Conflicts of Interest

Everything you ever wanted to know about conflicts at home, at work, or in the neighborhood.

25 Most Hated Business Terms

November 18th, 2010 at 8:00 am by Vivian Scott
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A great article by Aaron Crowe for Aol Jobs… includes a small quote from me (#19), but I so enjoyed reading the other 24, that I thought I’d share them with you.  Great examples of how small things can cause big problems at work!

“At the end of the day at work you want to have achieved passionate synergy as a team player that’s consistent with corporate culture, and take it to the next level through an idea shower for a win-win game changer.”

Hopefully, that’s a sentence that has never been spoken in your office. But, since it’s chock-full of some of the most hated phrases used in the business world, it’s a distinct possibility. AOL Jobs received so many responses in creating a list of the Most Hated Business Terms that it could have listed 100, but decided to keep it to relatively modest 25.

Here’s a real-life example from Australian entrepreneur Paul Breen, who heard this at a management presentation from the CEO of a $400 million company:

“We need to do some out of the box thinking from the get-go with sufficient granularity in the drill-down phase to ensure our value-added strategy is consistent with our core values and beliefs.”

“Nobody in the room questioned what he had just said or what he meant,” Breen said. “Most just nodded their heads in agreement. I nearly burst out laughing. It was just so ridiculous. This company had, without knowing it, invented their internal language. I think they believed it helped their culture — it didn’t. It robbed the company of its creativity and created a bunch of management drones that cared less about their customers and more about fitting in with their peers.”

Here are 25 terms that fixate on the language instead of the message, and don’t do much to get a point across:

1. “At the end of the day” Public relations executive Kevin Dinino said he always wondered, “As opposed to what, the beginning?” Does a sentence or point have more “oomph” if you say “at the end of the day?” Ex-jocks on ESPN say it throughout the day, Dinino says. Many more of these may come from the sports world.

2. “Synergy” or “synergies” are the worst business phrases ever to Kristen Carney of Austin, Texas, and co-founder of ThankThankNotes. “It’s completely unfair of me, but when I hear someone say “synergies,” it immediately discredits everything else they’ve said. After that point, all I can hear when that person speaks are phrases like ‘Let’s extend our collaborative synergies by evolving our value-add enterprise platform.’”

3. “I need this to be turn-key,” as submitted by Greg Jenkins, a partner at Bravo Productions in Long Beach, Calif.. “Of course, it needs to be exceptional,” Jenkins said. “Who would expect ‘junk?’ And when you ask a person how to describe their idea of turn-key, they can’t tell you specifics.”

That seems to be a common thread among these business phrases — they’re vague cliches that people use to avoid having to come up with specific details.

4. “Win-Win,” as in “This is a real win-win solution.” Michael Buckingham, owner of Holy Cow Creative, wrote that he uses it, but still hates it “mostly because it was overused, but maybe more so because most people don’t mean it. Most people mean ‘This is really good for me and I hope you think it’s good for you.’ Why can’t we just talk like normal people; is there something wrong with ‘I think this is good for both of us?’”

5. “Consistent with corporate culture.” It’s a phrase that Carrie Rocha hates. “If we have to regulate culture by telling people what they can and can’t do to maintain consistency with the corporate culture, then maybe the culture isn’t a reflection of the people working there anymore,” Rocha wrote in an e-mail to AOL Jobs.

6. “Need to touch base with senior management,” another phrase submitted by Jenkins of Bravo Productions. “Why not have senior management in the room when the materials are first presented?” Jenkins asks. “Would this not be a time-saving solution? Senior management should understand that concept.”

7. “Ping,” as in “I’ll ‘ping’ Bill to see if he has the files.” David Skinner, who owns his own company but worked for many large corporations, says, “It’s used in exchange for ‘email’ or ‘call’ and most often by someone with no understanding of ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol). Did you know PING is actually an acronym? Packet Internet or Inter-Network Groper.”

8. “Can I be honest with you?” Submitted by Bruce M. Colwin, president of Legal Minds Media, who asks, “Otherwise, are they usually dishonest with me?”

9. “Idea showers.” Can anything be more inappropriate in a workplace?

10. “Putting out fires” is often about managers that seem to be running around because planning didnt occur, says Liz Cosline, a life ownership coach.

11. “Take it to the next level.” Crystal Brown-Tatum, a public relations consultant, wrote: “I cringe when I hear this phrase around the office or by consultants and coaches promising to take one to the next level! What is the current level and how does one quantify the ‘next’ level? What if you are comfortable at the level you are on, and doesn’t this assume you are not at the highest level?”

12. “Think out of the box,” as submitted by Josh Kotlar, founder of, a Web design and marketing firm in New York. “I simply do not agree with the idea behind it,” Kotlar wrote. “Sometimes, being creative entails an improvement of something that has already been used and succeeded. I do not think that one needs to always do things that are out of the ordinary in order to have a successful campaign or project. I prefer the term ‘think creatively.’”

As public relations consultant Jen Olewinski put it, “What box? There is a box? Who decides what is inside or outside the box? It makes no sense and is so overused in the creative and PR fields, and probably in every industry as well.”

13. “Passion.” As someone who is in the entrepreunerial business world, Robin Barr, president and product inventor at, says he hears again and again the use of the word “passion.” “To succeed, you must feel passionate about what you do,” or “The passion I feel for selling garden sprinklers gets me through the rough spots.”

“Don’t get me wrong — like any word used in a new way, its always interesting for a short while,” Barr wrote. “Then people get lazy and use it repeatedly rather than communicating with original thought. In my mind, it effects their credibility.”

14. “Going forward,” which Sally Treadwell of Boone, N.C., describes as “often used as a whitewashing weasel phrase.” As in “Going forward, our company’s policies will be changed to better reflect our changing customer dynamics.” Treadwell said she took that to mean: “The past is past and we don’t want to talk about it, because you might realize that we have some liability. So I’m going to dazzle you with the future. The future! Look! Aren’t you excited to be part of it?”

15. “Heads-up.” The first few times that author Michael Jackson Smith was given a heads-up, he said he “didn’t know whether to run or to hit the ground. I wanted to tell my boss to speak English.”

16. “Bandwidth,” as in “I just don’t have the bandwith to deal with this right now,” because in the time it takes to say it, the person took up more “bandwith” than just saying “I’m sorry, I’m swamped,” as submitted by Janet Schultz, CEO of Organic Janet.

17. “Reach out,” as in “I’m just reaching out to you” or “Can you reach out to so and so?” Jill Mikols Etesse, creative director at Smarty Shortz in Washington, D.C., says she has banned the phrase from her company’s vocabulary. “I want to pull my hair out every time I hear it! Everyone we know says it; it is soo overused in every industry,” she writes.

18. “Piggy back,” as in “Yeah, so to piggy back off of what Jason just said…” Submitted by Kasey Woods, director of publicity and marketing at Digiwaxx Media, who says it sounds juvenile and forced.

19. “Team player.” Vivian Scott, author of ‘Conflict Resolution at Work for Dummies,’ wrote: “What in the world does that mean? It’s a terrible term that lets people in the workplace speak ill of each other without having to provide any evidence. And, because it’s so vague, anyone being accused of ‘not’ being a team player hasn’t a clue what it is he’s supposed to do to correct the problem.”

20. “I’ll get back to you.” Sure you will, says Barney Greenbaum, a franchise business consultant in Ohio.

21. “Game changer,” which Todd Brabender of Spread The News PR, Inc., found to be full of hyperbole from a client who brought a marketer onto a product launch campaign and insisted on incessantly using “game changing” or “game changer.” His example: “It will be a real game changer for us is if we can convince people that we are best of breed and state of the art — that will be game changing!”

22. “Out of pocket,” as in, “I’ll be out of pocket all next week so let’s circle back about this project in two weeks.” Dana Marlowe, president of Accessibility Partners, said the phrase for being unavailable is overdone and ridiculous.

23. “Enterprise risk management.” It’s used often at insurance and other financial services, and means nothing at all but is used to mean things as varied as “shopping for an insurance policy,” “managing an investment portfolio to achieve stable returns,” “improving plant safety,” or “acquiring a competitor,” said Eli Lehrer of the Heartland Institute.

24. “Actionable item.” Anything that needs to be done at work is an “actionable item,” so why use silly jargon to emphasize the obvious, wonders Rease Kirchner, a travel adviser in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who heard this buzzword too often as a marketing analyst in St. Louis, Mo.

25. “Negative growth.” Carol Heiberger, a consultant and entrepreneur in Philadelphia who has written a dictionary defining business terms in plain English, has found the offensive phrase in a letter to shareholders from a CEO. What it really means is that revenues are down. Maybe that CEO, and others, could use Heiberger’s dictionary.

Toss a Coin

November 15th, 2010 at 9:18 am by Vivian Scott
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I’m surrounded by smart people.  A friend of mine shared this other day.  I have no idea who originally said it, but I love it because it could not ring more true.  Try it!

“When faced with two choices, simply toss a coin.   It works not because it settles the question (or the conflict) for you, but because of that brief moment when the coin is in the air, you suddenly know what you are hoping for.”

November 11th, 2010 at 3:07 pm by Vivian Scott
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“Quality is never an accident… it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”  I lifted this from a friend’s Facebook status.  I don’t know whom I should attribute this to, but I’ll share it anyway.

Trade ya

November 9th, 2010 at 9:01 am by Vivian Scott
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When I first started mediating I thought every case would be as unique and different as the individuals coming to me.  However, when it came to divorcing couples it didn’t take long for me to become aware of an obvious pattern I still see today.  Quite often I notice that my clients want to “split” the relationship but they don’t want to “split” the lifestyle.  Of course there are exceptions to every pattern, but for the most part each person approaches the break up insisting that they should be able to continue life as they know it – just without the other person. 

When asked how they’ll fund multiplying  today’s lifestyle by two, responses range from, “Well, he’s just going to have to figure that out,” to “I’m not the one who wants this, so why should I have to change anything” to a whole host of reasons why cutting any line item in the budget is unthinkable and would seriously harm the children.  These answers help me as a mediator understand some of the underlying issues involved, but they don’t answer the funding question and they certainly don’t help the couple see that the math just doesn’t add up. 

Changing your lifestyle is a very real result of changing your relationship status and even though arithmetic is supposed to be pretty cut and dried, discussing the math of divorce is one of the most emotional discussions separating couples will have.  My wish for these clients is that they find a way to see the bigger picture.  Being too close to the forest to see the trees makes people argue over the crockpot, fight for things they don’t even want, and spend tens of thousands of dollars battling over a house that’s in foreclosure.

As a neutral facilitator I try to help individuals see themselves separate and apart from their things.  I encourage them instead to focus on the intangibles they find important like peace of mind and joy.  In the course of the conversation they may come to realize that keeping the DVDs no one listens to anymore doesn’t really give them the satisfaction they seek.  I know it’s hard to let go (quite frankly, I’ve had to do it myself), but letting go of things in exchange for holding on to or getting back to one’s real values is actually trading up.  Besides that, staying stuck in a fight over the portable basketball hoop as a means to hurt the other person rarely works (see previous blog on forgiveness!).

Election Season Observation

November 1st, 2010 at 8:44 am by Vivian Scott
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The election season has me wondering about something.  Why is it that we seem to be so deeply divided on issues and candidates that we’re afraid to concede we might actually agree with certain points the other side is making? 

Rather than have an open dialogue about the points we think make sense and the ones we’re not so crazy about, we force each other to take an all or nothing position.  I wish we could get better about the way we discuss politics and allow each other the opportunity to have a few doubts without jumping in to say, “Aha, see!  My side is right!”

Just try harder! (or not)

October 25th, 2010 at 12:53 pm by Vivian Scott
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Ever want something for another person more than they want it for themselves? 

I recently heard about a woman who joined a gym she couldn’t afford and purged her cupboards of all junk food in support of her best friend who said she needed help losing a considerable amount of weight that was causing her serious health problems.  After being the sole participant at numerous workout sessions and seeing her overweight friend’s poor eating habits continue, the woman finally faced the reality that she was the only one truly committed to the goal.  The realization caused quite a conflict between the two and the woman ultimately isolated herself from her friend.

There’s probably a pretty good chance you’ve been sucked in a time or two (or three or four) by a similar situation.  You listen to someone share her problems, you get involved in her tales of woe, and the next thing you know you’re jumping through hoops to fix things on her behalf.   Then, you slowly start to figure out that you’re the head cheerleader for a team that has no intention of winning – and that your friend is actually working againstyou.  Gah! 

Maybe the problem in these situations is that there’s a difference between a person who would “like something to happen” and the individual who really “wants” to reach a goal. 

Like = talk. 

Want = action (and by action I mean willing to do EVERYTHING it takes to reach the goal). 

Most of us start with talk and move into action later so it’s okay to be in the “like for it to happen” mode for a while because we need to consider all our options, clarify what it is we really want, etc.  However, if you believe someone is in the “want” stage when they’re really in the “like” stage, you may end up with a huge problem between the two of you.  Rather than walk away in frustration like the woman in the example or end up resenting the other person for not putting in enough effort try adjusting your efforts.

Tell the other person that you think there’s a difference between “like” and “want” and that you believe she might be in the “like” stage.  Let her know that when she’s ready (if ever) to move into doing what it takes to make her goal come to fruition, you’ll jump back on board and match her efforts.  Then focus your energy on the part of the relationship with her that you enjoy and when she starts talking about the thing she’d “like to see happen”, listen politely, do a lot of self-talk to avoid being sucked back in, and get on with achieving your own goals.

Do unto others — or at least cut them some slack

October 19th, 2010 at 10:56 am by Vivian Scott
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A reporter contacted me the other day to ask my opinion about healthy anger versus unhealthy anger on the job.  Toward the end of the interview she asked what I thought about the airline employee who made the national news for losing his cool, grabbing a beer, and walking (okay, sliding) off the job.  His actions made him an instant folk hero presumably because there isn’t a one of us who hasn’t fantasized about doing the same thing at one time or another. 

Before answering her question I had to stop and think back to my initial, uncensored reaction to the news piece.  I think I blurted out something like, “Wow, that’s hilarious!”  Okay, coming from someone who’s supposed to coach and guide people through conflicts with dignity, I admit that being momentarily entertained by his actions probably wasn’t the most professional response.  I did, however, quickly pull myself together and look for the learning in the story. 

Upon further reflection I decided that there is quite a contradiction between what we want from customers and co-workers, and what we give to others.  When we’re on the job we expect others to treat us with respect and dignity, right?  So, why is it we can so easily turn into the snotty lady or condescending guy when someone else is just trying to do his job?  I’m not sure what makes us lose our dignity and jump right into a fight with a complete stranger but I don’t think the world is out to get us.  Even though it often feels like the cashier at the store or the receptionist at the doctor’s office spent the entire morning plotting how they could ruin our day, I’m pretty certain they didn’t.  Rather than believe the silly stories we tell ourselves about the motivation of others, I’ve learned over the years to switch out the negative explanations with those that are a bit more compassionate.  It helps me keep my blood pressure down and I’m sure the employees I deal with appreciate me for it. 

If you’re interested in taking a similar approach, feel free to start with a few explanations I use on a regular basis:


Situation:  A delivery van driver cuts me off in traffic

Old explanation:  He treats everyone with disrespect because he’s a complete and utter jerk

New explanation:  He’s distracted because last night his wife told him she has breast cancer


Situation:  The cashier snaps at me when I question the total on my receipt

Old explanation:  She’s incompetent and will be embarrassed when she finds her mistake

New explanation:  Her baby is at home with a high fever and she’s worried about him


Situation:  The customer service rep I call is condescending when I ask for a refund

Old explanation:  He’s lazy and doesn’t want to help me

New explanation:  He found out he didn’t get into the school he wanted and just wants to call his mom


Situation:  The receptionist ignores me

Old explanation:  She’s rude

New explanation:  She’s the delivery van driver’s wife

Shout out to IMA

September 20th, 2010 at 2:36 pm by Vivian Scott
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Turns out there are smart, engaging mediators outside my circle of colleagues.  Who knew?!  (grin)

I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak at the Idaho Mediation Association’s annual conference and met some amazing people over the weekend.  How lucky am I to be inspired by the attorneys, mediators, and BSU students who were brave enough to sign up for my sessions?  Thank you to everyone for enthusiastically participating in the “Dollars and Sense: The benefits of exploiting the opportunity in workplace conflict” plenary presentation as well as those who hung in there with me during the “Little Red Wagons”” and “Collaborating Makes Us a Team and Other Fibs that Cause Workplace Conflict” afternoon sessions.  And, thank you to Paul Litow, Lance Coumerilh, Rachelle Koon, Tracy BSU Student Organization, the conference volunteers, and the attendees for making a Washington gal feel welcome and, yes, kind of important (another grin). 

The weekend was a great investment on my part because I now have loads of new ideas for my mediation practice, this blog, and my life.  I just love when inspiration unexpectedly comes my way!

A little bit about forgiveness

September 12th, 2010 at 3:34 pm by Vivian Scott
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I participated in a good discussion last week about forgiveness.   Okay, I admit it was with two of my nieces on Facebook, but it was a good conversation nonetheless.  We went back and forth trying to define forgiveness and as it turns out it’s easier to describe what forgiveness isn’t than it is to define what it is.  And, that got me thinking.

For years I didn’t get the concept of forgiveness because I was stuck on something.  I thought that if I said I forgave someone that would mean that I was saying what they did to me was okay, or that I deserved it, or that it was all right to tread on me without any consequences.  So, I didn’t forgive and instead I carried the burden around while (seemingly) my perpetrators happily skipped along never giving their bad acts a second thought.  The possibility that they weren’t suffering just made me more hurt and frustrated.  I once heard that not forgiving was like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  I was definitely drinking enough poison for the both of us.

So, I decided it might be a good idea to find a definition of forgiveness that resonated with me so that I could actually do it.  Here’s what I came up with.  I decided that in spite of what anyone had done to me and in spite of any good fortune that may come their way, I would have the best life I could create.  I told myself that no matter what happens to them (good, bad, or indifferent) it will have no bearing on whether I’m able to move through the hurt and come out the other side.   If the other person never apologizes, never throws themselves at my feet begging for my forgiveness, or never takes out a full-page ad in USA Today detailing the 101 ways they stink and I’m great, I’ll be fine.  I decided in that moment that forgiveness to me was leaving their bad acts and intentions piled up on the sidewalk for them to collect if and when they wanted.  And, I decided that in my definition of forgiveness it would make no difference to me whether or not I ever knew what they did with their stack of ugly.

I also decided that I could never really hurt someone enough for hurting me.  What I mean by that is no matter what I did to the other person it wouldn’t erase my sense of betrayal or disappointment.  As much as I wanted to believe that my creative daydreams about their ultimate ruin, public embarrassment, or financial disaster would make me feel better if they came true, I knew that wasn’t the case.  Wishing ill on others did nothing to erase the acts for which I needed to forgive so I decided just to let life take care of that.

Oh, and there’s one more thing.  I also gave myself permission to let go of the need for an explanation.  A smart guy once told me about a disappointment from his childhood and then said, “My parents did what they did.”  I expected him to continue with the standard line about parents doing the best they could with what they had at the time and was surprised when he didn’t.  I asked why he stopped short of a full explanation and he replied because his parents didn’t do the best they could.  They just did what they did!  He went on to say that there would never be a reason sound enough or big enough or perfect enough that would pull everything together for him and make the situation hurt less.  Like I said, he’s a smart guy.

Fast forward.  I finally came to the conclusion that forgiveness is something I give myself.  I don’t need to know everything about everything in order to forgive.  I know that my definition needs to make sense for me even if doesn’t work for anyone else.  Whew, what a relief!

What definitions or approaches to forgiveness have helped or hindered you?

Adult Bullies

September 7th, 2010 at 7:00 pm by Vivian Scott
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This is an edited version of an email I received awhile back.  There was a lot more to it, but I wanted to share the gist of it as well as part of my response. I’m curious what you think.

Q:  How do you deal with grown women who are bullies?  My husband, Tom’s, childhood friend’s wives, Terri and Jennifer, are really getting to me.  Jennifer seems to be the one calling the shots, but they’ve both behaved badly so many times I’ve lost count.  In fact, when I first met Jennifer at a party at Terri’s house, she glared at me the entire time, wouldn’t say hello, and never returned my smiles.  It’s gone downhill from there!

My husband has a serious health condition and Terri has made fun of it right in front of me.  On other occasions she’s said degrading things about our jobs. I could go on with many more examples of bullying behavior from the both of them, but the bottom line is I can’t deal with this any longer.  I’ve been given advice to ignore them.  What do you think I should I do?

A:  My first thought is to wonder what Tom thinks about all this.  These are his friends and their wives, after all.  He’ll need to have an opinion about which approach you take because he’ll need to support your decision 100%.  Leaving you to deal with it on your own shouldn’t be an option (and you can tell him I said so :) ).

First, you could take the aforementioned advice and ignore them.  Ignoring, though, will mean more than turning the other cheek when a snide remark is made at a party.  What it may mean is not attending any events for an extended period of time.  Only allowing yourself to drink just a little poison will still make you sick and for now maybe you need a clean break.  That’s not to say you couldn’t jump back in later, though.

If you and Tom decide that you’d like to continue the relationship with his buddies and their wives, you could work to resolve enough of the issues to be able to handle the occasional get-together.  Of course, I’m always hopeful that people can get to a point where they do more than just tolerate each other, but I completely understand if you want to take baby steps here.  So, to begin, I would think in terms of individual relationships rather than the entire group.

I would probably start with Jennifer because Terri seems to take her cues from her.  I would email her and ask her to meet for coffee.  I like the idea of making appointments like that even with family members and close friends because it sends the message that what you have to talk about is important.  Then, choose a place where you can actually talk so don’t opt to meet up at the middle table at Starbucks at 9am on a Saturday morning.  I would follow this with the same request of Terri.

(Note to reader: I’m going to lump my suggestions for the two meetings into a few paragraphs here).  Once the two of you sit down begin by asking if there’s something you’ve done or said to offend Jennifer or her husband.  If she says you have, hear her out, ask lots of open-ended questions that keep her talking, and then apologize.   If she says you haven’t done anything, then say that you feel the two of you may have gotten off on the wrong foot.  Continue with something like, “maybe I just don’t get your sense of humor and I’m taking some of the things that have been said in a way that you didn’t mean them to be taken.  For instance, when you said the thing about Tom’s health problems I didn’t know how to respond.  Or, when you said those things about our jobs, I have to admit I was hurt.”  If you can stick to talking about the impact of her actions and words rather than the accusatory “you did this and then you did that” approach, she’ll be able to hear you better. 

Once you ask the questions, be prepared with responses to what she might say or do.  If she can’t remember saying any of those things, you might say, “Okay, so I guess then we need to talk about what I find funny and what I don’t.  Our husbands are good friends and I think it would be better for us to get along and enjoy each other’s company than to have tension between us.”  If she says she was just kidding, you could probably say the same thing.  If she says something like, “I never liked you anyway” (which is unlikely but could happen), thank her for at least letting you know and then talk to Tom about how he can have time with his buddies (if he so chooses) outside of the couples’ events and remove yourself from anything that involves her.

 Finally, after the discussion with Jennifer, I would suggest you do the same with Terri.

 Readers, what other suggestions do you have?

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About Vivian Scott

Vivian Scott is a Professional Certified Mediator with a private practice serving King and Snohomish Counties. She is the author of, "Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies" and a contributing author of "Thriving in the Workplace For Dummies" as well as "Managing All-in-One For Dummies" (Wiley Publishing). Ms. Scott is a Certified Mediator Member of the Washington Mediation Association and received their Outstanding Contributor Award in 2012. Her mediation cases range from assisting couples through divorce and parenting plans to creating new workplace environments for organizations of all sizes. You can learn more about Vivian by visiting her website at or

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