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  • Geraldine Waxman, ESQ.

Communicating in high conflict situations


When emotions are at their highest level, sometimes a positive connection with the individual is helpful. But how? Simply stating that the individual should “calm down” will create even more stress.


Another method is to “separate” the parties in conflict. That may or may not be helpful. So, what then? Connecting with EARS!!


1. Empathy: examples: I can understand how upsetting this situation is; I'm sorry to see that you are having to deal with this; I see that this is truly important to you; I know you are concerned about this.

2. Attention: example: Simply by paying attention to the person who is in high conflict you may be able to calm them down since they won't have to “fight” to be “heard.” Examples: tell me more; this is is important to you and can you expand on this?

3. Respect: example: I really respect how much thought you are putting into this and how important this issue is to you.

And, when a simple phrase won't turn the “tide,” here are some thoughts on how to respond to continued hostility without having to separate the parties since separating the high conflict party may simply extend their “distortion” or “inaccuracy.” Indeed, caucus in this situation might simply extend “conclusion jumping”. How then to respond to hostility?:

1. Brevity: be brief and thereby limit chances of angry responses. It might eliminate “dialogues.”

2. Information: focus on “facts” that either you can make or ask the parties to obtain rather than continuing inaccurate statements.

3. Friendly: attempt neutral responses. This eliminates defensive posturing and re-responding by the other party. Sound relaxed and nonthreatening.

4. Be Firm: request brief information/interests from both parties on an issue with no discussion.

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