The BIG SHIFT

Last week we released our “New Ways for Mediation Pt. 2 – Demonstration and Commentary ” Webinar. As I offered to answer any questions related to it, today’s blog is devoted to further explaining this new method for resolving disputes – whether or not someone is serving in a formal mediation role. The BIG SHIFT is a shift in responsibility for resolving a dispute – especially when potentially “high-conflict” people are involved. High-conflict people (HCPs) have a pattern of blaming others and avoiding responsibility themselves. This is not a conscious pattern of behavior, but rather a life-long pattern – borne out of biology, abuse, entitlement and/or growing up in a culture of blame. So don’t tell them you think they have this problem – they’ll just get defensive and make your life miserable. Instead, learn what you can do to manage your responses to them – without becoming responsible for solving their problems.

High-conflict people (HCPs) are approximately 10-20% of the general population, and I refer to them as HCPs to distinguish how you can most effectively work with them. I don’t use that term so that you can “label” them as somehow inferior people. They can be business executives, politicians, lawyers, doctors, counselors, mediators, neighbors, family members, spouses and friends – essentially anyone. If you think you are dealing with an HCP, focus on what you can do and what you should avoid.

The key difference in dealing with HCPs is that you don’t focus on trying to give them insight into their own situation. You avoid saying: “Can’t you SEE what you’re doing here.” “I’m trying to make you UNDERSTAND your part in this problem.” Just forget about it! (Or “forgetaboudit!”) You probably have done this in the past – I know that I have – out of frustration, in an effort to get the dispute resolved and get the person(s) out of your hair – or out of your office. It doesn’t work and just makes them more defensive.

Instead, you need to avoid becoming responsible for solving their problems, but still work with them as a supportive “guide.” This is the BIG SHIFT for dispute resolvers. This is at the foundation of New Ways for Mediation, which I demonstrated in “live mediation” (with two very realistic actors playing clients from real cases) in the Part 2 Webinar. Rather than trying harder to get them to resolve their dispute, you instead put all your energy into STRUCTURING the dispute resolution process so that they (the parties to the dispute – sometimes one is an HCP and sometimes both are HCPs) do the hard work. This involves teaching them simple skills of: asking more questions, raising issues, making proposals, asking more questions, responding to proposals, making decisions and refining their decisions in a written agreement. THEY work harder on solving their OWN problems, which means that they are more likely to make good decisions for themselves and more likely to stick with their own decisions.

The BIG SHIFT is necessary, because HCPs try to shift responsibility onto professionals, family members and friends for their problems. If you work too hard at helping them solve these problems, it gives the appearance of you accepting their problems as your problems. To avoid this – in your mind and in your actions – you need to keep the responsibility clearly on their shoulders. The result is that professionals don’t work as hard and therefore have less stress and can be more effective. Clients don’t have to be defensive and therefore they put more energy into coming up with good solutions.

The BIG SHIFT is a change for professionals, family and friends who care about helping others: instead of getting anxious and working harder and harder at trying to figure out an HCP’s problems and solving them, you can stay calm and supportive and provide information, options and discuss the consequences of THEIR choices for solving THEIR problems. With HCPs (and anyone), it’s better to act as a guide than as a decision-maker. It’s better to act as an educator than as an advocate (although education is a powerful part of advocacy). It’s better to assist the person in solving their own problems and dilemmas than to take them on as your own and then get blamed for doing it wrong.

I hope this explains what I was doing in New Ways for Mediation Pt. 2. It may seem quite different or similar to what you do already. What works about this method is the BIG SHIFT: It’s the emphasis on keeping responsibility on the clients and teaching them how to succeed at solving their own problems. I hope you found this helpful. For a more thorough explanation and demonstration of this method you can get the 4.25 hour video training: you can watch it online or order the 4-DVD set.

Next month, our webinar will focus more narrowly on how to teach clients a simple process of making proposals and responding to proposals – as individual clients and in mediation settings.

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Bill Eddy is a professional family mediator, a lawyer and a therapist. He is the President of High Conflict Institute, which provides training in managing high conflict disputes and high conflict personalities. He is also the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is the developer of several methods for managing high conflict disputes, including New Ways for Mediation and New Ways for Families, which helps parents learn specific skills to avoid high-conflict separation and divorce, and helps them teach their children skills for resilience during a separation and divorce. For more information, for books, DVDs and free articles, see www.HighConflictInstitute.com.