About: Institute

Bob O'Connor, MJuris, MDiv, LLM in Dispute Resolution Bob brings a wealth of experience to his work as an alternative dispute resolution practitioner and trainer. He has worked with families in crisis for nearly three decades, and has mediated hundreds of disputes. Upon his graduation from Albion College in 1977, he began his legal training in England at Oxford University where he earned an M.Juris. He pursued but did not finish his J.D. at Notre Dame Law School, and later received his LL.M. in Alternative Dispute Resolution at The Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, Pepperdine University School of Law. In between his legal studies, Bob earned a M.Div. degree with honors from Yale University, and then served as a minister, counselor, and teacher for 17 years. He has dedicated himself to the development of the field of alternative dispute resolution. He is the author of Marital Separation Agreements A Guide for Non-Lawyer Mediators (ICR Publishing 2011), Five Essential Steps to Negotiate Your Same-Sex Marriage (Forbes 6/14/12), and Same-Sex “Marriage” What’s in a Name? (ADR Times 7/9/12) Bob lectures in leadership development to the non-ADR community, and on practice-related issues in mediation. In addition to his private practice, Conflict Resolution Specialists, he served as a certified Superior Court mediator in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and California. He also founded the Institute for Conflict Resolution—an education and publishing entity—and Good Decisions.org—a nonprofit organization helping at risk middle school teens stay in school and out of gangs. Bob founded the Institute for Conflict Resolution to respond to the need in this region for a premiere education and training organization. www.instituteforconflicresolution.com

Recent Posts by Institute

4 Ways to Quiet the Negative Voice Inside You

post written by: Marc Chernoff


12 Positive Thoughts for Troubled Times

There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference.  The little difference is attitude.  The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.
―W. Clement Stone

Why do we think negatively when we know better?

Because thinking negatively, expecting “the worst,” seeing the downside of positive situations, and even downright expecting failure, all convey a kind of backwards-thinking, emotional insurance policy.  It goes something like, “If I expect a tragedy, then I won’t be disappointed when it takes place.”

Our desire to want to be right is another common reason we subconsciously choose negative thinking.  Sometimes, as foolish as it sounds, we would rather be right about our negative predictions than have a positive outcome prove us wrong.  And since negative thinking leads to negative actions, or no action at all in many cases, by thinking negatively we create a self-fulfilling prediction for ourselves.  In other words, we think negatively, predict a negative outcome, act negatively, and then receive a negative outcome that fulfills our prediction.

Of course, none of this is what we truly want or need in our lives.  So how can we stop talking ourselves into these thinking traps?  Let’s take a look at four powerful ways to quiet the negative, inner voice that leads us astray:

Final Reminder:  We recently released the audio book for ‘1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently’ and we also have a limited time ‘Get One, Share One’ autographed paperback special.  Click here to check it out!

1.  Start focusing on the grey area between the extremes.

Life simply isn’t black or white – 100% of this or 100% of that – all or nothing.  Thinking in extremes like this is a fast way to misery, because negative thinking tends to view any situation that’s less than perfect as being extremely bad.  For example:

  • Rather than the rainstorm slowing down my commute home from work, instead “it wasted my whole evening and ruined my night!”
  • Instead of my business venture taking a while to gain traction, “it’s never going to work, and it’s going to completely ruin my financial future.”
  • Rather than just accepting the nervousness of meeting a new group of people, “I know these people are not going to like me.”

Since 99.9% of all situations in life are less than perfect, black and white thinking tends to make us focus on the negative – the drama, the failures, and the worst case scenarios.  Sure catastrophes occur on occasion, but contrary to what you many see on the evening news, most of life occurs in a grey area between the extremes of bliss and devastation.

If you struggle with seeing the grey area of a situation, sit down with a pen and paper, write down the best-case outcome, the worst-case outcome, and at least one realistic outcome that falls between the two extremes.  For example, say you’ve been worrying about a new intimate relationship, write down:

  • Worst-case outcome (unlikely extreme):  “The relationship is a total disaster that ends with two broken hearts.”
  • Best-case outcome (unlikely extreme):  “The relationship is total bliss with zero arguments until the end of time.”
  • Realistic-case outcome (highly likely):  “There will be great times, good times, and not so good times, but we will work together, respect each other, and give our relationship a fair chance before drawing any conclusions.”

Make the realistic-case outcome as detailed and long as you like, or list more than one realistic-case outcome.  Giving your mind more options to consider will help reduce extreme emotions and allow you to think more clearly and realistically.  (Read The Happiness Advantage.)

2.  Stop looking for negative signs from others.

Too often we jump to conclusions, only to cause ourselves and others unnecessary worry, hurt, and anger.  If someone says one thing, don’t assume they mean something else.  If they say nothing at all, don’t assume their silence has some hidden, negative connotation.

Thinking negatively will inevitably lead you to interpret everything another person does as being negative, especially when you are uncertain about what the other person is thinking.  For instance, “He hasn’t called, so he must not want to talk to me,” or, “She only said that to be nice, but she doesn’t really mean it.”

Assigning meaning to a situation before you have the whole story makes you more likely to believe that the uncertainty you feel (based on lack of knowing) is a negative sign.  On the flip-side, holding off on assigning meaning to an incomplete story is a primary key to overcoming negative thinking.  When you think more positively, or simply more clearly about the facts, you’ll be able to evaluate all possible reasons you can think of, not just the negative ones.  In other words, you’ll be doing more of:  “I don’t know why he hasn’t called, but maybe…”

  • “…he’s extremely busy at work.”
  • “…his phone battery is dead.”
  • “…he’s simply waiting for me to call him.”
  • etc.

You get the get the idea.  None of these circumstances are negative and all are as plausible as any other possible explanation.

Next time you feel uncertain and insecure, and you catch yourself stressing about a problem that doesn’t exist, stop yourself and take a deep breath.  Then tell yourself, “This problem I’m concerned with only exists in my mind.”  Being able to distinguish between what you imagine and what is actually happening in your life is an important step towards living a positive life.

3.  Evaluate and eliminate unreasonable rules and expectations.

You must deal with the world the way it is, not the way you expect it to be.  Life is under no obligation to give you exactly what you expect.  In fact, whatever it is you’re seeking will rarely ever come in the form you’re expecting, but that doesn’t make it any less wonderful.

Stop forcing your own misconstrued expectations and rules on life…

  • “He was late, so he must not care about me.” – Or perhaps he just got caught in traffic.
  • “If I can’t do this correctly, then I must not be smart enough.” – Or perhaps you just need more practice.
  • “I haven’t heard back from my doctor, so the test results must be bad.” – Or perhaps the lab is just really busy and your results aren’t available yet.
  • etc.

Inventing rules like these about how life must be, based on your own stubborn expectations, is a great way to keep your mind stuck in the gutter.  This isn’t to say that you should never expect anything at all from yourself and others (diligence, honesty, ambition, etc.), but rather that the rules that govern your expectations should not steer you toward unreasonably negative conclusions.

If you feel dissatisfied or let down by an outcome, then you must have been expecting something different.  Rather than get upset, ask yourself, “Were my expectations too narrow?” and “What new truths have I learned?”

The bottom line is that you must see and accept things as they are instead of as you hoped, wished, or expected them to be.  Just because it didn’t turn out like you had envisioned, doesn’t mean it isn’t exactly what you need to get to where you ultimately want to go.  (Read The Road Less Traveled.)

4.  Embrace rejection and use it to find the right opportunities.

As soon as someone critiques and criticizes you, as soon as you are rejected, you might find yourself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am not worthy.”  What you need to realize is, these other people are NOT worthy of YOU and your particular journey.  Rejection is necessary medicine; it teaches you how to reject opportunities that aren’t going to work, so can quickly find new ones that will.

Rejection doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough; it means the other person failed to notice what you have to offer.  It means you have more time to improve your thing – to build upon your ideas, to perfect your craft, and indulge deeper in to the work that moves you.

“Will you be bitter for a moment?  Absolutely.  Hurt?  Of course, you’re human.  There isn’t a soul on this planet that doesn’t feel a small fraction of their heart break at the realization of rejection.  For a short time afterwards you ask yourself every question you can think of…

  • “What did I do wrong?”
  • Why didn’t they like me?
  • How come?
  • etc.

But then you have to let your emotions fuel you!  This is the important part.  Let your feelings of rejection drive you, feed you, and inspire one heck of a powerful opening to the next chapter of your journey.

As you look back on your life, you will often realize that many of the times you thought you were being rejected from something good, you were in fact being redirected to something better.  You can’t control everything.  Sometimes you just need to relax and have faith that things will work out.  Let go a little and just let life happen the way it’s supposed to.  Because sometimes the outcomes you can’t change, end up changing you and helping you grow far beyond your wildest dreams.  (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” and “Relationships” chapters of “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.”)


Think positive.  Life is good.  Too many people miss the silver lining because they’re expecting pure gold.  Positive thinking isn’t about expecting the best to always happen, but accepting that whatever happens is the best for the moment.  So keep smiling and keep staying true to your heart.  Someday, the negative voice inside you will have nothing left to say.

Tips for Effective Mediation

Suggestions for Effective Collaborative Negotiations: The Help List


Robert Bordett, CFP, CDFA  |    Suggestions for Effective Collaborative Negotiations: The Help ListI was reading an excellent book called Collaborative Divorce, written by Pauline Tesler and Peggy Thompson, which gave me pause to consider what people should really think about when they come in for Collaborative Divorce.  I’ve known Pauline and Peggy since they trained me in Collaborative Divorce back in 1999 and their impact on me has been immeasurable.

Another great resource is something called “The Help List”, a twelve point guide to more productive negotiations that I reprint here with gratitude to the people who developed it:

Suggestions for Effective Collaborative Negotiations – “The Help List” – developed by Steven Neustadter and Catherine Conner; adapted with permission from Process Anchors by Chip Rose.

During All Meetings with Your Partner and with the Collaborative

1  )  View your “ex” as a negotiation problem-solving partner. Although the two
of you are separating it is helpful to consider that person as someone who can
actively and constructively participate in resolving the issues created by your
separation. For that reason that person is referred to as your “partner” in this
list of suggestions.

2 )  Be constructive. Only do or say those things which will be effective. Being
effective and constructive means always remaining focused on achieving goals
that are consistent with your interests and principles and always acting in
ways that you believe could lead to a solution.

3 )  Take responsibility for your feelings and do not allow your feelings to
dictate your actions. When you feel that you have been wronged, it is hard not
to dwell on the wrongdoing that you feel has been inflicted upon you and hard
not to remain focused on blaming your partner and hard not to expect the
worst. When you allow yourself to be governed by such feelings you are
dwelling in the past and limiting your ability to move forward. Look at what
has happened — including your own part in it — and set whatever boundaries
and limits you may need to protect yourself in the future. Then focus your
attention on what will help you in the future.

4 )  Avoid using inflammatory language and gestures. Critical speech, blame,
the use of sarcastic inflections and accusatory looks, can all cause a spiral of
unproductive conversation. Notice if you are angry, fearful, hurt, or in pain
and if need be, remove yourself from the immediate situation until you feel
more able to participate constructively. When you catch yourself reacting in a
potentially inflammatory way, or someone else points out your reaction, use
that awareness as a tool to understand yourself and your needs.

5 )  Speak for yourself, not for your partner. When speaking about your
partner, try not to describe his/her feelings or motivations. Focus on your own
feelings. For example, if you feel that a particular statement is not true,
express your concerns by stating that “I don’t trust you. I am not able to
believe what you are saying.” Do not state “You are a liar.” The former
statement is clearly true. The latter statement may be subject to debate and
can easily precipitate an unnecessary argument. The latter statement also
does not address the serious issue of lack of trust. Negotiators refer to this
preferred manner of expression as making “I” statements. “I” statements are
never followed by the words “that you . . .” For example, saying “I feel that
you are a liar” is not an “I” statement. “I” statements express your own
underlying concerns or feelings; they do not describe your partner or his/her

6 )  Remember that the collaborative process is completely voluntary. You
and your partner will continue in collaboration only so long as you both wish. You
are free to terminate the process at any time. You have the right to say “no”
at any time. It is important to remember this right. Knowledge of your
entitlement to stop at any time gives you the freedom to consider options
without feeling coerced.

7 )  Be creative. Attempt to think “outside of the box.” Be willing to consider as
many options as possible for meeting your interests as well as your partner’s.
Focus on being creative. For example, “brainstorm” potential options and
develop as many choices as possible before shifting into an evaluative mode
and choosing solutions. If you already have ideas about how certain issues
should be resolved, be willing to park those ideas on the shelf while facts and
priorities are reviewed and options are developed. You can always reconsider
your original ideas later, after much more information has been gathered. The
best and most lasting solutions are those that emerge from broad consensus
about the facts and shared awareness of goals and priorities

8 )  Respect the fact that the big changes taking place in your relationship will
present different challenges for you and your partner. You are both going
through a difficult transition. Sometimes the difficulties are greater for one
person than the other. Sometimes one of you will have already fully accepted
the idea of the relationship ending, while the other is just starting to adjust to
that reality. You will each have different needs and a different timetable over
which such adjustments will occur. You will each process information
differently and make decisions in different ways. Be respectful of these
differences and difficulties and do not take them personally. Consider the
possibility that each of you is doing the best that you can.

9 )  Consider conflict as an opportunity to be creative. Most people encounter at
least a few issues which are very sensitive and which can lead to some
conflict. The potential for conflict should not lead to the avoidance of
important issues. Conflict can be useful inasmuch as it can help clarify what is
most important to each partner, and why. Conflict can be a useful tool if it
leads to a productive result and is handled skillfully and respectfully.
Collaboration does not imply an absence of conflict. Collaborative Law does
provide an opportunity to approach potential conflict with a constructive
solution-oriented attitude.

10 )  Listen carefully to your partner’s expressed feelings, priorities, concerns,
and interests. It is very Important that you try to understand what matters to
your partner, and why. True collaboration aims for maximum consensus,
which implies that everyone will be attempting to find resolutions that
encompass as much as possible of what is important to each of you. Mutual
understanding is a prerequisite for optimizing results. Sometimes when you
don’t agree with what someone else is saying you will be fearful that
expressing your understanding signifies agreement. Listening to and
understanding what someone is saying does not constitute agreement. It is,
however, an essential ingredient in the collaborative problem-solving process.

11 )  Be optimistic! There is no risk attached to choosing optimism, and much
potential benefit. You may not have chosen to separate, but even an
unwelcome separation offers unexpected opportunities to “push the reset
button.” Remain optimistic that with diligence and effort a mutually acceptable
result is possible. There is no guarantee that the process of reaching
agreement will be effortless or without difficulties. However, even the most
difficult conflicts can be resolved when there is the intention to do so.

12 )  We are all responsible for the application of “The Help List.” This process
will work best if at the commencement all participants give everyone else
permission to comment gently when one of the principles above is not being
applied. The lawyers are as responsible as the parties for applying the list.

Introduction from my New Book: MARITAL SEPARATION AGREEMENTS A Guide for Non-Lawyer Mediators


Marital separation agreements are unique among the spectrum of contracts between parties. Because the terms of these agreements concern parties dissolving their marriage, they have long been the object of intense scrutiny by legislators, the judiciary, and scholars. The issues raised by these agreements are often complex and difficult to address. This book will focus primarily upon separation agreements for divorcing parties in North Carolina, but it will also trace the definition and development of separation agreements in general, their historical roots, and the shifting public policy concerns about them over time. It will explore how both legislators and courts have attempted to inject themselves into these agreements in order to review, revise or prevent them from being enforceable. In the process, thorny issues will be surfaced and discussed, issues that demand standards, criteria and guidelines to inform and direct non-lawyer mediators in the practice of their craft. Finally, I will offer suggestions about how Alternative Dispute Resolution, as a profession, can develop and define itself more fully. I will conclude by offering specifics about how to remedy the current quagmires, and to chart a positive course for the future.