Bill Eddy on Managing High-Conflict Behaviours


Renowned author, attorney, and mediator Bill Eddy visited Melbourne as the guest of the Australian Centre for Justice Innovation (ACJI).

Bill  has spent much of the past year learning about the brain, and in particular, the functions of the left and right hemispheres. Drawing on this research he concludes that the left hemisphere is responsible for language, planning, examining details, rational analysis and systematic solutions; it is the “Logical Brain”. The right hemisphere is the seat of creativity, art, intuition, observing relationships, non-verbal; skills, facial recognition and cue, and gut feelings; it is the “Relationship Brain”. Further, the logical left brain seems to generate and respond to positive emotions, while the relationship right brain apparently responds to negative emotions.

Bill hypothesises that High Conflict Behaviours are rooted in the right brain, and to effectively communicate and negotiate with High Conflict Personality types a mediator must first make contact with the client’s left brain.ion this month. Bill led several workshops for practitioners, and last night he delivered a public lecture entitled “Managing High-Conflict Behaviors”.

Bill walked us through his 4 tips for managing high conflict behaviours in mediation, and calming upset people with E.A.R.

E.A.R. stands for Empathy, Attention & Respect.  According to Bill:

An E.A.R. Statement connects with the person’s experience, with their feelings. For example, let’s say that someone verbally attacks you for not returning a phone call as quickly as he or she would have liked. “You don’t respect me! You don’t care how long I have to wait to deal with this problem! You’re not doing your job!”

Rather than defending yourself, give the person an E.A.R. Statement, such as: “Wow, I can hear how upset you are. Tell me what’s going on. I share your concerns about this problem and respect your efforts to solve it.”

EMPATHY:         “I can hear how upset you are.”

ATTENTION:     “Tell me what’s going on.”

RESPECT:         “I respect your efforts.”

The E.A.R. technique works in any highly emotive situation, and is useful in any negotiation.  In the context of mediation, Bill suggests keeping high conflict personality types focused on the future, as they tend to become ‘stuck’ in rehashing past negative experiences.

One way to achieve this is to ask the client to generate proposals for the future. “High conflict people need lots of structure, otherwise their emotions take over. Turn any complaint or past frustration into a proposal.” When the client slips too far into the past, ask them “Then what do you propose?”. This should prompt them to think about how they want their future to look, and stop them focusing on perceived past injustices.

You can read more about Bill’s work at the High Conflict Institute website.

ACJI’s next event will be a panel discussion “The Business of Mediation: decisions you need to make” on Monday 14th October.  Moderated by Andrew Moffat, a panel of mediators featuring Cathy Gale, Anne Sutherland-Kelly and Michael Tiernan will share their experience of developing commercially successful mediation practices in different fields. For details and to RSVP to this free public event, see the ACJI Events page.


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