What happens when a Mediator has a dispute?

So here’s an interesting dilemma. I am used to mediating other people’s disputes so what do I do when I have my own dispute? That is the current situation and it’s set to go public.

David and I arranged our wedding in a gorgeous bay called Mgarr-ix-xini on the Island of Gozo. It’s where we escape to. With 3 months to go, flights booked, guests travel plans in place and having been given the all clear by the local council back in April, we were suddenly notified – when the caterer went to formalise the permit a couple of weeks ago  – that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have taken over the area for 2 months and our wedding could not take place as planned. Feeling disappointed and indignant I gave myself space to reflect on my needs and to see what was really upsetting about this situation.

My reflections enlightened me in this way: I was feeling sad and upset because my needs for acknowledgement and fairness were going unmet. David and I carefully chose our venue and now we were being elbowed out of the way without any compassion for our situation or empathy for our disappointment let alone any offer of help to solve the problem. I realised that no one would know this unless I said something so my immediate need became to be heard.

With that in mind, I posted on Facebook and emailed the Malta Prime Minister to see if I could be heard. Friends shared my plight and the Times of Malta ran a story. The Prime Minister put the Malta Film Commissioner in touch with me. My need to be heard and acknowledged was being met but not by anyone who could make a difference. I do not see this as an issue with the Malta government. I’m not interested in the legalities of the situation or blaming anyone. I see this as an emotional issue – a conversation from one woman to another. A friend suggested I call their publicists so I called the office of Rich Klubeck at UTA who I was told was Angelina’s publicist and within 3 to 4 sentences my call was disconnected. I clearly cannot say for certain that he hung up on me but I immediately called back  and was directed to voicemail and I clearly left my return number and have had no call back so I think it might be fair to assume that he hung up on me.

So the act of him hanging up (or just not calling back if the line was accidentally disconnected) triggered in me a sense of outrage highlighting my unmet need to be heard by someone who can make a difference to my situation. Now I want to be heard even more. Hanging up on me did not make me go away or forget my issue, it increased my determination to be heard and to be treated fairly and now added another unmet need – respect.

By this time the Facebook post had generated interest from the media and I can see this as a means to getting heard. Now it might appear that I’m escalating a situation where all I wanted was a conversation with someone who could help but so far it’s the best strategy I can think of to get heard in the right place.

I have no idea what the outcome will be but I do want to keep tabs on my own feelings, needs and actions as this situation progresses.


The key things for me in this have been to:

  • Identify how I’m feeling and be OK with those feelings without acting on them
  • Identify the unmet needs before deciding on a strategy
  • Check that the strategy is likely to help get the need met and not make things worse
  • Check that the action related to the strategy is in line with my own values before implementing


I wondered if this might be a good basis for reflecting when an issue arises and we feel triggered by it?

It seems to me that often, people don’t get past the first point before acting and this is what escalates a dispute into a fight.


What do you think?

Rescue Your Relationship

While every couple’s circumstances is unique, after many years of helping couples in distress, I have noticed that some situations have a lot in common. The one I want to discuss here is when a couple decide to break up because they just don’t know what else to do.

Very often the couple feel that they have exhausted every possibility (and themselves) trying to patch things up; advice from family and friends didn’t work, shouting didn’t work, being silent didn’t work, being nice didn’t work, counselling didn’t work, nothing worked. In fact it just got worse until the sense of hopelessness took over and one partner or both partners gave up. Sometimes contempt sets in and then it really does feel finished.

I see many couples in that position. They get recommended to me as a mediator and they start off by telling me they have come to see a mediator because they want to break up. What’s amazing is that when I really dig deep I find that some couples don’t want to break up at all but they have no possible idea of how to stay together.

What’s even more amazing is that if a couple present as not being sure if they want to break up, a ‘family mediator’ who is only trained in mainstream family mediation is then supposed to send them off to counselling since family mediation training is all about break up, separation and divorce and has no components for reconciliation.

Luckily, I developed a model of mediation based on a communications process I developed called the Dialogue Road Map which has been tried and tested in difficult and violent situations so I have tools and a track record to help a couple find their way back to coupledom if that’s what they really want. It requires the partners to really examine themselves and to create a new framework for the relationship but for those that want to stay together, it’s a lot better than breaking up a family and a home and everything that goes with it.

So, having worked with several couples and helped them put their relationships back together even though they came to me asking for help with a break up, I decided to distil the elements and bottle it. So, we have created Rescue Your Relationship, a short course and private session for couples that want to try and make it work.

Our next dates are 8th and 9th November in London and I’m trying to let people know this possibility exists because we all know at least one family who could do with this type of help.


Relationships, Roles and Acting out

There used to be a TV ad for an insurance company and the headline was ‘we won’t make a drama out of a crisis’. It’s a really good headline and it reminds me of what families often do.

Many families have the same old argument over and over again. The situation may be different, for example it could be about who’s hosting Christmas Day or what time a teenager should be home, but the arguments follow the same pattern as everyone in the family adopts a specific role in the family drama.

The roles vary but generally there will be one person who is ‘the problem’. This person is seen as the trouble maker, the one who won’t comply. The person in this role will complain that the rest of the family gangs up on them, dismisses them, pities them or treats them as incompetent.

This person may or may not have a sympathiser; someone who defends or rescues them but this has the same effect of keeping them in the role of the ‘lesser’ one.

So the ‘lesser’ one becomes more vociferous in their attempts to be heard and valued and this increase in volume is thrown back as yet another example of their ‘bad’ behaviour. And yet as soon as that person grows, changes or learns, the family work really hard to keep them in role. After all, no one else wants to be demoted to that position if it becomes vacant.

The sad thing is that this person is usually trying to get the family to change something but is using the worst methods to effect that change.

A crucial part to changing this family dynamic is getting the family members to acknowledge that a dynamic exists. That’s where dialogue comes in.

If you want something to change in your family dynamic you need to address the core and not the situation otherwise the family will continue to dramatise its crises.




The fate of children in divorce and separation

Divorce and Separation are commonplace in these times. Many children will see their parents break up. How the children experience this is very much related to how the parents conduct themselves.

In any event the children will be on the receiving end of changes that they would not choose for themselves. Whether that is seeing less of one parent or moving home most children will experience some reduction in circumstances. Even the most considerate of parents will need to make some room for the children’s grieving of loss.

Add to that conflict and disputes and children can experience feelings of guilt, sadness, hurt, anger and abandonment. These feelings, if left unattended will manifest as emotional and behavioural problems such as nightmares, distancing, clinginess or hostility.

Where one or both parents are busy coping with their own feelings it is all too easy to expect compliance from a child who actually needs support. Worse still is where either parent treats the child as a therapist by sharing too much of their emotional difficulties or expects empathy from a child whose circumstances have just changed for the worse as a result of the parents actions.

As difficult as it may be, if both parents expect to maintain contact with their children then it is not a break up.  It is a transition from couple to co-parents.

So a change in attitude is needed. Where children are involved there are two key questions to address as a priority:

How do we transition this coupledom into a co-parenting relationship?

What model of conflict resolution do we want our children to experience?

These two questions require skilful facilitation and are worth investing in by using an experienced professional because the less attention you pay to these questions the more it will cost you down the line as your children get older and form their own opinions about what has been visited on them.



5 reasons why relationships go sour

In my work as a couple’s mediator and counsellor, there are many recurring themes in relationship breakdown. Here are some of the main reasons couples find themselves in crisis.

1. Deceit

One or both of the couple hides something from the other. The most usual form of deceit is an affair


2. Dishonesty

One or both of the couple does something without consulting the other.


3. Lying

One or both of the couple knowingly tells an untruth to their partner when confronted or asked


4. Distraction

One or both of the couple fail to give attention to the other and the relationship


5. Aggression

One or both of the couple react aggressively to challenges in life and in the relationship


All of these are strategies which undermine a relationship and reduce trust. They usually emerge out of poor communication and a failure to make realistic agreements within the relationship. Once any of the above is taking place it is usually one person’s tragic way of seeking redress to an earlier problem that has not been addressed.


Repairing the relationship takes time for healing and trust building and is possible with skilled help.





Collaboration Tools for Families, Communities, Neighbourhoods and Workplaces

Domination Culture is a term used to describe the top down systems of society which motivate people to act through fear, force and coercion. It is like a pyramid. The base is controlled from a smaller point at the top and the base continues the support the top. Most of our mainstream systems of people organisation are based on these principles starting in schools and seeping out into workplaces, communities and public services.

Many people believe there is no other way and that these systems are a result of ‘human nature’ even though these systems do not serve us well and result in learned helplessness. Increases in crime, fear of crime, poverty and depression are important indicators.

In light of the challenges and opportunities we face today, surely we should be questioning the very core of how we organise and the systems we use and ask if we can transform our most fundamental approaches to organisation to bring about new levels well being, social capital and safety?

Pioneers are highlighting the limits of our conventional views of leadership and offering a glimpse of new possibilities available to us in consent driven models.

At the Centre for Peaceful Solutions we are harnessing these ideas and embedding them into our practice. When Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world” he meant that we should model the values that are important to us.

A transformative structure and process integrates the collective wisdom of all the members of a community whether that community is a family, a school, a neighbourhood or a workplace. Even the people who contribute the least have something to offer.


  • Who better to tell you how to run a school than the students who constantly fall foul of the system?


  • Who better to tell you how to reduce crime than the people who repeatedly offend?


  • Who better to tell you how to run a Social Welfare system than the people who cheat it?


But how do you give those people a voice without condoning their behaviour? How do you integrate everyone’s needs into a consent model? How do you transform conflict to contribution?

If this topic is of interest to you, why not join in the discussion. If this topic affects you, talk to us. You could be a person with a family, workplace or community issue. Or you could be in a leadership position looking for a new way forward.

We’re interested in talking to people who want to be inspired to into trying something new. If enough people are interested we’ll put on a workshop that distils the principles, ideas and partnership models that we have seen work and blends them into a strategic and practical approach to a change process into your situation. The workshop will work dynamically

with whatever live examples you bring. Expect a mixture of facilitated dialogue, presentations, role play, brainstorming and planning. The aim is to inspire you to take ideas and action points back to your communities, organisations and workplaces.


Maria Arpa



Top Ten Ways to Avoid Conflict at Work

Workplaces are a great source of conflict. The following are just some of the symptoms:

  • Gossip being an ordinary and accepted form of communication.
  • Management rarely appreciating or encouraging new ideas.
  • An atmosphere of secrecy and hidden agendas.
  • Workaholism not only accepted, but encouraged.
  • Competitiveness and power struggles abounding.
  • Individuals and departments protecting their turf fiercely.
  • Discrimination being common.
  • Lower-level workers walking on eggshells around management.
  • Unethical and dishonest behaviours common place.
  • The workplace not being a pleasant and energising place to be.
  • Open and honest communication rare or non-existent
  • White lies, petty theft and cheating being usual.
  • Employee/Management communication conflicted
  • Going home from work feeling defeated
  • Worrying about work at home.


If you want to go to work, do the job to the best of your ability and get on with everyone, here are some top tips for avoiding workplace conflict:


Keep calm; Remember that the workplace is a community. To be in community people need fairness. Not everything that happens will be fair and you will not like some strategies or outcomes. Remaining calm will always earn you respect.

Care for others; When things happen that you don’t agree with try to hear everyone’s point of view. If that can’t be done in the moment, make time later to find out how people are; check in with them. You will always be regarded as fair when you do that.

Take care of yourself; Think about your own well being. For example, your tolerances will be different if you have slept well. If you have pressures in your life it will affect your ability to see the world calmly. When you take care of your well being others will see you as balanced and centred.

Be assertive; When you feel motivated to act, be assertive. Have the courage to express your opinions in an honest and respectful manner. Express yourself clearly and articulately without aggression. You will earn the trust and confidence of your colleagues.

Respond, don’t react; Take time to ensure that you are giving a heartfelt response rather than a kneejerk reaction to any surprise situations. Your opinions will be valued when you can be trusted not to react.

Respect; learn what respect means to individuals. For example eye contact in some cultures is disrespectful while it is considered a mark of respect in others. Tell people what respect means to you in practical terms. You will earn the respect of your colleagues.

Check your intentions; if your intentions are honourable you will be credible. If your intentions are to damage or hurt others in order to succeed, you will court conflict. This might include taking a step back from gossiping and rumour-mongering.

Anticipate difficulties; if you can sense a problem looming, nip it in the bud. Communicate your concerns as early as possible in a process. Ask for specific help or offer specific help.

Remain open minded; Remember that the world would be a very boring place if everyone agreed on everything. If you wish to voice an opinion, be sure to balance it with other opinions.

Give credit; Always offer thanks and recognition for any co-operation or collaboration you receive. You will be seen as considerate and caring when making this a regular part of your working practice.





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