Mediating High Conflict Parties

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Contributed by Mary Schneider

View Making Proposals by Bill Eddy 

As part of my experience as a mediator, I [Mary Schneider] have had extensive training in how to mediate high conflict disputes and/or the high conflict person (HCP).  I [Schneider] attended a seminar last Friday, sponsored by the AR Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission regarding this very subject matter.  Below are some of the highlights from that training.


  1. Typically, the HCP has an “all or nothing mentality”;
  2. Has unmanaged emotions which manifests in mediation as behavior such as blurting things out without prior forethought, constant interruptions, yelling, crying, etc…;
  3. Are engaged in extreme behavior or threaten extreme behavior (ex: domestic violence) or the behavior is very disproportionate to what is actually going on, and
  4. The HCP has a preoccupation with blaming others and dwelling on the past.


The mediator’s role with the HCP in mediation is to:

1) Connect with the HCP through empathy, attention and respect throughout the mediation process;

2) The mediator needs to make the mediation a very structured process from the beginning by teaching the participants to focus on the future and facilitate proposals and agreements;

3) The mediator needs to educate the participants about their choices by giving them information to help the participants look at and review the proposals being made in the mediation, and by helping the participants look at and review possible consequences of each choice.

One way the mediator can educate the hcp/couple in mediation is to begin teaching them about making small agreements which will eventually lead to making bigger decisions.  If negative behavior creeps in during the mediation, it is the mediator’s role to interrupt the negative behavior and redirect the parties to look at options, proposals and agreements.  The mediator through this process will try to create an “us” mentality i.e. that we are going through this process together.


In helping the hcp (parties) in mediation it is important to look for the “who, what, when, where”* (see accompanying article “Making Proposals” by Bill Eddy)

And stay away from the “why” questions which easily turn into criticisms.  Instead, the mediator takes the time to deconstruct the parties’ proposals when they cannot agree, and ask the parties to really understand the proposal and help them find what is really important in making the proposal a successful agreement.


Ultimately, the “successful mediation” ends with the parties making agreements which the mediator assists them in putting into writing, and that these agreements are future thinking instead of focused on the past.  The mediator will advise the parties to have the agreements achieved in mediation be reviewed by “reviewing professionals” such as their lawyers, financial advisers, and parenting professionals.  The parties are encouraged to understand they are the ultimate decision makers and while these professionals are important to listen to, the parties have the ultimate power to decide for themselves on knowing what will work for their particular set of circumstances.

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