Southern California Mediation Association: CONNECTING with E.A.R. statements

On Tuesday (2/2613), I presented a 2-hour seminar to mediators in the Los Angeles area on 4 Tips for Mediators dealing with potentially high conflict people. It was an experienced group and I focused on four key skills (which I call the C.A.R.S. Method, so it’s easy to remember under stress): CONNECTING with E.A.R. statements (Empathy, Attention and Respect), which involves really listening to our mediation clients and then responding with a statement that shows that you can empathize with what they’re experiencing, that you’ll pay attention to their concerns and that you respect something about how each person is trying to resolve the conflict(s) they’re facing. This is more than “reflective listening,” which means that you are letting the clients know that you really want to help them rather than simply reflecting back what you have heard – which often feels abandoning to high conflict people, who really want to know that you care about them and want to help them; that you’re investing something  of yourself with them, not just bouncing back their own words.

ANALYZING Proposals:  One of the biggest shifts in my thinking over the past few years is how important it is to engage potentially high-conflict clients in the process of making proposals. Rather than telling them what not to do – such as excessively talking about the past, blaming each other and getting too emotional – it’s far better to simply say: “Then, what do you propose?” By getting them thinking about proposals, it automatically shifts them away from their more emotional responses and onto actual problem-solving. Of course, you have to ask this question with empathy and interest, and not with a sarcastic tone of voice – which is sometimes tempting but unproductive.

RESPONDING to hostility or misinformation: Of course, here I like to teach BIFF responses: generally written responses that are Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. This has turned into one of our most popular techniques in dealing with high-conflict people, and anyone can use this method with anyone. Rather than try to squeeze in a full explanation here, I just refer you to our book “BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People”.

SETTING LIMITS: This is often the most important part of helping mediation clients – educating them about the consequences of different actions, and helping them think through their choices to avoid negative consequences. High-conflict people tend to be preoccupied with reacting to the past and reacting in the present. So patiently helping them think through to the future possible outcomes of different decisions is a real benefit to mediation clients, which is often lost in adversarial conflict resolution methods. Rather than criticizing them for their “bad” ideas, we simply educate them about all of their options and the consequences of each.

The group was great and even in a brief period of time, we covered a lot of the sincere issues and questions that high conflict people present. As experienced mediators, my hope is that we can become better and better at helping high conflict people resolve their own disputes, so that the temptation to keep fighting will be reduced and we can all have more peaceful lives, rather than the current trend toward greater and greater conflict in many parts of our national conversations.

About Bill Eddy Bill Eddy, L.C.S.W., J.D. is a family law attorney, therapist and mediator, with over thirty years’ experience working with children and families. He is the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is also the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speakers, trainers and consultants on the subject of managing high-conflict people in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare and education. He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law and he teaches Psychology of Conflict at the Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law. He is the author of several books, including:

Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder

BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns

It’s All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything

For more information about Bill Eddy, please visit: