No one is perfect. We all get upset. But some of us get upset more often than others. If that person is the client or the person you’re dealing with “EAR Statements” may help, according to an article by Bill Eddy.

He says high conflict people often attack those closest to them and those in authority (like their attorney), especially if they are frustrated (such as during litigation) because they have a hard time dealing with their emotions. Eddy says making EAR statements could help the situation.

EAR stands for Empathy, Attention, and Respect, which may not be what you have in mind if someone is flipping out over something. Such a statement connects the person’s experience and their emotions. If you’re attacked for not returning a phone call fast enough, you could fight back, or you could say something such as, “I can hear how upset you are. What’s going on? I share your concerns and respect your efforts to solve it.” This statement includes,

  • “I can hear how upset you are.” (empathy)
  • “What’s going on?” (attention)
  • “I respect your efforts.” (respect)

Empathy isn’t sympathy.  Empathy means you can feel their pain and frustration. If you show empathy you’re treating the other as a peer you are concerned about, and you relate to the person as an equal. Statements showing empathy can be something like,

  • “I understand how important this is to you.”
  • “I know this can be frustrating.”

High conflict people want attention. They feel ignored or disrespected and start conflicts to get attention from others. They are rarely satisfied, and they continue to seek more attention. If you show them attention they often calm down. You can physically show you’re paying attention and verbally prove it by saying,

  • “I’m listening. Tell me your story.”
  • “I will pay attention to your concerns.”

High conflict people need respect from others. Even those who are hard to get along with have some quality that you can respect. Focus on that quality so you can calm the person who is desperate to be respected.

The person may feel chronically disrespected and feel the need to be independent because they don’t need others. This outlook can create conflicts with those around them because they don’t see the person as superior and may want to put them down, making the person more upset. You can verbally show respect by saying something like,

  • “I can see you’re a hard worker.”
  • “I respect your commitment to solving this problem.”

Many high conflict people have a difficult time managing their emotions. We often mirror the emotions of those around us so if someone is upset, being calm can help the situation while being more emotional can make it worse. Ideally, the other person will mirror your calm and de-escalate the situation.

Empathy, attention, and respect are free to give away and may greatly help the situation. The person may be starved for such positive emotions because they’ve alienated others. You still need to set limits, give them bad news as necessary and keep a professional distance. Try to connect with them to solve a problem and treat them like an equal human being, whether you agree or disagree with how they’re handling the issue.

Steve Mehta is a professional full-time mediator who specializes in mediating complex and emotional cases. A leading Los Angeles mediator, Mr. Mehta has been repeatedly selected as a Super Lawyer in mediation and is highly regarded by both sides to mediation. To schedule mediations, please visit SteveMehta.com