Last July I attended a meeting of family mediators in Minneapolis. The presentations were uniformly excellent. One that left a big impression on me dealt with ‘high conflict people’ (HCPs for short). You surely have come in contact with them. According to the presenter and author of several works on the topic, Bill Eddy, these are “highly defensive persons who are preoccupied with blaming others and desperate to receive validation for themselves.”
Almost every family has at least one.
Bill Eddy has written extensively about them. I just completed his High Conflict People in Legal Disputes, which is an excellent guide for my work as a mediator. (The book is written for anyone who has to cope with these personalities.) Out of Bill’s work as a social worker, attorney, and mediator, he has come up with several approaches to handling HCPs, whether in a negotiation, at the workplace, or when addressing family matters. He writes that it’s crucial to defuse their defensiveness in order to make progress.
One way to do this is to emphasize E.A.R.
Let’s break this down:
E stands for Empathy. When an HCP gets upset, instead of getting angry with them or criticizing their behavior, acknowledge that you know they’re upset. Tell him or her that you empathize with how difficult the situation is for them and that you understand their frustration.
A is for Attention. Here’s it’s important to let them know that you are paying attention to what they’re saying and their concerns about an issue.
And R is Respect. Make sure they understand that you respect their commitment to solving the problem.
Remember, applying E.A.R. doesn’t mean you agree with them, or believe what they’re saying, or have to listen to them forever.
It only means that you are prepared to hear them and work with them toward resolving the issue.
Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and author of “It’s all YOUR Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People who Blame Others for Everything.” You can learn more about HCP by visiting www.highconflictinstitute.com.