I wrote several weeks ago about communicating with high-conflict people. In the seminar I attended, Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute also made the point that mediators and counselors working with high-conflict personalities need to manage their own responses during problem-solving sessions. It is a sure bet that you will face resistance from the high-conflict person, so you need to control yourself.
Although the focus of Mr. Eddy’s program was on high-conflict personalities, anyone can become high-conflict when we deal with emotional circumstances, which many disputes are. Thus, most of what he said has applicability in almost all mediations.
Here were some of his tips:
1. High-conflict personalities have a hard time with problem-solving. They need a structure. Your role is to provide that structure, but NOT TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEM. Repeat again: Your role is NOT to solve their problem—that is THEIR responsibility.
2. Your focus should be on managing your relationship with the parties to the dispute, NOT to manage the outcome. Repeat again: Your role is NOT to manage the outcome—that is THEIR responsibility.
3. The three skills you need to have when mediating high-conflict disputes (or, really, any dispute) are
- Connecting with empathy, attention, and respect
- Structuring the dispute resolution process, and
- Educating the parties about the available choices and the consequences of their choices.
Each of these skills is worthy of a post in its own right. But for me, the most helpful advice was to step back from managing the outcome to structuring and managing the process.
I know as a mediator I sometimes am too directive and occasionally too passive. It is too easy for me to jump to what I think the outcome should be, and then pushing toward that outcome or giving up when it seems the parties will never get there.
What I took away from Mr. Eddy’s program was a reminder to keep myself from owning the outcome. I need to remember that reaching a resolution is the parties’ decision, not mine. I learned that in my mediator training, but it is easy to forget. We all want to take control when we think we know best.
When have you taken responsibility for a problem that wasn’t yours to resolve?