Run-in With a Jerk? Keep Calm and…

Keep CalmA few years ago I picked up a call from an acquaintance, “Jane,” expecting to resolve a minor issue between our kids. About three seconds into the call, I learned Jane did not believe the issue was minor at all. I was caught off guard and, throughout our brief screaming match, I vigorously defended myself. Jane hung up on me. I was dumbfounded and furious!

I spent the next several hours calling my husband, my mom, and anyone else who would listen to me rant. I’ll even admit I posted something passive aggressive on Facebook (yikes!). On the advice of my wise husband, I called Jane several hours later to try to smooth things over. My message, “let’s agree to disagree,” went over like a ton of bricks. Jane was not having it! I hung up the phone and decided that Jane was a total jerk. I was angry, frustrated, and had spent the better part of my day dealing with this drama.

So, why am I telling you about my bad behavior in this very public arena? I have since learned that people we commonly refer to as “jerks” have an actual clinical label: high conflict people, or HCPs. Most of us who work in the divorce field have all run into a few HCPs. According to Bill Eddy at the High Conflict Institute, characteristics of HCPs include:

  • Black-or-white thinking, inflexibility, inability to compromise, and unable to consider alternative points-of-view
  • Overreaction and intense emotional responses to minor problems or conflicts, and
  • Little insight into how their behavior affects people, a lack of accountability, and persistent blame of others.

If you are the parent of a teenager, these characteristics may sound familiar! The good news is they should grow out of it. However, about 15% never do and become adults with high-conflict personalities.

When we have a run-in with an HCP in our family, community, or workplace, many of us will do exactly what I did with Jane: defend ourselves, vent to everyone we know (on social media, gasp!), and try to get them to see the situation rationally. This is a perfect recipe for what not to do when confronted by an HCP.  The best strategies are:

  • Disengage when possible. These are not people you are going to “win” an argument with, no matter how good and rational your argument may be. Engaging will only pull you further into the drama and drive you crazy. By engaging you are giving the HCP exactly what they are looking for:  more conflict. If you really want make them mad and keep your inner peace, don’t respond!
  • Manage the relationship. If the HCP is a family member or employed at your workplace, disengagement may not be possible. If this is the case, do your best to manage the relationship and develop strong boundaries. Show the person respect by being courteous and maintaining civility. Keep interactions focused on tasks and avoid emotional involvement. If the HCP becomes combative, calmly communicate you will not be treated with disrespect and remove yourself from the situation.
  • Do your best not to gossip. The saying, “what we feed will grow” applies here. Talking to everyone you know about the HCP will only keep the conflict active and alive. Even worse, the gossip will probably get back to the HCP and then you will have to deal with him or her again. If you really need to vent, find one person you trust and who does not know the HCP. Give yourself 15 minutes to rant and then be done. Another great strategy is writing a letter to the HCP but not sending it. Whatever you do, avoid posting anything negative on social media. Not only does this make you look petty, a nasty public statement will only exacerbate the conflict.

The number of high conflict people in our world seems to be growing. Maybe it’s reality TV, maybe it’s helicopter parents, maybe it’s a general pervasiveness of self-centeredness in our society. Whatever the reason, we are likely to encounter them from time to time. When we do, remember to KEEP CALM AND DISENGAGE!

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale.  She is located in Bloomington.  Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or “Like” her on Facebook at:

Advice from a Horrible Salesperson

The worst job in the world, if you ask me, is selling anything. I see those guys demonstrating at the State Fair and I run past their booths, terrified of making eye contact. I’ve always equated salespeople with phony manipulators trying to get me to do what they want me to do, rather than what’s good for me. No, thank you!

Starting my own divorce practice has put me in the untenable position of selling myself and the services I offer almost every day.  To make matters worse, I hate talking about myself, I’m uncomfortable being the center of attention, and I occasionally find myself in hot water for telling people what they need to hear, as opposed to what they want to hear.  All of these traits make me a great mediator and parenting consultant, and a horrible sales person.

Following are some of the valuable marketing lessons I’ve learned since starting my practice.

  • Authenticity is Key. Didn’t I just say that, in order to sell anything, you had to be a phony manipulator? Not true! I’ve learned the most important part of selling yourself is being yourself. Most people can see through insincerity so don’t bother using a phony sales pitch. Let your qualifications and skills speak for themselves.
  • Be more interestED than interestING. If you are meeting with a potential client or referral source, listen more than you speak. Be genuinely interested in what the other person has to say. Not only will you learn something about them, but they will feel good after meeting you.
  • State why you do what you do. People are generally aware of what you do so it’s not necessarily important to spend time talking about the specifics. Talking about why you do what you do is usually more impactful. For example, I started my divorce practice because I am passionate about helping kids. Parents in conflict often have kids who are hurting; the best way to help the kids is to help their parents. Telling potential clients and referral partners this makes a much stronger statement than getting into the details of the mediation and PC process.
  • Passion sells. Selling something you believe in is not actually selling, it’s inspiring. I truly believe the work I do benefits my clients so it’s easy to “sell” my work authentically.
  • Ask for what you need. Be clear about what you are looking for from your potential clients or referral sources. For example, when I meet with a family law attorney, I specifically ask for referrals for parenting consulting clients (assuming that’s what I’m looking for at the time). You won’t get what you need if you don’t ask for it.

Not only are these lessons valuable in marketing, they are valuable in life. All of them apply to how we develop and sustain relationships, as well as how we sell ourselves and our businesses. I’ve been able to naturally put these lessons into practice professionally and personally. They have allowed me to connect with others in authentic and meaningful ways. Watching my business grow as a result is just a bonus.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or “Like” her on Facebook:

Is Failure the Key to Parenting Success?

Failure 2Like most kids, my kids hate homework. One of them really, really hates homework. Every evening we engaged in major homework battles. I am sure this sounds familiar to some of you. After consulting his teachers and many wise parents, the best advice I received was, “quit fighting him and let him fail.” WHAT?!?!? Aren’t “good parents” supposed to ensure their kids succeed in school, and every other aspect of their lives, all the time?

No! In fact, just the opposite. “Good parents” let their kids fail. Failure allows kids to face the natural consequences of their actions. When my smart kid received his report card after slacking off all semester, the tears rolled down his cheeks. He was so disappointed in himself, we didn’t have to say a word. Was it difficult for this type-A, perfectionist mom to let him fail? Absolutely. But allowing him to fail taught him an important lesson.

I recently read an article on about alarming increases in depression and anxiety among college-aged students.* The statistics are frightening and, as the article points out, a direct result of a generation of kids raised by overbearing “helicopter” parents. These are parents who have micromanaged all aspects of their children’s lives, protecting them from every possible failure along the way. As a result, the kids leave for college incapable of making decisions, unable to solve their problems, terrified of making mistakes, and feeling they have no control over their own lives. This sounds like a perfect recipe for depression and anxiety.

I have no doubt helicopter parents have good intentions. Like all parents, they want their kids to succeed. However, for kids to succeed, they need to hear and, more importantly, be shown that their parents believe they are capable of solving their own problems, making their own decisions, and recovering from their mistakes. If we, as parents, allow them to make small mistakes along the way, hopefully they will avoid making bigger mistakes as they get older.

So what should we, as loving, dedicated, well-intentioned parents, do to avoid helicoptering?

  • Let them fail. If they have a piano recital coming up but refuse to practice, they may have to learn the hard way that practice pays off. We are sure to cringe in the audience, but they are learning!
  • Use empathy and deliver the message, “you are capable.” The frustrated child says, “I don’t know which classes to take next semester.” Dad responds, “I can see the choices are pretty overwhelming but I know you will make the right decision.”
  • Realize their failures (and successes) are not a reflection on you. Reassure yourself, even when your kids make terrible mistakes, it’s a normal part of growing up. There are many great parents with troubled kids. There are many troubled parents with great kids. Be careful not to take too much pride in their successes or beat yourself up too much for their failures. Our children are their own people, after all.

Lastly, helicopter parents, and maybe all of us, need to reconsider how we define success. A college dean interviewed for the article on stated most parents he encounters would prefer their children be depressed at an Ivy League school, rather than happy at a “lesser” university. Yes, our children may earn a PhD in astrophysics from Harvard. But, if they are paralyzed by anxiety and depression, is that a success? Let’s focus less on on our kids’ achievements and more on their well-being.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or “Like” her on Facebook:

*Lythcott-Haims, J. (2015, July) Kids of Helicopter Parents are Sputtering Out.  Retrieved from

Help Kids Manage Stress


If stress burned calories, many of us would weigh 90 pounds, right? Work, family, and the never ending “to do” list all create significant stress in our lives. Most of us adults can effectively manage our stress. But what about children, especially kids whose parents are going through a divorce?

Understandably, divorce causes a great deal of stress for children. They are full of fear over the changes they are experiencing, and often worry they are the reason their parents are getting divorced. One of my main goals when working with clients is helping them help their kids manage stress during and after divorce. Children generally respond to stress in one of the following three ways (

Positive stress response is a healthy part of development where kids learn to cope. Children experience positive stress when getting a shot or starting school after summer vacation. Tolerable stress is more serious and longer lasting, but manageable. This is often the type of stress children experience when their parents get divorced. The good news is both of these types of stress can be negated by positive, loving relationships with parents and other caregivers who can help them adapt and cope with stress.

However, if parents are so high-conflict they are not able to develop a cooperative co-parenting or parallel-parenting relationship, kids are at risk for developing a toxic stress response. Toxic stress puts children in a constant state of fight-or-flight mode, affecting their brain development, suppressing their immune system and causing learning and memory problems. As adults, children who experience toxic stress are at risk of developing heart disease, substance abuse problems and depression. Obviously we want to help kids manage stress so that it doesn’t become toxic.

This is one reason it’s so important for parents to focus on developing a manageable co-parenting or parallel-parenting relationship with one another. In addition, parents can help their kids manage stress by:

  • Understanding it’s normal for kids to be stressed during the divorce process. Don’t get stressed because the kids are stressed!
  • Validating the kids’ feelings about the divorce. “I know you feel sad,” or, “I understand you miss seeing your mom everyday like you used to.” Kids need to hear it’s okay to feel how they feel.
  • Encouraging honesty. The kids may feel guilty about having fun with dad and his new girlfriend.  While hearing this may be hurtful for mom, it’s important kids know they can always be honest with both parents.
  • Asking the kids what they think would make them feel better. Sometimes the only answer may be that mom and dad get back together, and that’s okay. Try to offer simple ideas like taking a walk, watching a movie together, or calling the other parent.
  • Keeping a regular routine, especially for younger children. Routine and consistency give kids tremendous security and comfort.
  • Repeatedly reassuring them they are not the cause of the divorce and that both parents will always love them, no matter what.

Divorce is often referred to as “crazy time” with good reason. The stress created by the huge number of changes divorce brings is difficult for adults and children alike. However, parents can help their kids cope with the stress effectively so they can positively adjust to their new life.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or “Like” her on Facebook:

The Blame Game (Part Two)

Blame is an automatic response when we find ourselves in difficult situations. Politicians spend months debating whether the Democrats or Republicans are responsible for the problems facing our country. I wish they would focus less on pointing fingers and more on solving the problems. 

Minnesota is supposedly a “no fault” divorce state but that doesn’t keep clients from investing thousands of dollars in finding fault. This focuses clients on the past, fixates them on toxic emotions and keeps them emotionally connected to one another. So how can we help clients stop blaming so they can move on with their lives? Here are a few tips:

•    Appeal to their selfish interests. Blame does not hurt the person we blame, it only hurts ourselves. Frame blaming in a way so they see how letting go of it will bring peace to their lives, improve their relationships and benefit their children. 
•    Set goals. Where does your client want to be six months, two years and five years after the divorce? Will continuing to blame help them achieve their goals?  
•    Encourage them to feel their pain.Researcher Brene Brown explains that we blame as a way to release our pain. Our clients need to hear it’s normal for them to be in pain during a divorce. Divorce is a grieving process. 
•    Awareness. Ask clients to be aware when they are blaming. Often when we blame we don’t even know we are doing it. Once they are aware, they can take control. 
•    Accountability. Ask clients to take a good, hard look in the mirror. What was their own contribution to the marriage breakdown? In Brown’s research she notes an inverse relationship between blame and accountability. Once a person becomes more accountable for their own actions, the less they will blame others.
•    Ask them to forgive themselves. Once clients become aware of the part they played in their marital breakdown, they must forgive themselves. What is done is done. Forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes, and move on with your life. 
•    Focus on the future. When we blame we are focused on what has already happened and we see ourselves as victims. Ask clients to focus on the power they have in deciding how their future will look.

If you have a client who is struggling with blame to the point it’s hindering the settlement process, encourage them to see a therapist or divorce coach. Often a neutral third party can help resolve some of the emotional pain so the divorce process can move forward.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or

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The Blame Game (Part One)

I couldn’t find my phone when rushing out the door the other day and I immediately blamed my kids for losing it. It turns out it was in my purse all along. Not only was blaming the kids for my mistake unfair, it momentarily kept me from solving the problem and finding my phone. When something bad happens, most of us first focus on who is to blame.

Often in divorce, clients are willing to spare no expense to prove their ex is to blame. But the truth in almost all cases is both parties have contributed to the breakdown of the marriage. The focus on blame in the divorce process seems inevitable, but it’s damaging to our clients. Blame focuses clients on the past, fixates them on toxic emotions and keeps them emotionally connected to one another. It’s not constructive in building a good and healthy future.

Researcher Brene Brown explains that we blame as a way to release our pain and give ourselves some semblance of control over the situation. Divorce brings chaos to clients’ lives so it’s understandable they may blame in order to feel in control. To help them move past blame, it’s crucial for clients to know their pain is justified, even though it’s unlikely they will ever receive an apology. Their pain is real. Period.

Why is it so important for clients to move past blaming? Brown explains that the more we blame others, the less accountable we are for our own part of the problem.  Clients can only move past their divorce and have healthy, fulfilling relationships in the future once they understand the part they have played in the conflict.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t justified in their blame; it’s possible for clients to embrace their own story and be accountable for the conflict too. Not every story has one winner and one loser.

So the question remains: exactly how do we get clients to stop blaming so they can move on with their lives?  Stay tuned for next month’s blog to find out.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale.  She is located in Bloomington.  Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or “Like” her on Facebook:

Getting Friends to Take Your Advice

Have you ever been frustrated by a friend who refused to take your good advice?  Almost everyone can answer yes to that question.  Following are a few tips to help get friends and family to listen to you when offering good advice.

  • BE SURE THEY FEEL UNDERSTOOD. This cannot be overstated. Listen to your friend carefully and convey you truly understand where they are coming from. Knowing they have been heard is crucial. If they don’t think you understand their story, you won’t have credibility with them.
  • Walk them through the consequences of taking your advice vs. not taking it. Talk about what you predict will happen next week, next month, next year and in five years if they take your advice or don’t take it.
  • Ask your friend what they need from you. Maybe they really aren’t seeking advice. Perhaps they are just looking for a sounding board or someone to help brainstorm different ideas of how to solve their problems.
  • Be confident. If you don’t feel sure of the advice you are giving, consult with someone to increase your confidence.
  • Speak carefully. Be thoughtful about how you word your advice and be sensitive to the friend’s feelings and emotional state. Sometimes what you say isn’t has important as how you say it.
  • Be sure your advice is realistic for your friend. Some people struggle with struggle with intense emotions, impulse control and destructive behaviors. If this is your friend he or she may not be able to follow your advice regardless of how good it is.

Friends who refuse to follow good advice are sure to cause of frustration even if you are able to put all these tips into practice. Hopefully you found this information helpful.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or

Divorce without Courts?

A new bill was introduced in the Minnesota legislature this week that would allow couples to divorce completely outside the legal system. It is the first proposed bill of its kind in the United States. Bill Doherty, project director for Minnesota Couples on the Brink and a professor at the University of Minnesota, is the author of the cooperative private divorce bill and appeared on Minnesota Public Radio on Tuesday to talk about it. Here is an excerpt from the MPR story:

“‘In our culture, court means contest,’ [Bill Doherty] said. ‘It means fight. It means you each hire a lawyer who fights for your best interest and a judge makes a decision. That is how we’ve culturally viewed divorce as a battle.’

Divorces are culturally part of the court system today because they started as fault-based situations. Couples needed lawyers and judges to determine fault in the failure of the marriage. Today, no-fault divorces don’t necessarily need the court system to resolve conflict, Doherty said.”

Of course, as a mediator, I am thrilled with the idea that divorcing couples would routinely begin the process cooperatively working with neutrals. Obviously it would be good for my mediation practice. More importantly, however, it would benefit families by saving them money and relieving some of the stress and emotional pain that can accompany the traditional adversarial divorce process.

It is important to note the bill would still allow couples to opt IN to the legal divorce process. Cooperative divorce is not appropriate for all couples, particularly couples where there is a severe power imbalance, domestic violence and mental health issues.

We are sure to hear more about this bill in the weeks and months to come. I would love to hear your opinions in the comment section.

To listen to the full audio, click here:

The Importance of Boundaries


In last month’s post, “Telling Clients What They Don’t Want to Hear,” I mentioned the importance of maintaining proper boundaries when working with clients during and after divorce. Boundaries not only help us serve our clients more effectively, they protect us from allowing clients to invade our life outside of work.

I recently read a book called Boundaries: When to Say Yes and When to Say No and Take Control of your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. In this post I’m highlighting a few of the “Laws of Boundaries” outlined in the book that I find helpful in serving divorcing clients.

  • The Law of Power. The basic premise of this law is knowing what we control and what we don’t control. How many times have you told a client, “you can’t control the other person, you only control yourself.” Sometimes we need to listen to our own advice! We CAN control the advice we give our clients and how we deliver it, we CAN’T control whether or not they take it. We CAN control how we prepare how we prepare for a meeting or a trial but we CAN’T control the outcome.
  • The Law of Evaluation. This boundary pertains to setting and conveying your own boundaries to clients. Examples include whether or not you give out your cell phone number and your expected response time to “emergencies.” Setting and communicating your boundaries to clients, even if it makes them angry, is necessary to so they know what to expect from you.
  • The Law of Natural Consequences. As attorneys and therapists we naturally want to help our clients.  Helping is good; rescuing is harmful to ourselves and our clients.  This boundary clarifies the line between helping and rescuing. Here’s a summary:
Helpers Rescuers
Encourage independence Create dependency
Responsible only for yourself Feel responsible for other people
Don’t take things personally Feel badly when efforts not well received
Only help when asked Assume what other people need
Help without expectation Require appreciation and gratitude
Allow those who “commit the crime” to “do the time” Intervene and absorb the consequences for others’ behavior

I serve as a Guardian ad litem for Hennepin County and I have found these boundaries absolutely crucial in helping me do this important work. They also help in my work with clients in conflict during and after divorce. I hope you find them helpful in serving your clients as well.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services.  She is located in Bloomington.  Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or

Telling People What They Don’t Want to Hear

At some point we all have to tell people what they don’t want to hear. It might be telling an aging parent they can no longer live independently. Or a friend we can’t support them if they continue making destructive decisions. In the divorce business telling clients what is sure to upset them is an almost daily occurrence.  Following are some tips to make this part of your job easier.

  • Be Sure You Have it Right. Do your research and be prepared to “defend” what you are saying.  It is natural to receive pushback in these situations.  If possible have data or anecdotes available.
  • Have empathy. Look at the situation from the perspective of the person with whom you are talking.  Sometimes people are so “in the weeds” that they can’t see a situation clearly.  Avoid making any judgments.  This can be a difficult task with some clients!
  • Don’t mince words. Focus on the truth and state things as simply as possible.
  • Avoid the blame game. It is normal for people to blame others when they end up in situations where they don’t want to be.  This isn’t particularly constructive because it focuses on the past, not the future.
  • Help outline their choices and consequences. Regardless of how they have gotten to this point, focus on the situation right now.  Present them with possible solutions and predicted outcomes.  They have just been told bad news.  Giving them a plan to move forward will comfort them and make them feel like they have more control over the situation.
  • Maintain Boundaries. The messenger (you) sometimes gets killed! Try to remain objective and avoid getting defensive.  While it may seem like you are being attacked, they are really attacking your message, not you.

Of course, these conversations are going to be uncomfortable and difficult even if all these rules are followed.  For this reason I would argue the most important tip on this list is having proper boundaries in place.  More to come on maintaining good boundaries in the future.

Erin Kassebaum provides divorce mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services.  She is located in Bloomington.  Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or