According to international expert on High Conflict People, Bill Eddie, mediating with people who have high conflict personalities is different to mediating with other people.
The difference revolves around the capacity for insight and to accept feedback. People who have developed a high conflict interpersonal style lack awareness and empathy and are focused on blame and their own issues. They do not respond well to trans-formative style mediation for this reason. Removing any perception of blaming them is necessary for them to engage in a process and it needs to be very future focused.
Quite simply in mediation (and often in therapy) they are so self protective that there is no way they will acknowledge that they have contributed in any way to the conflict or issues they now face.
This Article by Bill Eddie the 10 Paradigm Shifts of High Conflict Mediation looks at strategies that mediators can use to to be more effective with these types of clients.
Read the article for more information however in brief the different perspective for work with people who are high conflict are:
- Focus on the future, strongly limit discussions of the past to avoid the high conflict person being overwhelmed by emotion
- Forget about insight and making them better people. They are just too defensive to gain insight during a mediation intervention.
- Focus the whole mediation on their proposals “Proposals are the building blocks of agreement. They often aren’t the final agreements, but they bring us closer to the final agreements.” For more detail on this approach, see article: “Yes, No or I’ll think About It.”
- Ask for their “thoughts and questions about the decision they want to make” not opening statements which tend to focus on the past. For more detail on this approach, see article: “When Storytelling Hurts Dispute Resolution.”
- Educate about options rather than using probing questions to help them to consider alternatives. People with high conflict approaches tend to fixate on one answer and don’t tend to think about alternative solutions
- Teach them to ask questions and use active listening because their normal communication pattern is to react immediately to what they hear.
- Have them make their Agenda. For more on this approach, see article: Setting the Agenda (For Meetings That Include Potentially High-Conflict People)
- Use EAR statements more than reflective listening. EAR is an acronym for Empathy, Attention and/or Respect and is a speech pattern that Bill Eddie has developed when working with high conflict people.
- Don’t ask how they feel, ask what they think. High conflict people often feel awful and make their problems worse by blaming other, taking all or nothing positions, having unmanaged emotions and resorting to extreme behaviours. They feel weak, vulnerable and like a victim of life / others. Even when their behaviour is bullying or overly aggressive. Shifting them from feeling to thinking is helpful so you’d ask “What do you think about that?” rather than “How do you feel about that?”
- Don’t try to hammer out agreements, emphasise “thinking about it” or trials. It may be an unrealistic expectation that you will resolve all issues with a person prone to high conflict in a single session. The failure rate is high if you try to pressure them. The more pressure they feel, the more likely they are to blame those around them for “making” them agree to something they really don’t want. The mediator will be right in the firing line if that is the case.
Read the full article on the High Conflict Institute’s website 10 Paradigm Shifts of High Conflict Mediation