VMN Blog

  • 05/02/2024 1:26 PM | Christy Brimmer (Administrator)

    The following post is authored by VMN member, Gina Weatherup, Founder and CEO of Chantilly Mediation and Facilitation

    “But I already tried to talk it out…” 

    On some Fridays, I serve as a mediator at my local courthouse for small claims cases. Recently I heard a very patient and reasonable judge voice something we hear quite frequently from parties to a dispute: 

    “You feel you’ve been wronged, and you’ve tried to settle. But the law doesn’t always follow your feelings. The mediators here can help you settle even when you think the other person is unreasonable.” 

    The same can be said for workplace disputes: People feel they’ve been wronged, but the formal complaints procedures followed by most HR departments don’t follow feelings. And, neither managers nor HR are ever truly neutral - there is always an interest in doing what’s best for the company or the department, and that can get in the way of mediation conversations.

    About Neutrality

    Ask any mediator, and they will tout being a neutral in a dispute. 

    I’ve been asked: Is anyone ever really neutral? 

    Given what we know about unconscious bias, it’s unlikely that most people are ever completely “neutral” - we navigate the world using assumptions about people because it makes our lives easier. 

    And yet. 

    There’s real value in bringing in a contracted mediator to discuss conflicts at work, precisely because, as contractors, we are assumed to have a different kind of neutrality to employees.

    Contracted mediators have limited access to the world and culture in which the parties work. We have less knowledge about what’s going on - that includes procedures, policies, norms, gossip, and more. Everything you know about your workplace is a type of knowledge in which your contracted mediator will be limited! Our knowledge of the organization and of the conflict is limited to just what the parties tell us - and in some cases, what our client (often an HR leader or an executive in the company) tells us. 

    The lack of knowledge helps contract mediators provide a true outsider’s perspective.

    None of the information shared can ever meet the level of knowledge that people working in the organization have. We don’t know or care what Sally in Accounting will say or what José in Client Services thinks. All of that is outside of ourselves and our work. It never even enters our mind, whereas an internal employee who is tasked with small-m-mediating can’t help but bring all of that other knowledge to bear on the situation - or has to work to actively ignore it. 

    Big-M-mediators - well, we’re just different. And we’re seen as different -  and that “being seen as” may be precisely the type of neutrality required to help people in a protracted conflict come to agreement. 

    The Magic of Mediation

    When you work with a trained mediator, you may experience a bit of magic. 

    We put together our training, our experiences, and our intuition - and we help people feel heard, validated, and able to move forward.

    Yes, there are lots of tools at our disposal. Recently, a court mediation participant gushed about my use of tools:

    “clear about expectations,” “generous in rephrasing,” “helped both parties to share” - and even said he was “impressed with clarity, brevity, neutrality.” 

    I am certain the judge would have been clear, brief, and neutral, as well as clear about expectations - plus the judge’s role is, in a sense, to help the parties. The judge will help the parties by ending the dispute through their decision about who is right and who is wrong. 

    But the judge’s role is different from a mediator.

    The judge judges. 

    HR judges. They are required to, by their own role and responsibilities, always be evaluating. They need to decide whether a conflict might rise to the level of harassment, of legal discrimination, or something else that may merit a disciplinary action or some other company procedure. 

    Managers judge. They should be judging - they need to evaluate whether the person (or people) on their team is in need of more training, more coaching, more guidance, or some other help to work the job and achieve the goals of the department or organization.

    As a mediator, my only role is to help people communicate with each other in trying to find a better path forward. 

    That is, itself, a kind of neutrality. 

    It’s more than that, though - it’s also a kind of magic. 

    Mediators develop intuition - or already come to the field with a felt, embodied knowledge of how people get along and how to help people make choices in difficult situations. 

    That’s why you come to a mediator.

    You need that intuition, that magical mix of experience, tools, and a limited perspective.

    That’s why, even when you’ve already tried to work it out, you may benefit from meeting with a mediator. 

    Even when you opt not to do a formal mediation, but you want some help in facilitating a conversation, we are happy to step in and help. 

    We love to work our magic for you!


    From Gina: I founded Chantilly Mediation and Facilitation because we all spend too much time working to not be happy at work. Years ago, I was the person duplicating others’ work because I wanted to avoid the people I didn’t like. That approach is not sustainable - not for the individual and not for the organization.  At CM&F, we save leaders time and money by resolving the conflicts they don’t have the time to deal with. We also train your leaders and employees on better ways to approach conflict themselves, improving overall productivity and increasing happiness at work.

    See testimonials from clients: https://www.chantillymediationandfacilitation.com/testimonials

  • 04/17/2024 2:22 PM | Christy Brimmer (Administrator)

    The following post is authored by Catherine Reese of Reese Law (see below for Catherine's bio): 

    Once the thought of separation and divorce enters your mind, your second thought should be about process.  It is never too soon for you and your spouse to seek information about options.  When you understand your options, you are in a better position to make informed decisions about how to move forward.

    You have researched and read about the Collaborative Process, and you understand that it benefits both parties and is a particularly beneficial process for the children of divorcing parents.  You would like to engage in the Collaborative Process, but how do you get your spouse on board?  Meet with a Collaborative attorney and ask for resources that you can share with your spouse.  Think about what is important to them. 

    If your spouse values privacy, let them know that the Collaborative Process is private.  Your confidential discussions during the Collaborative Process will be had in the comfort of your attorney’s office, and you will never step foot in a courtroom.

    If your spouse is financially frugal, explain to them that the Collaborative Process is cost effective, and you will both have more control over your resources. Let them know that you have the option in the Collaborative Process to work with a Collaboratively trained financial neutral to put together your financial data and your financial picture, present and future, which facilitates the option generating work that we do.  You also have the option of working with divorce coaches and child specialists to help develop your parenting plan.  Working with these experts to accomplish these tasks, instead of having attorneys doing this work, saves money and also helps to move you to resolution more quickly.  And, perhaps the most significant financial benefit of engaging in the Collaborative Process is that you will not pay the exorbitant cost of litigation. 

    If your spouse wants security and stability while working on a resolution, assure them that your Collaborative attorneys commit, as do the both of you, not to strategize against or take advantage of the other, but to be engage with integrity and respect and to share all information which is important to the Collaborative Process.

    These are only some of the many benefits of the Collaborative Process that you can explain to your spouse to help them understand the value of using the Collaborative Process. If you would like to learn more about how to share the benefits of the Collaborative Process with your spouse, reach out to one of our Collaboratively trained attorneys, financial neutrals, or divorce coaches for more information. 

    About the author:

    Catherine Reese focuses on the full spectrum of family law matters in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland. She and her team have extensive experience in child custody and visitation, equitable distribution of assets, child and spousal support, and negotiation of prenuptial and marital agreements.  Kate highly recommends mediation, arbitration and collaborative law. A Virginia Supreme Court Certified Family Law mediator, she makes it her duty to protect clients and negotiate the best outcomes.  For more information, call 703.279.5140 or visit www.Reese.Law. 

  • 12/07/2023 2:39 PM | Ayce Bukulmeyen Ozerdem

    Unhealthy work conditions can create enormous human and financial costs. So much research shows that unresolved conflict often impairs well-being. American businesses lose $359 billion dollars yearly due to unresolved conflict and low productivity (Kauth, 2020). The physical, emotional, psychological, and interpersonal tolls are incalculable.

    In this statement, it is crucial to focus on the term "unresolved" rather than "conflict.” The conflict may be justified, but the challenge lies in finding a fair resolution, whether positively or negatively. The way in which conflict is experienced or resolved can affect the well-being of those involved.

    Many workplaces focus on maintaining a professional demeanor, avoiding conflicts, being hesitant to admit errors, and refraining from taking risks. Conversations are stilted and limited. There is a lack of openness and trust, which leads to confusion, grievances, and a lack of sense of control. This is unhealthy for everyone. Employers should establish trust and openness for better culture, cost savings, engagement, and productivity. To create a courageous environment where people can speak out about what's right, dignities must be fed with honorable debate skills.

    Clear communication is crucial for mental and physical well-being, navigating organizational stress, and maintaining good mental health.

    It is evident that employee health affects productivity.

    Constant worry and stress in the workplace can lead to unproductive workdays. In a study by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 56% of employees reported that their anxiety and stress affected their work performance. They can impair the ability to communicate effectively, empathize with others, and resolve conflicts.


    Our biology is the reason behind this fact. When a person is stuck in a dispute for weeks, months, or even years, the constant fight-flight-freeze response can lead to exhaustion. Two stress hormones triggered by conflict are adrenaline and cortisol. The production of adrenaline and cortisol during this enduring situation might put the person's mental health at risk. Adrenaline ramps up and diminishes quickly, but cortisol uses a different, slower pathway in the body — through the bloodstream rather than the nervous system. Cortisol is a hormone that affects our judgment subtly, often without us even realizing it. People experiencing high cortisol levels perceive their opponents as angrier and more threatening than they appear to those with lower stress levels. A person with high cortisol levels often struggles to see others' perspectives. These changes usually happen without us being aware of them.

    To achieve constructive resolution, emotions are critical players in any conflict. Maintaining composure, despite heightened emotions, is crucial to a successful resolution. To remain calm during conflicts and prevent escalation, we must master our minds and emotions. International mediator and negotiator William Ury says during times of conflict, the person we need to deal with is not the person on the other side of the table. It is the person on this side of the table. It is the person we look at in the mirror every morning, ourselves.

    He believes the power not to react but rather to go to the balcony. He says when things escalate, go to the balcony, a mental and emotional balcony, which means a place of calm, perspective, and self-control where you can stay focused on your interests and remind yourself of your guiding questions and why you are there. Working on being the master of our minds and learning special techniques for releasing anxiety, overcoming negative talk, and being able to go to the balcony when needed should be a priority for us.


    To improve social skills when dealing with stress and anxiety, it is vital to have a program of activities that prioritizes the health and well-being of staff.

    When businesses prioritize empowering employees, they foster cohesive teams that are more invested in their work and the company's values, leading to excellent retention rates. So, how do we do that?

    Again, our biology is the key.

    We have two different nervous systems in our bodies.

    One is for stress, and one is for the calming response.

    The sympathetic Nervous System is our survival mode, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System is for relaxation, restoration, rest, and good digestion. we need to learn how to activate and strengthen it.

    So, we need to activate the calming response system consciously.

    For that, we need to engage with our bodies more and more.

    How do we do that?


    Sophrology is a straightforward, practical, and powerful approach with many benefits. The main goal in Sophrology is to engage more with our bodies rather than our minds.

    It is a well-being method based on dynamic relaxation, deliberate breathing techniques, gentle movements, meditation, and visualization to balance mind and body and feel empowered in the Modern World. Widely used throughout Europe since it commenced 60 years ago, Sophrology is now becoming increasingly popular in the US. It has earned its reputation as ‘the’ method for reducing stress and anxiety, which we need to maintain our challenges and conflicts in life, amongst other issues such as sleep problems, self-esteem issues, and pain management.

    This complementary therapy, which combines the best of Eastern mindfulness techniques and Western relaxation exercises, has been widely researched with a proven impact on reducing the effects of these issues and conditions.


    To put it briefly, we have many built-in and fast-reacting mechanisms within the brain. They have kept us safe for thousands of generations. While they still have great value sometimes, they can also cause us considerable mental and physical harm when operating inappropriately. Learning conflict resolution or dispute prevention techniques solely will not be helpful if we can’t be masters of our biological impulses.

    In other words, effective conflict-dispute resolution techniques must involve robust biological-mental management techniques.

    A conflict is the arrow pointing to what we need to learn the most, as Kenneth Cloke (2011) made a profound statement. We need to be familiar with our stressors and triggers and work to manage them for our own good.

    Techniques such as Sophrology teach resilience and adaptability skills, which promote thriving, not just survival and coping mechanisms.

    Research from Kent University indicates the benefits to be gained from offering sophrology sessions to employees - even during the most difficult of circumstances- as such intervention can still have a positive impact on employees’ physical and mental health.

  • 12/07/2023 2:25 PM | Andrew Pizzi

    Consensus is a process by which individuals reach agreement through discussion, negotiation, and compromise.  Unlike unilateral or majority vote decisions, consensus includes the ideas and concerns of all participants in order to reach an agreement acceptable to everyone. 

    Building consensus is an essential skill for ADR practitioners who work with groups and/or individuals. It can reduce conflict, promote collaboration, and generate creative solutions.  As ADR practitioners we deal with individuals who have different perspectives and conflicting opinions, and reaching consensus often seems like an elusive goal.  Yet, we can strive to reach consensus by understanding a few key principles.

    Any successful decision using consensus requires active participation from everyone. We must seek and consider each individual’s input, regardless of their position, status, or background. When individuals are encouraged to participate, there is a greater tendency to share thoughts, feelings, and valid information. 

    In conjunction with inclusiveness, consensus requires collaboration and open communication.  Everyone must work together to express their opinions, ideas, actively listen to others and seek to find common ground.  A collaborative approach encourages allows you to work through differences, that does lead to greater teamwork and mutual respect, which are vital to building consensus. 

    Because consensus decisions must be acceptable to all, it requires from each participant the ability to compromise, be flexible and share responsibility.  We need to adjust our initial preference(s) in order to reach an agreement that benefits the entire group.  Also, as we are listening to others, we must adapt to changing information or circumstances that may occur during the discussion.  

    As individuals/groups strive for consensus, not everyone may agree with the decision being made.  In those situations, those individuals have a responsibility to share not only their concerns about what is potentially being agreed to, but also need to share what would help them reach agreement.   This allows for continued discussion and negotiation that could result in a resolution that everyone can accept. 

    Consensus is a powerful decision-making process that emphasizes, inclusion, cooperation, and compromise.  Valuing the input of everyone leads to more creative, durable solutions while also increasing group cohesion and individual commitment.  When we feel we have been listened to and understood we are more committed to the decision being made. As we work with those who do have different perspectives, building consensus is a valuable tool to navigate these differences and enhance positive interactions. 

The Virginia Mediation Network is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization.

Disclaimer of Liability and Endorsement: While the Virginia Mediation Network strives to make the information on this website as informative, neutral, accurate and timely as possible, VMN makes no endorsement of, promises about, guarantees or opinions related to the accuracy or adequacy of the contents of the third-party seminars.  VMN expressly disclaims any liability for the content of said presentations.  Any opinions expressed by third-party presenters, whether members of VMN or not, are not expressed as the opinion of the organization itself. Reference on this website to any specific commercial product, process or service, or the use of any trade, firm or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public, and does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the Virginia Mediation Network.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software