New Site

January 23, 2012

Conflict Remedy Change–Subscribers please note.

January 23, 2012

Dear Conflict Remedy blog subscribers,

I am moving my blog to a hosted website (same URL— and I don’t want to lose any of you. Please visit the website and subscribe again. I will be starting an e-newsletter soon, which will be another way to get my writings. Please send me an e-mail if you’d like to be in touch that way or if you have any questions.



What Alice Forgot—Memory and Forgiveness

January 16, 2012

What Alice Forgot—Memory and ForgivenessBy remembering our younger selves, can we heal bitterness and estrangement in our present relationships? This is the theme of the novel, What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty.

As the novel begins, Alice falls and hits her head during a spinning class, and wakes up believing she is a newly wed 29 year old, slightly plump, laid back and serene, deeply in love with her husband and very close to her sister. In fact, she is 39 and has amnesia for the events of the past 10 years. She has forgotten she has 3 young children, a rigorous routine of intense exercise, rigid dieting, excessive shopping, and time consuming volunteer work. She is barely in contact with her sister, and is in the final stages of an acrimonious divorce from her husband. She has forgotten she is deeply grieving the accidental death of her best friend, whom her younger self doesn’t even know, and lashing out at everyone around her.

During much of the novel, she is trying to remember her children and her friend, and understand, in bewilderment, what could possibly have gone so wrong in her relationships with her husband and her sister.

(Spoiler Alert) Her memory eventually comes back, but she isn’t the same as she was before the accident because she can access the thoughts and feelings of her younger self with as much immediacy as those of her current self. “Now it seemed like she could twist the lens on her life and see it from two entirely different perspectives.”

This dual vision lets her remember all the times her husband was there for her as well as her bitter feeling of abandonment. Her affection and longing for her sister motivates her to reach beyond their current estrangement. Her loving approach leads them to respond to her differently, and the relationships are renewed and strengthened as a result.

She allows her younger self to influence her daily life as well, balancing her compulsive, driven activity with some gentleness and relaxation. “Finally she stopped resisting and called a truce. Young Alice could stay as long as she didn’t eat too much chocolate.”

We often think about conflict and differences between two individuals, but the main conflict in this novel was not between Alice and significant others, but between Alice at 29 and at 39. By negotiating between her two selves, and honoring their wisdom, by remembering what she cherished about people she had been close to, she creates a new life that has the best of both her worlds. Awareness, forgiveness, letting go, and balance are key.

Note: Quotations are from page 402 of the novel, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moariarty.

Lorraine Segal provides one on one communication coaching, training, and mediation by telephone and face to face. Her business, Conflict Remedy is based in Santa Rosa California. She also teaches in the conflict resolution program at Sonoma State University.

To schedule a free initial telephone consultation or get more information, you can reach Lorraine at (707) 236-8079,  or through this blog.

© Lorraine Segal

Parent–Teen Disagreements Have Positive Results

January 6, 2012

conflict and disagreement can have positive outcomes for parents and teensIf you find yourself in frequent arguments with your teen—take heart. According to a newly published study, the right kind of disagreement may help a teen ‘just say no’ to peers when pressured to use drugs or be sexually active.

The longitudinal study at the University of Virginia looked at a diverse group of 150 teens at ages 13, 15, and 16, and asked questions of the teens, their peers, and parents about the teen’s substance use, interactions with mothers, social skills, and friendships. Researchers also observed the teens interacting with family members.

The results of the study indicate that teens who “openly expressed their viewpoints” and “held their own” in discussions with their mothers were also more likely to resist peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol or become sexually active.  The researchers particularly mentioned teens who could effectively use “reasoned arguments” to change parents’ minds about such topics as friends, grades, chores and house rules.

In contrast, teens who tried to use “pressure, whining, or insults” to get their way or those who gave in immediately without arguing, were more likely to give in to peer pressure as well.

Most people, unless conflict resolution professionals, tend to think that all conflict is bad. Parents can see their kids “talking back” as a sign of failure. On the contrary, when teens learn to stand up for a position and negotiate solutions, the skills learned carry over into better decision-making about sex, drugs, and alcohol, issues that deeply concern parents.

As a coach and mediator who helps teens and adults gain skills for communicating effectively, I often tell clients that conflict can have positive outcomes. It is challenging for parents and teens to figure out how to navigate difficult conversations successfully, but if they begin with love and a willingness to truly listen to each other, the result is far better than either yelling and dictating or just giving in.

By the way, the study said nothing about who “won” the argument. It was a respectful, effective style of communicating that made the difference for the teens.

Some information for this blog post came from the sources below:

Teens Who Express Own Views with Mom Resist Peer Pressures Best

 Familial Roots of Adolescents’ Autonomy with Peers: Family Interactions as Predictors of Susceptibility to Peer Influence–Joseph P. Allen University of Virginia (ppt.)

Lorraine Segal, communication coach, mediator, trainerThrough her business, Conflict Remedy, Lorraine Segal, provides communication coaching and mediation for parents, teens, couples and  people in organizations. Services available by telephone and Skype, as well as face to face in Santa Rosa, California. She also teaches in the conflict resolution program at Sonoma State University. Contact her to schedule a free initial 30 minute telephone consultation and see what services might be right for you. You can reach her at (707) 236-8079,  or through this blog.

© Lorraine Segal

Challenging Assumptions in Disagreements (and Cemeteries)

December 2, 2011

Dangers of Assumptions in rural cemetaryAssumptions we make about other people’s motives can be obstacles to resolving conflict and differences. We know the impact of their words or actions on us, but we are often merely guessing their intent or making up a story about them that validates our worst fears or resentments.

I had an experience in a cemetery that illustrates this.

Close to my office is an extensive, beautiful rural cemetery, dating back to the mid 1800s, with ancient oaks shading gravel paths and bending over old gravestones. On breaks from work, I wander through, reading inscriptions and wondering about the lives of those buried there.

In a corner of the property, just off one of the paths, is a run down shed, with peeling paint, a rusty grate over the window, an old padlock on the door, and a bent metal sign that says, ”Private property–Keep out!”.

Although I find the cemetery in general a peaceful, contemplative place, I always shuddered slightly as I walked by the shed, envisioning a ghostly interior: cobwebs, mortuary slabs, a sink with sinister stains, and open crumbling coffins.

On a recent visit, I walked by the shed, and found the door wide open. Inside was a shabby but functional break room, with a water cooler, coffee maker, small refrigerator, a lumpy turquoise couch and chairs. This ordinary interior was quite a contrast to the picture my morbid imagination had conjured up.

I believe we do something similar when we make assumptions about someone we are in conflict with. We paint a picture of them and their intentions that may be far more dangerous and negative than the reality.

Although we can’t literally see inside another person as I could see inside the open door of the shed, we can learn to “open the door” to understanding the other person’s perspective. It takes willingness, detachment, and active listening, sometimes with help and support from a coach, mediator, or counselor, but the result can be miracles of forgiveness and resolution.

Lorraine Segal, Communication Coach, Mediator, TrainerLorraine Segal and Conflict Remedy, are based in Santa Rosa, California. Lorraine provides one on one communication coaching, training, and mediation by telephone and face to face. She also teaches in the conflict resolution program at Sonoma State University. 

To schedule a free initial telephone session or get more information, you can reach Lorraine at (707) 236-8079, email  or contact her through this blog.

Coming up–Radio interview on Holiday Hot Buttons–Lorraine will be interviewed on BlogTalk Radio by Sharon Ball on December 19th at 3:30 PM Pacific. Call in number (858) 777-5903.

© Lorraine Segal

Effective, Respectful, Communication—Lessons from Occupy Santa Rosa

November 13, 2011
Respectful discourse and conflict resolution

photo by Chris Bowers

Consensus building, like other valuable parts of negotiation and conflict resolution, is often messy and time consuming, but the result can be a vibrant, inclusive process of reaching decisions to which people feel deeply committed.

I recently witnessed this in action when Occupy Santa Rosa, my local Occupy group here in N. California, put out a request for people who could teach facilitation and consensus building skills. Since I’ve been facilitating meetings of all sizes by consensus for most of my adult life, I thought this would be a good way for me to contribute.

I started by attending one of their general assemblies, and I was pleased and impressed to see how skillfully they were incorporating many principles of conflict resolution and respectful communication. Here are some of the ideas and tools they are using:


If people feel shut out of the dialogue or as if their voice won’t matter, it can lead to resentment and conflict.  Anyone can sign up to speak at these meetings, and I saw people of all ages and in attire from scruffy jeans to business suits present and participating.

At the particular meeting I attended, someone objected to the presence of homeless people. One of the facilitators reminded them of a decision reached at a previous meeting, that as long as they abided by the rules forbidding drugs, alcohol, smoking, and violence, homeless people, as part of the 99%, had just as much right to be there and take part as anyone else.

Consensus building hand gestures

Facilitators can quickly address issues when people can participate non verbally with agreed upon hand gestures. Occupy Santa Rosa has a number of gestures including ones people can use to:

1) Express agreement or enthusiasm.

2) Express disagreement

3) Ask to comment on the current issue or add information

4) Address a point of process

5) ask speaker to get to the point quickly

6) indicate they can’t hear, or

7) block, meaning they can’t be part of  the action if issue is adopted.

Positive speech

There is a conscious emphasis on positive speech and points of agreement rather than tearing down or criticizing another’s ideas, and on working to avoid negativity that closes off dialogue.

Mediators and facilitators know that for conflicts to be resolved, not merely settled and for relationships to be healed, everyone’s needs and views must be heard and respected. Similarly, true democracy is far more than just a majority vote. Consensus building processes honor and value the wisdom and contribution of all voices, minority as well as majority. The Occupy movement is young and imperfect, but as their chant says, “This is what democracy looks like.”

Lorraine Segal and Conflict Remedy, are based in Santa Rosa, California. Lorraine provides one on one communication coaching, training, and mediation by telephone and face to face. She also teaches in the conflict resolution program at Sonoma State University. She has been facilitating meetings for over 30  years.

To schedule a free initial telephone session or get more information, you can reach Lorraine at (707) 236-8079, email  or contact her through this blog.

© Lorraine Segal


Holiday Hot Buttons: 5 Simple Steps to Cool Them Down

October 21, 2011

fighting nerds with holiday hot buttonsHolidays can trigger powerful emotional reactions. We all know what the holidays are supposed to be like–perfect gifts and understanding, the warm glow of family togetherness and a spirit of lovingkindness.

But the gap between this illusive image and our reality, filled with holiday pressures and challenging gatherings, can be a set up for hot button responses.

It is possible, however, to “cool down” these hot buttons, improving our communications and increasing our holiday serenity in the process.

Here are 5 simple steps for cooling down holiday-intensified hot buttons:

1. Identify your hot buttons.   We can’t change our response to hot buttons unless we know what they are. So, start by thinking of a holiday remark or action that sets you off.

One example is the loaded question: at a family gathering, your grandmother asks why you’re still not married; or your brother in law asks if you found a job yet; or your mother asks if you should really eat whipped cream on that pie. Think about the facts (what happened or what was said) and feelings (how you felt, reacted.) If you felt overwhelming shame or instant anger, they most likely hit a hot button.

Now what? I’ve never had much success getting family members or other loved ones to stop “pushing” my hot buttons, even when I’ve clearly identified them. If that’s true for you as well, I recommend steps 2-5.

Step 2 Tell your own story.

The next step is to understand the story you are telling yourself about what the button “pusher’s” intent was and what he/she thinks of you. This often involves some variation of your belief that the other person must think you are unimportant, incompetent, stupid, or unlikable. These internal stories are hurtful, and give hot buttons some of their power.

You may believe your mother is saying you are fat and/or greedy for wanting the whipped cream, or your brother in law is judging you as lazy and incompetent for not having a job.

Step 3: Explore your underlying emotions (backstory).

Our childhood and earlier adult experiences are the true source of the intensity for current hot buttons. If someone’s words or actions remind us of earlier hurtful events, or seem to repeat a pattern, we react against all of those incidences, not simply to the present trigger.

 If my mother put me on a diet when I was a young teenager, for example, one remark about whipped cream can set off an emotional storm. Or if a parent implied I was lazy, my brother in law’s remark triggers those old bad memories.

Step 4: Imagine a different story.

After we become aware of the story we are telling ourselves, the next step to imagine a different story. This could mean shifting our vision to enter the other person’s perspective or changing our self-story for the better.

Perhaps  your brother in law is asking about the job out of concern and caring, albeit poorly expressed, or feels badly about his own job situation and is displacing it on you. Your mother may believe she is being helpful, especially if she is always on a diet herself.

Step 5: Change your response (Act as if).

The final step is to change your response; in effect, to unhook the hot button and detach. You can choose to act as if the kind interpretation or positive aspect you investigated or invented in step 4 is correct.

Then, use this new perspective to slow down and change your response. Getting support and perspective from a friend, coach, or counselor can also help. We don’t really know the other person’s intent; we only know the effect on us. Deciding to assume the better story is true and responding accordingly can help us detach and stay serene during the holidays.

Lorraine Segal

Lorraine Segal is a conflict coach, trainer, and mediator specializing in transforming communication and conflict. Her business, Conflict Remedy, is based in Santa Rosa, California. She also teaches in the conflict resolution program at Sonoma State University.

Lorraine will offer a special special workshop on Holiday Hot Buttons on November 3rd in Santa Rosa, California. Click link for flyer.

For more information about Lorraine’s coaching, mediation, and training services, please visit her website/blog at, e-mail her at, or call her at (707) 236-8079.

Some ideas for this article came from the following books and article:

Developing Your Conflict CompetenceCraig Runde & Tim Flanagan

Difficult Conversations; How to Discuss What Matters MostDouglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen

“Hot Buttons: Five Simple Steps Guaranteed to Cool Them Down”-Lorraine Segal (pdf file available with request to join e-list.)

Note: A different (and shorter) version of this article was posted on November 28th 2010.

© Lorraine Segal