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Stepping Into Blended Families – Very Carefully

Much of what I do as a mediator involves disputes between companies, employee disputes, intra and inter-organizational disputes, and disputes between individuals. I have mediated disputes between individuals and companies often vendors they did business with. When it comes to divorce mediation, I turn down most of those requests such that this type of mediation is less than 15% of my work.

It therefore something of a surprise that I was approached last year to mediate a dispute involving a blended family, and from that experience I have since been approached to assist in several other disputes, all of which involve disputes within a blended family environment.

Unlike divorce mediation where the mediator is tasked with assisting couples bring to closure a relationship which was destroyed and deal with the aftermath and its impact on children, the dynamics of blended families is underpinned by hope. Here are people trying to build a new family structure for themselves and the children they now share with their former partners. The families I have assisted want very much for their new family structure to work, for their children to be happy and to feel safe in the new environment.

I think what I enjoy best about this new aspect of my practice is how willing the parents are to do everything they can to make things work for the children. I do not diminish the obstacles the parents face in a blended family and I have made it clear to the parents that solving the more immediate issues is not the end of their journey. The children especially need a way of voicing their concerns and fears, and they need to do that with the support of a trained professional. But what is really rewarding is the pleasure and sense of accomplishment the new parents gain by climbing out from under the anger, frustration, and uncertainty about doing the wrong thing. The biggest thing they have to learn is that the best solutions begin with small steps. The children cannot be expected to immediately love the new mother or the new father, but it is a major step forward if the children like being around the new parent.

I have treaded very carefully in this new environment, and so far the feedback has been positive.


Beware the Ides of March

The Danger of Making Assumptions

In business, as in life, we all make assumptions about people and events, and we do this because we believe the assumptions to be true. We take it personally when our assumptions are shown to be false.

We often make assumptions to avoid the appearance of being ignorant or to avoid showing a lack of understanding. People often equate asking questions with weakness, and will make assumptions based on what they heard. We then proceed to defend them and go out of our way to prove the other person wrong.

Mr. Miguel Ruiz talks about the consequences and suffering that comes from this behavior. In his book The Four Agreements he makes an eloquent argument that making assumptions about events and people can lead to a complete failure of understanding. This can be both destructive and very costly to a business relationship.

If, having entered into a business relationship with another company or individual, you make the assumption that the other party sees the agreement the same way you do, and in the course of executing the specifics of the agreement, you discover that the other party does not see the details of the agreement in the same way, this inevitably produces conflict. The conflict amplifies the perceived differences and makes it harder to reach accommodation, particularly when the conflict is not addressed quickly or constructively. Both parties begin to spend time and resources justifying their points of view and defending them to the other party trying, as stated earlier, to prove the opposing point of view to be wrong.

Don Miguel Ruiz makes the argument that if words and phrases are offered with impeccable clarity, assumptions and misunderstandings are defeated, and conflict cannot rise up or be sustained. There is a powerful truth in his hypothesis because successful leaders learn early that assumptions are defeated at the outset by asking questions. They learn at their own risk that failing to ask questions can be fatal to the effective execution of an agreement and that asking questions both improves communications, and improves the clarity of what is communicated.