Just be reasonable


When a person is very angry, the part of their brain associated with being reasonable and articulating reasonable thoughts more or less shuts down. Closed for business. Sign on the door — go away, can’t do this right now.

Yet in the midst of an argument, we still think to ourselves (or even say out loud), “Just be reasonable, can’t you?” Or maybe they say it to us. In a mediation, we may still want to say to a client, “Why can’t you be reasonable?” Or, more judgmentally, as one frustrated mediator put it to me recently, “Why can’t they just put their big boy pants on?”

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The fine line


“What’s Dad doing?” said my sister, a note of concern in her voice.

The other three of us turned to see our father making his way through the back yard. He was heading to the corner of the garden that served as our little pet cemetery. He had a shovel over his shoulder.

And in his hand was the container holding our mother’s ashes.

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How to be a problem-solving superhero without fixing it yourself


Years ago, a student came to my office with a problem. I was a dean at the time and I had many appointments like this in an average day.

Sometimes they were problems with a professor, sometimes they were problems with a parent, sometimes with a boss at an off-campus job. Not uncommonly they were problems with a roommate, a friend, or someone in campus administration. Most of these problems involved conflict.

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The primal roots of blame, defensiveness, and reactivity

cave painting

Handling blame, defensiveness, and high reactivity during conflict can challenge both the informal mediators and professional conflict resolvers among us. I’ve found that the “primal lens” for considering possible roots of these behaviors to be really helpful and want to share it with you.

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The simple, everyday habit that will make you better at conflict resolution

a meerkat being interested

Certainty and disinterest are conflict’s allies. Conflict resolution has allies, too. Among them are curiosity and genuine interest in the other person’s view of the world.

It’s very difficult to make yourself curious in the midst of stress and difficulty if you do not also have this habit when you are relaxed. If you want to get better at conflict resolution, sometimes it’s what you practice outside of conflict that matters.

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Conflict resolution activities: Pinhole vision exercise

pinhole view

Make a fist with a 1-inch hole in the center, as though you’ve wrapped your fingers around a broomstick. Go ahead, do it right now. No one’s looking.

Now hold your slightly opened fist up to one eye like you’re Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. Look through the 1-inch hole. How much of your surroundings do you see?

If you were to do this while looking at someone across the table from you, how much of them would you see? If someone is near you, try it right now.

Now growl Arrr! like a pirate.

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Practice-building course for mediators and coaches

THRIVE: Turn your passion for ADR into demand for your services

I’ve just re-opened my practice building course for mediators and coaches for the first time in over five years. Come take a look at how you can find and get in front of more (and the right!) clients, communicate your unique value most effectively, and connect with your market online and off.

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Leaving room for the door to open


Our doorbell rang. Again. It had been ringing a lot in the past few weeks, as the political races wound down to election day.

Here in New Hampshire, home of the first presidential primary every four years, we like to say that “politics is up close and personal.” Every serious candidate comes to our town. We get to see them in person, even shake hands and ask a question. We discuss what we think of the latest visitor with the bartender at the pub and with the woman standing ahead of us in the grocery line.

And the political canvassers are everywhere, including on our doorstep.

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