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A Message from Charlotte Parsons

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Dear Ohio Mediators,

We are not always as neutral as we think we are. What’s your agenda?
As a professional mediator, does your agenda include the survival and growth of your profession?
It should.

As mediators we understand neutrality, and we are successful in maintaining a neutral stance when we work with the disputants who come to us for help. We are trained to check our biases at the door. After all, we are professional mediators. But there is a bias, or self-interest, if you will, that I believe all mediators should practice: survival and growth of our profession.

The Ohio Mediation Association is uniquely capable of providing a structure to meet the needs of professional mediators, but that structure must be built and fortified by members and leadership. Without a dedicated organization to provide Ohio professional mediators a venue to grow their skills and a voice to educate the public, there is a threat the perceived value of mediation could shrink and fade away.

I am asking any and all professional mediators two things—please join me in rethinking how the OMA can 1) better serve the profession, and you, and 2) better educate the public.

You may be a court employee mediator, a part-time mediator who is also an attorney, therapist, other professional, or semi-retired grandparent. Or you may be like me, a self-employed full-time mediator with a private practice supplemented with a patchwork of court contracts and roster listings. We all have one thing in common as professionals, though. Despite our practice types or styles, we share a drive to provide excellent mediation to parties who seek self-determined resolutions of their disputes. This can only happen if our profession survives and grows.

It may be easy enough to work hard, provide services to those who ask and pay, to feel that we are doing enough “good” for the world while earning a living for ourselves. Hopefully most of us are meeting our personal needs through our mediation practice. I admit, all that makes me happy, as-is!

But is that enough? Are we also seeing the bigger picture? Are we doing enough to safeguard the future of our profession?

From a longer view, I think OMA members could do more: for the public, for the profession, and even for ourselves.

For most of us, it took years of study, hard work, and generous mentors to gain competence, confidence and financial comfort as professional mediators. To better see that longer view, consider how many people, children, families, businesses you alone have helped through mediation. Now consider how many Ohioans have benefited from our collective professional work. Ohio mediators have helped countless people!

It is crucial that we keep our skills sharp and open to modern thinking so we may continue to help people. We are fortunate that professional education opportunities are plentiful in our state, region and country. But do you feel like you have enough chance to process and communicate challenges or new knowledge with your colleagues from across the state? Would you find value in hearing case studies, lessons learned, and the trials and tribulations of mediators in other counties? Maybe it’s just me, but I would love that. OMA could be the perfect venue for such professional growth if we build a structure to accommodate that, and other topics which members may request. Please share your ideas!

Other than disputants who have directly benefitted from mediation, does the average Ohio citizen really know what professional mediation is? Do people understand that mediation can be an option before or after filing in court? Do they know that mediation can be used for limitless disputes, or as dispute prevention, not just for small claims, divorce, or world politics? The OMA could do more to educate and reach out to the public. Disputes happen; that’s a fact. But people will not seek mediation if they do not understand its benefits. Let’s show them! Please share your ideas!

As professional mediators, we owe it to ourselves to elevate how we mediate to the highest professional standards.
As professional mediators, we owe it to society to educate the public about how we help resolve disputes.
As professional mediators, we can accomplish these goals and more if we work together— that is my agenda for 2020.
What’s your agenda?

Please share your ideas!
Charlotte Parsons
Ohio Mediator

Charlotte Parsons is an Appointed Board Member of the Ohio Mediation Association

Free Half-Day Training for OMA Members

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On October 18, 2019, the Ohio Mediation Association offered members a free half-day training in motivational interviewing.

James Portner, LISW-S LICDC-CS, presented an overview and ethical considerations of motivational interviewing. Motivational Interviewing (MI) is an evidence-based practice developed to increase people’s motivation to change through collaborative conversations in an environment of compassion and empathy. The primary objective of this training series is to teach individuals the technical and relational skills of MI within the framework of the latest 3rd edition of William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnicks’; Motivational Interviewing; Helping People Change.

Many parties cannot contemplate compromise solutions to their dispute. MI is a way to develop the parties’ motivations to change (likely in caucus).

Member Spotlight: Tony Castelli

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This Member Spotlight features Tony Castelli, an accident and injury attorney who mediates insurance cases for several courts as well as private mediations for many types of civil cases.

Tony began his career as a social worker in 1973 before going to law school while working full time. He graduated and passed the Ohio Bar in 1981 and began practicing at a law firm where he would later become a Partner. He began his private practice in 1998, representing plaintiffs who have suffered injuries.

Tony is Vice-Chair of the Cincinnati Bar Association Alternative Dispute Resolution Section and has attended a week-long training at Harvard’s Program on Negotiation.

Where do you practice mediation, and what kinds of cases do you mediate?

I mediate cases throughout Ohio but primarily in the Greater Cincinnati Area.

From you experience practicing mediation, why do you believe that the mediation process is an effective process for resolving disputes?

Mediation causes the insurance company take a look at the case and put a value to it before significant money is spent on litigation. People get to be heard and are aware they are heard. So tactical active listening and empathy are critical.

What is your general philosophy or approach to mediation?

I like to give my own opening statement, but not the parties. I use both caucuses and joint sessions. I think the mediator should act as a communication facilitator by asking questions and enforcing ground rules. I like mediating through understanding as taught at Harvard’s program on negotiation. as well as using FBI hostage negotiation techniques. Although I’ve used the word “I” in this summary, it is something I stay away from in mediations.

What characteristics do you have that come in handy during mediations?

I reality test, often called “the legal table.” I am personable and know how to listen without interrupting. I know how to reframe and summarize. I know how to show empathy.

What advice would you give to disputants looking for a mediator?

Ask other lawyers, use the internet. Look for subject matter expertise, though that is not critical with a good mediator.

What are your thoughts on the development of mediation as a profession, practice, or field of study?

I think mediators try to become amateur psychologists and make things too complicated. Others are poorly trained and just carry offers back and forth. I enjoy meeting people and using the techniques I’ve learned to help the parties fashion a solution that works for both/all off them. Many mediators do not even introduce all of the parties to each other because they start in caucus. Starting off with this degree of disconnect between the parties is demeaning and prevents deeper resolutions, and yet, this practice is rampant. Why? Because they are afraid they or their client will anger the other side (back when every lawyer was trying their case in opening).

Member Spotlight: Edward Krauss

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This month’s member spotlight is our past president and elder statesman of mediation, Ed Krauss.

Ed served on the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management before it was eliminated in statewide budget cuts in 2009.  He has been a diligent advocate for mediators in Ohio, and we appreciate his efforts.

More information about Ed is found on this website at https://www.mediateohio.org/members/krauss-edward/

Read below to learn more about Ed and his approach to mediation.

Where do you practice mediation, and what kinds of cases do you mediate?

I mediate anywhere within a four-hour drive of Columbus. I’ve mediated several cases in West Virginia and along the southern rim of Ohio. None yet in Detroit or Ann Arbor, but I’d be pleased to do so. Most of my practice is in or near Central Ohio.
Although I’ve done a wide range of mediations, including domestic (parenting agreements for married and never-married parents), my specialties are two:
Employment/personnel disputes. I have mediated approximately 240 cases for the United States Postal Service, plus numerous cases for government offices and the private sector.
Financial disputes. These have included property evaluations by the county, historical preservation, land use, economic development, taxes, contracts, repairs to vehicles and homes. The largest case was fifteen million dollars.

From your experience practicing mediation, why do you believe that the mediation process is an effective process for resolving disputes?

When parties to a dispute are in mediation they have the power to decide the outcome. Of course they share that power, and both have a veto, which requires the mediator to help them work as a team, even if reluctantly, to find a mutually-acceptable resolution. In a court proceeding the parties have no power, the court has it all. In addition, a case will often take more than a year to get a court date due to various legal processes before the day in court, and two years is not uncommon. With mediation the question is “What is your schedule in two weeks?”

What is your general philosophy or approach to mediation?

I am a facilitative mediator. I don’t say who might be right or wrong, don’t offer any comments that sound like legal or financial advice. Rather, I help the parties find their own solution(s) by asking appropriate questions and helping the parties in their search for an acceptable outcome. In the words of my first instructor, Shelley Whalen, I defend the process.

What characteristics do you have that come in handy during mediations?

I have over three thousand hours of at-the-table experience. This is beneficial because mediation is both a science and an art. The science is the basic structure of mediation, guiding people through the search for an outcome acceptable to all parties, a process of organized problem solving. I’ve learned this and polished that learning through hundreds of hours of classes, including the excellent training opportunities offered by the Ohio Mediation Association (OMA). As for the art, all those hours at the table has allowed me to have a good feel for what to ask when, how to respond to anger or stubbornness or frustration or all the other emotions and behaviors that may be present. I’ve worked with many attorneys and know and appreciate their roles in providing advice and counsel to their clients during a mediation.

What advice would you give to disputants looking for a mediator?

Look on the OMA web site and read what mediators say about their experience and areas of practice. Give them a call or email; mediators are glad to hear from people interested in this form of dispute resolution and will explain what they do, how they work, what the fees are.

What are your thoughts on the development of mediation as a profession, practice, or field of study?

The biggest hurdle the profession faces is that mediation is rarely a part of the shared knowledge about how to resolve disputes – it is not in the American lexicon to any significant extent. When people are caught up in a conflict mediation does not readily come to mind as a way to find a positive outcome. OMA works to spread the word, to expand the use of mediation in the general public, but it is a true challenge.

What advice would you give to new mediators?

[1] Never forget that it is not your problem. You are there to help the parties share ideas and discuss the possible mutually-acceptable resolutions that may arise. If you are the hardest working person in the room it isn’t mediation.
[2] Questions are your friends. If you aren’t sure about something, ask. “How did it impact your company when the check bounced? What was your understanding of when the work would be completed? Which parent will carry the health insurance for the children?” If you have a question in your head, ask it.
[3] Silence is your friend. Often after an hour or two a point is reached where the two sides are showing movement toward a settlement, but seem stuck. Caucus is a valuable tool at this point, but before a caucus try this: Clearly state where both sides are, what has been decided, what has yet to be resolved. Verbally hold it up for them to see. Then SIT THERE. Don’t make hard eye contact; fiddle with your notes, jot things down, let them think. The chance that one of them will make a new offer in thirty seconds or less is high. It doesn’t mean the case will settle for sure, but it is a breakthrough moment, a way of getting past stuck. In general, don’t rush things, give people time to think, to consider, to formulate their next proposal.

Member Spotlight: Leah Hadley

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Leah is a CDFA and an MAFF.  Her website is https://www.greatlakesdfs.com

The first installment of our blog’s member spotlight series features Leah Hadley.

Located in Cleveland (but available by Zoom video conference), Leah works on domestic relations cases and specializes in financial analysis.

Financial issues in divorces are difficult, and and it is easier to negotiate knowing that the other side is fully disclosing assets.  Also, financial expertise helps each side understand the long-term consequences of particular divisions of assets and debts.

Leah was good enough to answer our questions:

Where do you practice mediation, and what kinds of cases do you mediate?

I practice in the Cleveland-area as well as virtually via Zoom video conferencing. My main office is in Middleburg Hts and I use office space in Beachwood and Westlake.

I primarily mediate domestic relations cases. With CDFA (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst) and MAFF (Master Analyst in Financial Forensics) designations, the majority of my cases have some level of financial complexity.

From your experience practicing mediation, why do you believe that the mediation process is an effective process for resolving disputes?

Mediation gives everyone a voice in the negotiation process, allowing parties to come up with their own solution that will work best for them. It also gives them much greater control over the outcome than if they use the court to determine their settlement.

What is your general philosophy or approach to mediation?

I begin each mediation by creating a clear framework for us to work within, laying out the process as well as ground rules. I work with the parties to identify the topics that need to be discussed and teach them communication strategies to make the most of their mediation sessions. I utilize my financial background by demonstrating the impact of proposals that are under consideration with the help of financial modeling software. I find the use of charts and graphs to be particularly helpful for those parties with limited financial knowledge, providing a visual illustration of various outcomes.

What characteristics do you have that come in handy during mediations?

One of the most important characteristics of a good mediator is that they are a good listener. Active listening has always come naturally to me and I model it for my clients. It is so important for everyone involved in a mediation to feel heard

My background is in financial analysis so many of the mediations that I facilitate involve some level of financial complexity. Having a strong financial background helps me know what questions to ask to help parties consider a variety of solutions.

What advice would you give to disputants looking for a mediator?

Look for an experienced mediator who has demonstrated a commitment to the practice of mediation. Ask them about their experience mediating cases like yours. Most importantly, find someone who you feel comfortable with, someone who you think will help you to stay calm and clear-headed as you negotiate your settlement.

What advice would you give to new mediators?

I would recommend that new mediators connect with more experienced mediators in either a practice group or informally. When I have a tough case, I find tremendous value in being able to discuss how to approach certain issues with my colleagues.

Reflections on the 2019 Annual Conference

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For our 2019 Annual Conference, we were fortunate to have clinical psychologist Dr. Joseph Shannon speak to us. His talk was a mixture of up-to-date research on the science of personality disorders, anecdotes involving personality disordered people, and tips on how to address people with different types of personality disorders.

The first lesson I took away from Dr. Shannon’s talk was on how to guide disputants in coming to terms with the other party’s inflexibility. A personality disorder is defined as an enduring pattern of behavior that causes emotional distress unrelated to substance abuse or other diagnosable mental health issue. When counseling people who are in a professional, family, or romantic relationship with someone causing them distress, Dr. Shannon asks them whether this behavior occurs with other people and contexts. If it does, he attempts to redirect them away from attempting to change that person (research indicates that personality disorders require years of therapy and some are impossible to change).

The next lesson was to be direct, respectful, and assertive with people who have dramatic, anxious, or antisocial personality disorders. However, this does not apply to malignant narcissists (people who have lost compassionate parts of their brain). To address a narcissist, be honest with them, point out their strengths, and appeal to their selfish self-interest to convince them that adopting pro-social behaviors will benefit them.

Dr. Shannon also provided us with a general framework for reasoning with unreasonable people and a variety of tips for deescalating conflict.

The pathway for reasoning with unreasonable people included:

  1. Lead with empathy and respect to make the person feel validated and heard;
  2. Set boundaries and be consistent;
  3. Identify a strength and genuinely complement it;
  4. Tie that identified strength to your process (show them how pursuing their best selves will lead to a resolution of their dispute).

Tips for deescalation included:

  1. Keep yourself calm and relaxed;
  2. Help them take a deep breath with a slow exhale (the slow exhale brings blood to the brain to improve thinking);
  3. Face the person with consistent eye contact;
  4. Speak in a soft, slow, and measured tone (this will calm them and calm you);
  5. Ask open-ended questions;
  6. Ask them to count from 1 to 10 slowly (note: this is the most effective evidence-based practice for calming someone down).

Membership Meeting Brainstorm

For our membership meeting this year, we held a structured brainstorming session in which we identified topics for OMA to address and then had groups brainstorm ideas under each topic. The topic areas were publicity, professional development, community mediation, events, and miscellaneous.

The publicity team suggested cross-pollination with other professional organizations, giving talks to other groups about mediation, and OMA “ambassadors.”

The professional development team suggested a practitioner’s bootcamp, mentoring program, and co-mediation referral system.

The community mediation team discussed trainings that we could offer in the community, community liaison roles for different regions, and referral sources.

The events team suggested that we co-sponsor a training with MANO, train attorneys on how to prep clients for mediation,

And the miscellaneous team suggested that we develop tech tools for mediators, share training resources, develop an app, and connect the pubic to mediators.

These ideas therefore pointed to an regional OMA ambassador role (connecting the public to mediators, speaking to local organizations) and a referral network (connecting mediators with other mediators).  If you are interested in implementing either of these ideas, start a conversation in the comment section below or email omapresident@gmail.com.

Better World Award

Finally, this year our Better World Award went to Shirley Cochran. Shirley is an OMA past-president and an early advocate of mediation who has consistently given her time and effort to helping mediators in Ohio. She was instrumental in implementing a program that convinced judges of the usefulness of mediation, and she is known widely for mentoring and defending mediators without compensation. Because of the good turnout at this year’s conference, we had all subsequent OMA presidents to recognize Shirley’s remarkable set of achievements.

Questions for Mediators When Children Resist Contact with a Parent

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Mediations which include custody and parenting time can be very complex, especially when the family dynamics are complicated. Effective mediation requires close attention to the roles each party demonstrates in the session as well as any observable power dynamics. Mediators can ask questions that help identify and disrupt any negative dynamic during the mediation sessions. Asking the right questions is especially important when a high-conflict family is experiencing a child or children resisting contact with one of the parents.

In this article, we will look at two decision points a mediator can consider to determine if and how mediation of parenting time is an appropriate support for the family when a child is resisting or refusing to spend time with a parent. Additionally, we can consider ways mediation can best support the family. Consider these two decision points for giving a “green light” for mediation:

Are both parents willing to do all they can to support a relationship with both parents? Can the mediator discern that the parents are both sincerely committed to seeking resources and taking steps for the child(ren) to have as high-quality of a relationship with both parents as possible?

AND / OR

Do the parents agree to seek a mediated parenting plan which gives one parent significantly more time and more decision-making for the child(ren)?

Absent a “yes” to one or both of these questions, parenting time mediation is not an appropriate service for a family experiencing contact problems. When the parents are in conflict and do not agree that it is in the children’s best interest for the children to spend quality time and nurture a good relationship with both parents, other more appropriate services include education, counseling, coaching, co-parent coaching and/or parenting coordination. Mediators, even if they are qualified by training or experience, cannot advise a family how to address the refusal or resistance dynamic; specialized professionals are needed to teach or coach the parties to a new understanding, dynamic or commitment to sincerely support the child’s relationship with both parents.

One family in which I have an on-going role as the mediator, includes 3 children, all of whom state they “hate” their father and want to live with their mother full-time. The “Stone” parents report the children are adamant about moving to another state with their mother and are refusing all contact with their father, except for occasional shopping trips for sports equipment or back-to-school clothing. The mother insists the father is irresponsible and mean-spirited, withholding needed financial support. Mother states Father has all the power since he has an income and she is unemployed. Father insists he is losing “everything” since he pays child support and does not get to spend quality time with the children. I met with these parents in a joint session to mediate a new long-distance parenting plan. They agreed on #2, above, that Father will have significantly less time and impact on the children. Father does not want to pursue a legal route to attempt to remedy the situation; he wishes to mediate a plan that includes family counseling and gives him the right to exercise limited parenting time in the future, should the alignment between the children and mother shift, and allow the children to be free from the adult conflict.

As in all my initial mediation sessions with families experiencing contact resistance or refusal, I ask parents to come up with 6-8 statements of what they would like to create in order to support the best interests of their child(ren), and write these statements as the “vision” of success for the family. This is the first important step in uncovering and transforming parental dysfunction. Many parents openly report they want their child(ren) to freely love and enjoy both parents, have more ease in their co-parent communications, or create a schedule that maximizes the parenting time for each parent. In the case of the “Stone” family, the shared vision includes having children benefit from the resources of both parents and become independent thinkers as they grow through their teenage years.

It is a serious error for mediators to advise clients on what is best for them or their children, just like we cannot give legal advice. However, it is imperative mediators also not err by omitting relevant discussion addressing important factors in the family. When the children are resisting or refusing contact, important questions catalyze meaningful and significant conversation. In the case of the Stone family, I asked:

Have you had a professional assessment to determine if additional resources are needed to support the family?

How does Mother’s experience of Father affect the children’s opinions of Father?

What options can you consider to address the resistance and refusal dynamic in your family?

What specific goals do you have relating to the child’s relationship with each parent?

What special needs do the children have that may need to be addressed?

What are the expectations for communication between the child(ren) and each parent?

What, how and when will the parents communicate with each other on an on-going basis?

How can you provide an environment to keep the children out of the adult conflict?

One of the biggest mistakes parents make in complex custody and parenting time mediations is minimizing the impact of disrupted parent-child relationships. A lack of parenting time can deprive the child of important resources and interfere with normal development. Parenting time is a significant adult decision, not to be minimized by disgruntled “ex’s” or wished away by children speaking on behalf of a preferred parent. Mediators serve the family best when they invite discussion that supports both parents and invites them both to participate as fully and as safely as possible in the lives of their children.

The mother in the Stone family has tried to speak for the children as a way of supporting her alignment with them. As the mediator, I continuously remind the mother I am not aligning with her narrative or analysis of why the contact problems persist. I am focused only on facilitating authentic agreements and referring out the complex issues of loyalty binds or poor parenting to their professionals. With the Stone parents, I am focused on bringing the parents to a place of agreement on parenting time should the father choose to exercise his right to have specific time with the children at some point in the future.

As in the case of the Stone Family, mediations for families where a child is resisting or refusing contact require careful attention to the complexity of the family dynamic and awareness of the positive impact a mediator’s questions can have on the family.

For more information on helpful ways families and professionals can address contact problems, attend the Workshop for Resisted Parents and Professionals Who Work With Themon September 15, 2018 in Delaware, Ohio. More information on this training may be found here.

Amy Armstrong, PCI Certified Parent Coach®, Mediator, Parenting Coordinatorat The Center for Family Resolution www.thecenterforfamilyresolution.com