Teaching "Making Proposals" in Australia

©2017 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

Once again, for my sixth year, I'm teaching down under in Melbourne (pronounced "Melbin") Australia. My primary work here is teach a 3-day (8 hours a day) law school course on Managing High Conflict People in Legal Disputes, which I just finished on Friday. (See the graduating class photo!)

The class is mostly law students, but there are a few professionals who attend each year. One year I had an Associate Justice from the State of Victoria Supreme Court. What is very interesting to me is to see that experienced professionals often very quickly have good solutions for the parties' disputes. It is much harder for them than the students to hold back on solving the clients' problems for them, especially in doing role-play mediation exercises with "high conflict" clients.

While mediation is most successful if the parties identify their interests and generate options, high-conflict clients have a much harder time doing this and  often want their professionals (mediators, lawyers, counselors, etc.) to figure everything out for them. But when that happens, then the high-conflict clients attack their professionals for not doing it "right."

However, we have developed our method called: "So, What's Your Proposal?" (see book with this title), which engages high conflict clients (or any clients) in developing proposals and asking questions about them. Since high conflict people have a hard time identifying and analyzing their interests, it's easier to start where they are: usually they start by making demands. So we help them turn these demands into proposals. Then we teach the parties to ask each other questions about their proposals, BEFORE saying Yes, No, or I'll think about it. This question process helps lead them toward new proposals they can eventually agree with.

So experienced professionals have to hold back on their brilliant suggestions and instead guide the parties to: 1) Make proposals; 2) Ask questions about the other person's proposal (Who does What, Where and When?); 3) THEN, respond with "Yes" "No" or: "I'll think about it."

In the law school class at Monash University Law Chambers here, the students (and participating professionals) practiced managing high-conflict clients, including helping them prepare proposals before a joint meeting. Then they practiced mediating with high-conflict clients by guiding them to make their own proposals. This process replaces the mediator thinking of lots of questions and solutions, and instead has the clients do that part.

It's interesting when there isn't progress in working with such clients. It's usually because the mediator is working too hard at trying to solve the problem for the clients. In this case, the clients don't do the hard work of making proposals and stay stuck in reacting to each other. But when they have to make proposals, they tend to work harder, to manage their reactions better, and are more likely to follow through on their agreements--because they really own the outcome.

Of course, we talked about many other subjects in understanding personality disorders in legal disputes and ways of helping them resolve their disputes. The students were very active in asking questions, discussing these issues and role-playing several practice scenarios. I was pleased at the end of the class that one student said it was the most practical class they had ever taken and another said every law student should have this course as a requirement. I couldn't agree more!

I have two more weeks here, where I'll teach at another law school (Newcastle), as well as to workplace professionals (EAPs, HR, etc. for Converge International in Melbourne and Sydney), mediators (Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria) and Ombuds (for New South Wales). There are many forward-thinking students and professionals in Australia and I'm really enjoying getting to work with them.

Additional Resources:

So, What's Your Proposal - book

So, What's Your Proposal - Video Training

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high-conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books  and methods  for handling high conflict personalities  and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.