Conciliation Court Training in Florence, Arizona

Billie Jo and Class.Florence AZ.2013Last week I gave a 2-day training in “Managing and Mediating: High Conflict Personalities” to nearly 30 court and private mediators, child protection professionals, lawyers, counselors, agency administrators, and others in Florence, which is outside of Phoenix. While I emphasized methods for managing high conflict divorce, there was general agreement that these methods would help meet the needs of parents in the child protection system as well. I focused on methods for calming upset parents and focusing them on learning decision-making skills, so that they can play a bigger role in making decisions and helping their children in a more positive manner. We had several role-play exercises, because successful methods for managing high conflict people often require doing the opposite of what we feel like doing.

I also presented our New Ways for Mediation method, which is specifically designed for high conflict people who get stuck in divorce and other conflicts (business, neighbor, etc.), and preoccupied with blaming others. (Sometimes one parent or party has a high conflict personality, and sometime both do. New Ways for Mediation helps in both situations.)

This new method is very client-centered, but different from ordinary mediation. It emphasizes a much stronger and simpler structure, rather than focusing on insight and an analysis of the interests of each party. The mediator is only responsible for the process and does not try to direct the parties to a solution that may appear obvious to the mediator. This contrasts with the common tendency of frustrated mediators with high conflict cases to become too directive regarding the decisions to be made – trying to get high conflict clients to agree with them and get the case over with. The problem is that the parties often don’t have a sense of ownership of these types of decisions and sabotage them soon thereafter. Instead, in New Ways for Mediation, the mediator is much more of a guide with tight control over the process – not the decisions – and the parties focus much more on making proposals and making decisions – with greater ownership of their final outcome. For more about the New Ways for Mediation method, please see the article on our website: New Ways for Mediation.

In this method, talking about the past is strongly discouraged, especially because high conflict people tend to drown in discussions of the past, they never agree on what happened in the past, and they also re-stimulate their negative emotions by staying stuck in their stories. In a sense, this approach is similar to the rule in drug treatment against telling “war stories” from the days when the addict was regularly using drugs. Blaming stories reinforce the problem, not the solution. (Of course, gathering some information about the past is necessary to see whether mediation is appropriate for the parties, in terms of domestic violence or other power imbalances.) I will also be presenting this structured approach at the Second Annual Conference of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators in October in Denver (see www.apfmnet.org).

This focus on more structure and more skills for potentially high conflict parents led to some discussions of how our society is teaching the opposite these days: more violence, narcissism and disrespect – which appears to be contributing to the increase in personality disorders in today’s young adults. This very experienced group also had some good discussions of the need for more structure in agencies and court procedures these days, as high conflict individuals just keep bringing repeated complaints and/or lawsuits against family members and professionals – the people most trying to help them.

Teaching skills of self-management is much more effective than getting angry with these clients. The focus of our legal systems on “access to justice” over the past 30 years has been generally a good thing. However, high conflict people don’t need more opportunities for self-expression – they need more opportunities for self-restraint. Many of them don’t need their day in court – they need skills to help them stay out of court. (For more on this, see our skills-building method: www.NewWays4Families.com.)

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Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the developer of “New Ways for Families,” “New Ways for Mediation” and “New Ways for Work.” Each of these methods is designed for managing high conflict situations with more structure, simple conflict resolution skills that anyone can apply right away, and less stress on professionals, co-workers and family members. His the author of several books, including Managing High Conflict People in Court and The Future of Family Court and It’s All Your Fault! (now in Spanish!).  See www.HighConflictInstitute.com.