tomorrow it may not be so.  If there’s a side there’s always another side.

Don’t be One Sided has another sense too – don’t favor people you like over people you don’t like.  Try not to be one sided in that way.  This seems impossible and inadvisable.  Are we really supposed to regard our close friends, our spouse and our children the same way we regard an acquaintance or an enemy?   Realistically, no.  But that’s not the point.  The point is to notice how much in almost all our encounters we are subtly prejudiced by our one-sidedness, constantly upholding ourselves and those we like and running down (in however small a way) those we don’t like.  These prejudices, which we take for granted and affirm, actually cause us more trouble than we realize.  They create a subtle climate of preference, for and against, that gives rise to  more of our interpersonal rough spots than we realize.  So even though we may not be able to feel an equal feeling toward all, this slogan puts us on notice that we better take our one sidedness into account and do what we can to de-emphasize it.

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