Common Mediation Techniques to Help Deescalate High-Conflict Scenarios

Common Mediation Techniques to Help Deescalate High-Conflict ScenariosAlmost every divorce has some level of conflict, which is perfectly normal and healthy. For some couples, those conflicts can be addressed during the course of mediation, rather than through litigation. Mediation is run by a neutral third party, not a lawyer, so our team is there to help guide you through the process. We want you to know what your rights are from the start, so you are empowered to make good decisions.

There may be times, though, where you and your spouse are deadlocked: no matter what you say, one (or both) of you simply refuses to give an inch. Neither one of you really wants to go to court, if you can help it – but you just do not see a way to avoid it. These are high-conflict scenarios, and there are some simple techniques you can employ to help you reach a resolution in spite of the challenges.

Use EAR statements to deescalate an angry confrontation

EAR stands for Empathy, Attention and Respect. As described by Bill Eddy, the president of High Conflict Institute, “High conflict people tend to emotionally attack those closest to them and those in authority, especially when they are frustrated and can’t manage their own emotions…. An EAR Statement connects with the person’s experience with their feelings.” He uses these three examples of effective EAR statements:

  • Empathy: “I can hear how upset you are.”
  • Attention: “Tell me what’s going on.”
  • Respect: “I respect your efforts.”

By using EAR statements, you address the emotional turmoil your spouse is experiencing, and let him or her know that you understand the importance of his or her response. They can also help you recognize your own emotional state during the process.

Engage in active listening

The University of Colorado defines active listening as “a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker. The listener must take care to attend to the speaker fully, and then repeats, in the listener’s own words, what he or she thinks the speaker has said.”

Active listening does not mean automatically agreeing with your spouse; it means being fully engaged in hearing what he or she has to say. Repeating what your spouse just said to you is a way of showing that you have listened carefully to his or her words. It also allows your spouse to review what he or she just said. In high-conflict cases, a person may not be aware of how he or she sounds, because he or she is too angry or scared. By listening to his or her own words, your spouse is given an opportunity to clarify or reformulate his or her own thoughts, which can lead to a more productive conversation for both of you.

Be aware of your own language and nonverbal cues

Lashing out, trying to make a joke to ease tensions, generalizing with words like “always” or “never:” these are all common reactions when people feel they are being targeted or treated unfairly. You want to be aware of how you respond – both verbally and physically – to your spouse. Avoid rolling your eyes or nodding along with everything he or she says, because it shows disinterest. Sitting with your arms folded across your chest is a common sign of distrust and discomfort, and can make you appear closed off to any discussion. Of course, you want to put your phone down whenever you have a discussion with your spouse (or anyone in any setting), because you cannot concentrate on what another person says if your mind is elsewhere. Finally, make sure your concerns are expressed clearly and specifically. Saying “You never help me with John” is very different from “It bothers me that you don’t offer to help John with his homework each day.” By addressing a specific issue or concern in clear, plain language, you can get to the root of your conflict more easily.

Using mediation techniques for conflicts in the home

These types of techniques can be used outside of mediation, too, to deescalate conflicts in the home. Divorce can be emotionally draining on parents and on children, and the urge to lash out may be stronger when the news is still new. Making sure your children know they are heard, and that their feelings are respected, could help them process their own feelings more effectively.

McCabe Russell, PA offers comprehensive family law counsel to clients throughout Montgomery and Howard Counties. Our Bethesda divorce lawyers help uphold and protect the rights of our clients, and do whatever is possible to ensure that the divorce process goes as smoothly and efficiently as possible. To learn more about our services, please call 443-812-1435 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. We also maintain offices in Fulton, Columbia, and Rockville.