Monday, December 10, 2012

Year End Review

The end of the year is a perfect time for evaluation and fine-tuning your direction and purpose. Writing your answers to the following questions will help you in this task.

1. Look back on 2012, what obstacles have you overcome this year? What have you accomplished?

2. Your life is like a play. Some actors play a leading role and share the stage with you for long periods of time. Others go more quickly. When we start relationships we often cannot see how long someone will be there for. Sometimes we are the ones who decide who will stay on stage and who will go. Sometimes we have no control over the script. This year some of your key relationships may have completed their lines and moved on. Who has come and gone this year? Do you feel complete with these endings? What, if anything, do you need to do to fill the space that the departed actors left on your stage?   

3.  Make a list of the 5 most significant relationships in your life. Briefly describe each relationships' current status and where you would like to see this connection go in 2013.

4. What did you learn this year? How are you different today than you were on Jan 1, 2012?

5. What, if anything, is missing from your life?

6. How do you want the answers to these questions to be different on Dec 31, 2013? What are the steps you will take to make this happen?

Monday, November 26, 2012

10-Minute Mediation: How To Manage Life's Fights and Feuds Before They Sabotage Your Sanity

My book, "10-Minute Mediation: How To Manage Life's Fights and Feuds Before They Sabotage Your Sanity" is still looking for a publisher.  In the meantime, please "like" the Facebook page at  As news stories of conflicts gone wild continue to surface I am more convinced than ever before that this is a book whose time has come.  In my mind, many recent tragedies could have been avoided if someone nearby had just a little mediation training.  I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Marital Mediation

Have you ever heard of Marital Mediation? 

Marital Mediation is a process that uses mediation techniques to open and improve a couple's communications so that they can address areas of conflict and create a plan that outlines what each of them will do (and not do) in the future. 

How the process of Marital Mediation is used will vary, depending on the mediator's skill set and philosophy.   Typically, however, the process is:

*  short term
*  held in a multi-session format (I like a couple to commit to three 90-minute sessions with the potential of future follow-up)
*  focused on problem solving, and
*  concludes with the signing of a written agreement.  (However, the process itself and the creating of the agreement is usually more valuable and important than the actual agreement.)

Recently, one of my Mediation Trainees posed this question to me:

I am working with a couple in Marital Mediation.  The wife wants to include an "infidelity clause," that would involve a lump sum penalty payment in the event that either of them is unfaithful, in their agreement.  Have you ever seen such a clause?  Do you see any problem with including such a clause in their agreement? 

My Answer:

I have never used this clause.  My concern is that it might push an affair further under the rug, where it will do even more damage.  Since an affair is the symptom, not the problem, the idea of punishing the "guilty" spouse might not serve them well.  In my mind there is a big difference between (a) an exit affair (a term coined by Emily Brown to describe an affair that is used by a conflict avoider as a means of escape) that results in the end of a marriage and (b) an affair which is a symptom of a bigger problem that may be repairable while the couple is still emotionally engaged. 

In this case, the wife's request to use a punishment says to me that there is an old wound there that she might want to look at if this marriage is going to work out.  However, that exploration is an issue better suited for therapy than Marital Mediation.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Divorce, TMZ

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are in the news.  Divorce is difficult enough. Do they make it more difficult than it has to be?  Read my advice to them at

Friday, June 22, 2012

Employee Loyalty: 13 Tips For Getting It AND Keeping It

As a corporate manager or a small business owner, the people who work for you will make you or break you.  If your employees feel a sense of loyalty, they will reward you.  Loyal employees promote customer satisfaction.  And, satisfied/loyal customers (also known as repeat business) are less concerned about price and more likely to bring referrals for new business.  Loyal employees, who tend to stay put, can help keep recruiting and training (of new hires) costs to a minimum.  However, don't confuse longevity with loyalty.  Just because someone is there long-term doesn't mean that she is loyal.

Loyalty grows out of a feeling of connection and a commitment to produce.  The following 13 actions are what you need to do to promote employee loyalty.

1. Set a good example.  Show your employees that you take work seriously.  If you are out shopping or busy making plans for the weekend, your employees will follow suit.

2. Create clear boundaries.  Your employees can have many friends, but only one employer.  Yes, you want to be friendly but not at the cost of establishing your unique role and position.  Most employees will be delighted to have a boss that can be depended upon to make difficult decisions, call the shots, and resolve awkward or burdensome problems - tasks they would never present to a friend or co-worker.

3. Outline each employee's sphere of influence.  Each staff member should be clear about where his/her own domain starts and stops.  This kind of definition fosters a sense of pride while preventing boundary overstepping and turf wars between employees.

4. Show your employees that you are loyal to them.  Never belittle or criticize an employee in public.  Avoid threats or any action that might give an employee a reason to question your commitment to him/her.  Instead carefully present your criticisms and see "mistakes" as opportunities for learning.

5. Give your employees something to be proud of.  Strive to make your organization the best it can be.  Whether you are the CEO of a large corporation, a supervisor in a governmental organization, or running a Mom-and-Pop shop, you want your product and service to shine so that everyone involved has a sense of pride and accomplishment.

6. Do good deeds.  Have an outreach plan that gives both you and your employees a chance to interact with, and give back to, the larger community in a positive way.

7. Reward your employees.  Money cannot buy loyalty but money does serve as a metaphor so tell your employees how much you value them.  Fair wages, appropriate raises, and an occasional unexpected treat can go a long way in building loyal employees.

8. Cultivate peak performance.  Provide your employees with training and development opportunities so that they can learn and grow.  And, as they develop, challenge them to set and meet high expectations.

9. Foster a team mentality.  Encourage your employees to communicate their ideas and allow them to influence company practices and policies.  Likewise, share your own vision for the future and your thoughts as to how you will all get there together.

10. Recognize and respond.  Everyone appreciates positive feedback.  And, once it becomes clear that you are willing and able to provide it, most employees will go the extra mile in order to get it.

11. Build solid relationships.  Find common ground, share life experiences, prove your trustworthiness, and be patient as strong relationships blossom over time.

12. The Platinum Rule.  There is no blueprint for fostering employee loyalty.  As you go about your business, remember that each employee must be seen as an individual - what works in some cases will bring disaster in another.  Forget the golden rule.  DO NOT treat your employees, as you want to be treated.  Instead, find out what each of them needs and wants and proceed with that in mind.

13. Be yourself.  Find your own management style.  Somewhere between "surrogate mother," who is more caretaker than boss and the Leona Helmsley stereotype, who responds to employees with contempt and ridicule, each of us can find our own happy medium.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The practice of mediation often feels like a lonely endeavor. We work without the benefit of peers or mentors. Many mediators have no cohorts for case review or brainstorming. No old timer is waiting in the wings to teach us the ropes or let us in on time-tested trade secrets.  Often we are left to reinvent the wheel when it comes to best practices and marketing techniques. And, until now, there has been no way for mediators to reduce costs by engaging in cooperative marketing.

Susan and I created The Mediators' Round Table so that you can engage in an on-going conversation with trusted colleagues AND be part of a collaborative forum for promoting yourself, your practice, and the mediation process.  As a Round Table member you may bring your talent, in-sight, and concerns to the forum. In return your seat at The Round Table will provide you with lots of perks and an interactive experience geared towards increasing your profits and improving your skills.

We are committed to creating a world-wide community of mediators. Together, we will finally bring mediation into the mainstream. And, along the way you will increase your viability, visibility, and revenue.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Out-earners: When the Wife is the Bigger Bread-winner

Even though - on average - women earn 82 cents for every dollar that their male counterparts make, in the new economy, there are many women that are able to out-earn their husbands.  And, it appears that this trend is likely to continue. 

For some couples a wife’s out-earning is the blessing that allows them to run their home and finances.  Other times, having a high-income wife becomes the kiss of death to a marriage. There are four ways female out-earning plays out in a marriage.  One way works and three don’t.  When it works, there are four factors that make it work:

1. There is a clear division of labor.  Being married is great. Because you have two partners, each spouse can take responsibility for a share of the life tasks.  No one has to have everything on their plate.  And, for many couples, they get to do the tasks that they enjoy and avoid the tasks that would feel more like drudgery.  As long as a couple is clear what each of them is in charge of and each of them fulfills their part of the bargain, everyone can be very happy with the deal.

2. Each partner values the others contribution.  When a partner has the attitude that their contribution has more value than that of their spouse, trouble is right around the corner.  Instead, it’s important that each partner be satisfied with the division of labor and appreciates their spouse’s contribution.

3. The couple has a shared vision and shared values.  When a married couple has a shared vision they are clear where they are going and what they want their lives to look like.  When a couple has shared values they know why and how they are going there.

4.  The family is living within its means.  Money problems don’t crop up from lack of money, they appear when a family is not living within its means.  In my divorce mediation practice I see many couples who have above average incomes but still have no net worth.  They are spending more than they earn.  This spending puts a strain on a marriage.  It is critical that couples live within their means in order to avoid marital money issues. 

Sadly, for many out-earner couples these factors are missing and the wife's earnings become a negative. While every couple is different, there are three common patterns I've found in out-earner couples who are not able to hold their marriages together. Here they are:

1. The Competitors.  These are partners who come to the marriage with high expectations and big potential for themselves and each other.  And, while he does OK somehow he doesn’t quite live up to the expectations and his potential as much as she does.  In the competitive environment these couples create there is a winner and a loser.  Keep in mind, these husbands would not be considered “losers” on the open market.  Its only when they are compared to their wives that they fall short.  But, falling short makes respect difficult.  (Both self-respect and partner-respect.)  And, without respect no marriage can survive.

2. The Loser.  Here is the man who would like a free ride.  He doesn’t really want to work and he is not a real Mr Mom either.  He does a bit of this or that but when his wife looks closely she finds that he is little more than an occasional baby sitter.  The bottom line is that the children, the money, the house, and all the big responsibilities, are hers.  Then one day she wakes up and realizes he is making such a minimal contribution to their lives that she would be better off without having to pull his dead weight.

3. Crummy marriage.  Sometimes, a marriage is just crummy and over.  In this case the fact that the wife earns more may be a detail that the couple looks at but it’s just one of many factors.  I believe that partners with failing marriages fall into four categories: 
  • Mismatch.  They are simply a mismatch, with conflicting values, goals, or temperament.
  • Addiction. One or both partners has some addiction issues.
  • Balance sheet mentality.  There is a balance sheet mentality that keeps the spouses from working together as a team; instead each one is looking at their individual contributions and feeling they are giving more than they are getting, and 
  • Unmet expectations.  One of both partners not living up to what was expected of them.  (My best example of this was a great couple we worked with a few years ago.  The husband was a dashing fire-fighter and army reservist.  His adorable wife was initially drawn to his strength and expected he would always protect her.  But, during a string of Florida hurricanes she found herself in their house, with two kids, and a leaking roof.  He was in Iraq - protecting us all.  She had an affair.  The end.)  In general, these expectations could be anything from a wife who loses her youth and innocence to a husband who loses his business. 
As our economy continues to evolve and the demand for certain skill-sets changes, we are going to see interesting shifts in earning and income potential for men and women.  These changes are going to continue to challenge marriages but couples can still make their marriages work and reap the rewards that can only be gained by having a committed partner. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Three Simple Steps To Winning Every Argument, Every Time

Here is my no-nonsense approach to winning every argument, every time.

1.  Pick your fights.  This is a three-part process.  First, pick who you are fighting with, then pick what you are fighting about, and finally decide when to bring it up.  But, before you even think about bringing up an unpleasant issue, rate it on a scale of 1 to 10.  Things that don’t rate as an 8, 9, or 10 are usually not worth arguing about.  Instead, ask your self – 30 minutes, 30 days or 30 years from now, will I still care about this?  If not, let it go.

Who?  If someone is a lunatic don’t waste your time.  This includes teen agers.  The frontal lobe of the brain is not fully formed until age 25 so arguing with a teen ager means you are arguing with someone who has only a fraction of a brain.  And, anyway, the time to win an argument with a teen ager is when they are two.  That’s when you set the rules down.  Whatever you taught them at two is what you will get when they are 15.  With that said, keep in mind that it is critical to listen to your teenager.  Give him/her a chance to convince you.  (It’s good practice for them.)  During those times that s/he cannot convince you, give him/her a choice between two options that you consider marginally acceptable.  As to adult lunatics, stay as far away from them as possible.  Minimize your dealings with crazy people.  This will save you time and money.  I repeat, do not argue with crazy people.  Even if you win, you lose. 

What?  Only argue over things that can be measured.  Do not argue over values and beliefs.  Yesterday I got myself in an uproar trying to convince someone that her political beliefs are full of holes.  HELLO!  Ultimately, if she feels better believing stories designed to manipulate the masses with fear, who am I to point to reality.  Values and beliefs are not negotiable.  Only argue over things that can result in an action plan – you will do this, I won’t do that, etc.  Leave the rest of it for the pundits. 

When?  If you are sure you want to go forward, think about the consequences of bringing up the topic.  Timing is critical.  Ask yourself is this the best time to make your point or if it would be better to shut up now and bring it up later.  In any event, avoid arguing in public at all costs. 

2.  Fight fair.  There are four simple rules for a fair fight.  (1) Fight in the here and now – do not bring up things that happened in the past.  (2) Listen to each other.  Do not talk over someone.  Instead, take turns speaking, even if you have to use a timer to make it happen.  (3) Keep the focus on yourself, use “I” statements to avoid pointing the finger of blame.  It’s not important what percentage of fault each of you contributed to the creation of the problem.  (4) Avoid threats, name-calling, contempt, nagging, whining, and any other communication strategy that could be seen as manipulative.

3.  Follow my nine fight fundamentals.

  • Find commonalities
  • What's in it for him/her?  Instead of focusing on what you want, focus on what features and benefits the other person will receive.
  • Look at the whole picture.  And, then look at the details.
  • Clearly state what you want/need.
  • Stick to the facts.
  • Give everyone time to think, process the information, and cool down.
  • Speak in a language the other person understands.  Don't talk feelings to your accountant.
  • Be comfortable apologizing.  A genuine apology can bring about profound change and healing.  Often you can come out the big winner when you apologize.  An apology is one way to give the “loser” an opportunity to save face.
  • Get closure and finish on the positive.  Each argument ends with one of three possible outcomes:
      • Agreement
      • Agree to disagree and move on
      • No agreement and horns still locked.  Of course, just because you’re here now doesn’t mean this is where you’ll stay.  But, this is the resolution you don’t want.  Remember, there is a HUGE difference between going away unhappy and going away so angry that getting a gun sounds like a good idea.  If you “win” and the other side goes home and gets his gun, you lost.
Questions, commentary? I want to hear about your arguments and how they play out. Email me.

Why Women Screw Up Their Relationships

Guess what girls. It is up to you to make your relationship work - or not. Men are simple creatures. And, their simpler brains work differently from ours. They are not nearly as relationship oriented as we are. So, in a man-woman relationship it falls upon the woman to manage the relational interactions. Remember, that. Relationship management is your job, just like fixing the garbage disposal and changing a tire are his. Sexist? Nope. We are equal, but we are different. Here are the three other things you need to know so that you don’t screw up your relationship.  

1. Don’t listen to your hormones. During the early stages of a relationship you are awash with hormonal messages. Your brain is playing tricks on you. These hormonal messages are designed to spark feelings of attachment and connection for the “beloved.” But, once you are attached the hormones stop coming. Now, you can see his true colors and it may be too late to escape gracefully. So, avoid making a serious commitment while you are feeling ga-ga from the serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, oxytocin, and vasopressin that your brain is putting out.

 2. Don’t expect your man to be your girlfriend or your mother. Manage your expectations. Your man will typically not be able to support you or share your interests like a girlfriend. And, he will not be able to sacrifice or pick up after you the way a mother would. On the other hand, he will expect you to fulfill your role, however he sees it. So, ask him what he needs from you. You may be surprised (pleasantly or unpleasantly) by his simple answer. Tell him what you expect from him, but keep it simple and make sure its doable.  

3. Don’t be too easy. Hunting is in the male DNA. He wants to hunt. And, often he cannot tell the difference between you and the wildlife. So, give him space. The “distance-pursuer” dance is an extreme form of the dynamic that plays out with a needy woman and a detached man. She is always chasing, while he creates emotional distance. If you are the pursuer, don’t cry, get mad, or nag for more attention. (AND, don’t tell him “we need to talk.”) All you need to do is create some distance.

Most human behaviors can be plotted on a bell curve. So everything I’ve said here may not be true for you. You and/or your man may fall outside the “normal” range when it comes to gender related relationship behaviors. If that’s where you see yourselves, that’s OK, just enjoy your differences.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Dr Elinor Robin - Chic-a-pedia Definition

Thank you Kellie Kuecha and Angela Lomel for my new Chic-a-pedia definition.

Dr Elinor Robin is a mediation pioneer who harnesses the power of her academic achievements, visionary wisdom, and revolutionary spirit to positively impact society. Using a systemic approach, mediation prowess, and artful teaching techniques Dr Elinor equips people with the tools they need to mediate disputes effectively and successfully. Her vision is to create a more harmonious world by leading a revolution of empowered women and men who skillfully and swiftly manage conflicts at home and at work.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kim, Kris, and The Fight

TMZ is reporting that Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries are locked in a battle over what to call the end of their marriage. Is it a divorce or an annulment? In the end, it really doesn't matter so how do we explain this seeming silliness?  Read and learn the five functions that a divorce fight serves. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Real Mediator Questions

Hi Elinor

Something has come up recently in some seminars I've been to. At least twice, someone tried to make the point that it is actually sometimes an advantage to have a mediator who is not certified, because a non-certified mediator can give you his/her direct evaluation of the case, while a certified mediator cannot. Just wondered what your response was.

Thanks, Ms Commercial Mediator
Dear Ms Mediator,

Someone made that up. Its a marketing tactic that is misleading.

No "mediator" should be giving a direct evaluation of a case. Every mediator can give their opinion on the range that a case is likely to fall into. (Make that range broad). If the parties want a direct evaluation of a case they don't want mediation, they want a process called Neutral Evaluation. (We talk about this on Day 1 of each of our training programs in the Conflict Management Continuum section.) You can provide Neutral Evaluation - and give the parties your direct evaluation of their case - but not as a part of the mediation process. If mediation ends in impasse you can change hats, go into Neutral Evaluator mode, and give them your opinion.

In my opinion it is unwise to mediate, in Florida, without being Certified. You have no judicial immunity if the case is not court ordered. And, you leave yourself open to legal malpractice issues because it will not be difficult to make the connection between being an "un-certified" mediator who is sitting there giving a legal opinion and the practice of law.

Best, Elinor


Hi Elinor,

I am interested in your opinion on this hypothetical situation. In a family mediation, in separate session, the husband tells you he has hidden money. Is this considered fraud which is a crime and would not then be considered as privileged/confidential? Must a mediator disclose this to the other party? Or, should the mediator simply terminate the mediation?

Thank you, Elinor! Your opinion means a lot! Mr Divorce Mediator
Mr D,

Hiding money from your wife is not a crime. So this is something we could NOT report to the police (or anyone else). The issue is misrepresentation. If the husband is misrepresenting his financial situation, the mediator cannot perpetuate the misrepresentation. So the mediator would have to either (a) convince the husband to come clean or (b) terminate the mediation. BUT, the mediator could NOT disclose to the wife or anyone else that the husband has hidden funds.

Best, Elinor

Friday, January 27, 2012

Parenting Question

Dear Dr. Robin:

So I let my 10 year old daughter Kayla out of my sight tonight, which is very hard for me, to go to the State Fair (45 minutes away) with her girlfriend and her parents. They swear they'll be home by 9:30. They are not home at 10, I call the friends house and the mom answers. She didn't go, and is in tears worried that something happened. She tells me her husband took them and didn't bring the cell! WTH! First off I would have never let her go if I had know the mom wasn't going and to top it off, no cell phone? My husband just went off on the mom. At 10:15 my daughter walks in. We went off on her too but it's not her fault. Aside from getting her a cell phone - what should we do???

Kayla's Mom

My response

Dear Mom,

This is a two-parter. First part is the anxiety of a parent. What can we do with the fear and out-of-control feeling that makes us act out like lunatics sometimes? Focus your breathe, tap, meditate, reach out to others, journal, take some action, etc. Being a parent is scary, we have to find the delicate balance between letting go and protecting.

The second part is the friend's family. In the words of branding expert Kellie Kuecha "How you show up here, you show up everywhere." This is part of the father's "brand," its how he shows up in life. Any of us could forget our cell phone but if I did I wouldn't be almost an hour late. Considerate is not a part of his brand. He has proven (IMHO) to be irresponsible, passive-aggressive, or both. And, clearly the mother cannot be counted on to counteract his tendencies.

What happened yesterday doesn't really matter now (its done) so lets change the focus to the future. Its up to you to set the boundary. I would discuss it with Kayla. Tell her your concerns and see what she says. Maybe the rule should be that she can go to their house but not leave with them so if there is a change in plans she calls you to pick her up. Whatever you two decide is OK but at this point I believe that in order to get her to follow the rules she has to co-create them. Remember, in this case, she is not to blame. Make that clear to her, she was not the driver last night. That's why its important to make good choices about who we get in the car with. And, let her know that there will be many more decisions that the two of you will have to negotiate together as you spend the next 10 years finding the delicate balance between letting go - so she can become her own wise woman - and protecting her while she learns how.

Happy trails, Elinor