Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Article: Strategic Questions for Dispute Resolvers
by Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
© 2011 by High Conflict Institute
Asking questions is one of the most powerful – and often misused – tools for professionals in dispute resolution settings, whether legal, workplace, mediation or anywhere. When you are dealing with high-conflict clients, it is especially important to consider the timing of different types of questions and also to know what questions you should never ask. Whether you’re meeting with an individual client or meeting with two or more clients together (such as in mediation or solving a workplace problem), the following principles generally apply.
The secret to managing high-conflict clients is to manage your own anxiety. One of the things that most professionals do when they’re anxious is to ask lots of questions. It gives the illusion of being in charge and of working on the problem, which distracts us from our fears or uncertainties regarding how to deal with a potentially difficult client. However, this often makes things worse and interferes with the most important first issue, which is forming a positive working relationship.
High-conflict clients usually have a history of broken relationships with family, friends and professionals. Thus, they feel extremely anxious when seeking the services of a new professional, or being required to use the services of a professional that they don’t want (such as a court evaluator or when required to use a workplace coach). Their anxiety is contagious, so we often catch it and – without even realizing it – pepper them with questions. Our own anxiety is also contagious, so that high-conflict clients often increase their resistance to us when peppered with questions, and the power struggle begins – and may never end.
Equally as problematic, is when they respond in the opposite way, so that they stop trying to say their concerns and become passive and just answer the professional’s many detailed questions. In this case, they assume that the professional will figure everything out and take care of it, with little participation by the client. Then, if the professional missed something important to them (which usually happens), they become very angry.
To read the full article, click here.