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Self-Determination in Mediation – Interview about the New Book.

New Website at

I want this new website to give you easy access to anything you want to know about transformative mediation or transformative mediation training. As part of the new site, I’m planning to release video blogs regularly. I’m going to share quick thoughts about conflict and how we can all handle it well. Long story short, conflict is an inevitable and natural part of life. While it can be frustrating and overwhelming, it can also be incredibly meaningful. What is more important than standing up for yourself? The only possible answer is caring for others. Obviously, we all want to do both. And that’s what makes conflict so challenging. We don’t want to assert ourselves at the expense of everyone else, but we also don’t want to be victimized by anyone. The process of balancing our needs with others is what it’s all about. Ideally we take good care of ourselves AND the people we interact with.

Now available for pre-order! Self-Determination in Mediation: The Art and Science of Mirrors and Lights





Tara West and I wanted to explore how mediators can maximize parties’ sense of agency throughout the process. So we wrote Self-Determination in Mediation: The Art and Science of Mirrors and Lights. We discuss how mediators tend to control the process far more than they need to. Sometimes they’re motivated by the hope that they can nudge the parties toward agreement, other times they hope to protect one party from the other, often they naturally want to appear competent and effective. Usually, attempts to get parties to do anything in particular does more harm than good. That reality raises the question of just what mediators can do to enhance party agency, as well as maximize the chances of other good outcomes.

The answer, as we see it, boils down to honoring parties’ choices in each moment of the process about everything possible. The book describes how we first, leave every possible process choice to the parties. Second, we explore how we hold up a “mirror” to the parties, often reflecting back what they’ve said in their own words. Third, we discuss how we shine “lights” on the situation the parties are in and on their opportunities to make more choices. In addition to telling mediation stories, we explore the research that supports our suggestions.

One of the bodies of research we describe is connected to “self-determination theory”, which posits that people have the fundamental need for autonomy, competence, and connection. We discover that in the context of mediation, meeting these needs is especially important. Conflict is characterized by a sense of diminished autonomy, competence and connection. If those needs can be met in the process, better decisions are also likely to emerge.

My Introduction on Video

Here’s the transcript of the part of the video where I introduce myself and explain how I came to be a transformative mediator:
I’m Dan:
My name is Dan Simon. I’m a transformative mediator. I’ve been doing that for 10 years now (as of 2008, that is.  I started in 1998). I started out, went straight to college and law school. I think I got through law school before I really knew what I wanted to do with my life. I started to get clearer about what I wanted to do with my life while I was doing my first job out of law school, which was writing head notes for West Publishing. I decided to go back to school to study psychology, got a masters in counseling psychology. Then, when I finished the masters, I decided to go on my own doing mediation. In the interim before I went back to school studying psychology, I worked at a law firm doing business litigation for one year.
What I Noticed While Practicing Law as a Litigator:
Actually, that’s where I first noticed that the stuff we were doing as lawyers was not really directly addressing the conflict as I saw it. It seemed to me that our job as lawyers was to do whatever we could to mess with the other side in hopes that would motivate them to cave in, give our clients some money.Though our clients often were satisfied with what we did, it’s not that their conflict had ever really been resolved. At some point, it was over and they’d given up with it and they thought we had done a decent job either getting them some money or helping keep their costs to a minimum. Bottom line is, they were never at a better place with the conflict than when they started. They still thought the other side was full of it, was a liar a cheater, or worse. They may have decided to stop fighting but all that had ended was the fight that we helped them start. It had never really gone back and addressed whatever started the problem in the first place.

Featured Blog at!

My blog is now one of the featured ones at

Personal Injury & Medical Malpractice

If you’ve been injured in an accident, a fall, or due to a medical mistake, you don’t need to hire a personal injury lawyer.  I can help you have a direct conversation with the person who’s responsible for your injury and their insurance company.  This approach saves you from having to pay a lawyer 33% of your recovery, it allows you to talk directly to the person who’s making the decisions, and it goes much more quickly than the traditional route with lawyers.  It also allows you to pursue things that really matter to you, like making sure the same thing doesn’t happen to other people.

Adult Siblings

  • Do you disagree with your siblings about the care of your aging parent?

  • Has conflict arisen around the distribution of your parent’s estate?

  • Is there any other sort of dispute between you and your sibling(s)?

Let me help you have a good conversation.  I’ll create an atmosphere where you can say and ask what you want.  I’ll help you make decisions about whatever you disagree about.

Call me to talk about your situation 651-699-5000.

What's the Process for Getting Divorced in Minnesota?

Assuming that you are clear that you want to get divorced, the process for completing a divorce in Minnesota is pretty simple. The only serious complications that arise come from conflict with your spouse or over-reliance on lawyers, or both. Many of my clients go through a simple 2-step process: First, the couple has a conversation in which they figure out their plan for the kids, for their finances, and for their assets and debts. After they’ve come up with a plan, they complete a stack of paperwork (many couples do this paperwork themselves, some hire a paralegal service, and others hire a lawyer to complete it), and submit that paperwork to the family court in the county in which one or both of them reside. A judge reviews this paperwork, and is generally delighted that he or she wasn’t asked to figure out the details, but was presented with an agreement that the couple had already reached. A judge may have questions, but a couple that has had a good conversation and understands what they’ve agreed to generally has no problem answering those questions satisfactorily.


Many couples sit down and sort out their plans without any professional help. They find it easy or at least manageable to sort out the common questions: What will we do with the house? What plans do we need to make about taking care of the kids? How are we going to share the costs of raising the kids? How are we going to share other living costs? How are we going to divide up our assets and debts?
A variety of challenges arise for some couples around this conversation. The common challenges include: serious disagreements with each other about what the answers should be; being overwhelmed by the complexity of these questions; being overwhelmed by the emotions connected to the spouse and the divorce, or combinations of these challenges. These challenges are the ones that I may be able to help with. Feel free to call me at 651-699-5000 to discuss your situation.
Once the conversation has been completed to the couple’s satisfaction, either on their own, or with the help of a mediator – and assuming the couple still wants to get divorced, they’re ready for the next step, completing the paperwork.


Here’s one place to start to do the paperwork on your own. If you’d like to see the forms required in Minnesota, you can download them here. Another option is to hire a paralegal service or a lawyer to help you complete the paperwork.

How Do I Calculate Child Support in Minnesota?

It’s really up to you and your co-parent.  Yes, really.  This is different from how divorce lawyers see it, but the truth is, as long as you and your co-parent are happy with your agreement, it is completely up to the two of you (unless the person receiving child support is on public assistance, in which case the county will likely seek reimbursement from the other parent).  And if you or your co-parent are not happy with your agreement, the law isn’t very helpful, because there are so many ways for you to take out your dissatisfaction on the other parent, including by not paying, or by taking each other to court.  So the real key is to figure out how to work with your co-parent toward something you’re both happy with.  Some people find it helpful to refer to the Minnesota Child Support Calculator, available here: . But it’s always possible to argue about just how that calculation should be done and how your case calls for a deviation from it.  So the important thing is that you and your co-parent work together to find a plan acceptable to the two of you.  The Minnesota Child Support Guidelines consider some of the factors that seem relevant to most people:  how much each parent earns, and how much time the kids spend with each parent.  But the guidelines don’t take into consideration other unique aspects of your situation.  That’s why, if the calculator doesn’t make sense to you, you shoud feel free to explore other possibilities with your co-parent.

But I've Heard the Judge Has the Final Say? Isn't that True?

Not really. Judges love it if you and your co-parent figure out what works for you, since judges understand that if you’re not both satisfied, there are likely to be problems in the future. If you and your co-parent don’t agree and you ask a judge to make a ruling, the judge will do so, but you and your co-parent still have a lot of power to either follow that ruling or not, and to either take out your frustration on each other in other ways, or not. So you and your co-parent really are the ones with the final say.