EAR Statements Can Calm Clients and Anyone, Especially in Today’s World

©2021 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

We all need empathy, attention, and respect—especially in these days of stress and polarization.

Professionals are often expected to show these qualities when working with clients, even under the worst of circumstances. While we have been teaching EAR Statements™ to professionals for over fifteen years, we have finally published a book on this technique for anyone, Calming Upset People with EAR: How Statements Showing Empathy, Attention and Respect Can Quickly Defuse a Conflict (Unhooked Books, 2021). Whether you are at work, at home, in a legal dispute, or a community conflict, you can use an EAR Statement to manage or reduce the tension between people.

Emotions are Contagious

This book explains why and how EAR Statements can work in turning hostile conversations into positive interactions. It helps to understand why this technique works most of the time. Our emotions are contagious and yet we can over-ride our instinctive responses if we pay attention to them. When I researched this for the book, I found that there really are at least three steps to how we receive emotions from others:

1)     Emotional contagion (our automatic reactions). This includes our amygdala responses in our brains, which can occur within less than a tenth of a second without our even realizing it. Also, our mirror neurons make us start to mirror the emotion that is being expressed toward us, whether anger, fear, and so forth. This gives us the human ability to act together for group survival.

2)     Emotion regulation (our conscious control learned with age). This is the part that we can control if we are paying attention and also if we have learned not to react because certain situations aren’t really a threat even though they might look like it. For example, if you see a train locomotive coming right at you on your TV screen. You can over-ride your amygdala and mirror neuron responses, especially with practice. That’s a big part of our learning as we grow up: what’s a crisis and what’s not a crisis.

3)     Mood state (our resulting positive or negative emotions). After we have interpreted another’s emotions as a threat or not a threat, then we end up with our own mood state. In other words, it’s possible to turn someone’s anger toward us into our own positive energy toward them. Of course, this takes some practice. That’s where EAR Statements come in.

How to Give an EAR Statement

EAR Statements are designed to be used during a live conversation, whether in person, over the phone, or on Zoom or some other video platform. This way you have the opportunity to calm an upset person on the spot.

An EAR Statement communicates empathy, attention and/or respect. It might be one of these elements or all three. Even just one sentence can communicate EAR, especially if it is said with a tone of voice and facial expression that shows sincerity with the statement. Here are some examples:

Empathy: “I can understand how frustrating this can be.” “I can see how hard this has been on you.” “I can hear how upsetting this is.” Statements that start with “I can see/hear/understand…” imply that you are seeing the person as an equal who may be experiencing feelings and frustrations that we all share at times. This is one of the key differences between empathy and sympathy. With sympathy, you might observe someone going through something that you just can’t relate to, such that you’re feeling pity for the person, rather than a potentially shared experience. When they’re upset, people want to feel empathy rather than looked down upon. Hearing that you have empathy for them usually calms people down right away because that is what they are looking for in times of difficulty. We humans like group support in times of need.

Attention: “I’ll pay attention.” “Tell me more.” “I want to understand what’s going on.” These types of comments are often reassuring because an upset person knows that they are going to be getting your attention, so they don’t need to fight for it. Keeping good eye contact helps with this. Leaning in while listening attentively can communicate interest.

Respect: “That was a really helpful presentation you gave on Friday.” “I have a lot of respect for your commitment to your children’s health and welfare.” “I respect your relationship with our daughter.” “Congratulations on your new job.” “I appreciate your help on this.” More than anything, people need respect these days. Feeling disrespected can drive a lot of negative behavior, yet it doesn’t cost us anything to give respect to each other on a regular basis. We can respect someone who has a very different opinion from ours and still get along.

These are the basic ingredients of an EAR Statement, whether you use one sentence communicating one of these or combine all three into a statement.

Mask Example

Throughout the book are over twenty examples of upset conversations and then how either person could use an EAR Statement to turn the conversation around. One the best ways to explain this is to use a current Covid situation, as described in Chapter 10: “EAR for Political Discussions.”

Many conflicts have arisen over the issue of wearing masks in public places, including grocery stores. The following is a common situation in a store aisle coming with two people with carts coming toward each other from opposite directions.

Scenario #1:

MASK WEARER: “Don’t come so close to me and my child. You should be wearing a mask! It’s the state guideline.”

ANTI-MASKER: “Don’t tell me what I have to do! It’s just a recommendation, so I don’t have to wear a mask if I don’t want to. Besides, its abusive for you to require your child to wear a mask. You should remove that at once.”

MASK WEARER: “Now, listen buddy. Don’t you tell ME what to do! I don’t want us to die because of you. So, stay away from us! You’re too close.”

ANTI-MASKER: “I have a right to get my groceries off the shelf. Now get out of my way!”

No EAR Statements here. Now let’s look at how it might go if MASK WEARER tried an EAR Statement:

Scenario #2:

MASK WEARER: “Don’t come near me and my child. You should be wearing a mask!”

ANTI-MASKER: “Don’t tell me what I have to do. I don’t have to wear a mask if I don’t want to. Besides, its abusive for you to require your child to wear a mask. You should remove that at once.”

MASK WEARER: “Ok, look. I respect your right to not wear a mask. Just give me a minute to get my cereal and back up.”

This is an EAR Statement by Mask Wearer, so long as the tone of voice and body language communicate EAR. Now, let’s see how it would sound if Anti-Masker tried an EAR Statement.

Scenario #3:

MASK WEARER: “Don’t come near me and my child. You should be wearing a mask.”

ANTI-MASKER (stepping back a couple feet): “Actually, the law allows me to decide for myself. However, I respect your right to wear a mask. Can you just let me in here for a second to get a box of cereal? It’s right there.” 

MASK WEARER (backing up with cart): “Ok.”

This is an EAR Statement by Anti-Masker, both verbal and non-verbal by stepping back.

Topics in the Book

Calming Upset People with EAR includes twelve chapters with twenty-seven sample conversations like the one above, showing common upsetting communication, and then how EAR Statements can turn the conversations around. These include family conflicts, with a mother-son issue, a father-teenage daughter argument, and divorced parents’ dispute over soccer. There are workplace confrontations, including a customer service example, a difficult boss, and a lunchroom cleanup problem. Legal disputes include an attorney and client, a judge and a divorcing parent, and a case of domestic violence (there are some situations in which an EAR Statement is NOT recommended). Others include a hostile neighbor, a bible study group, and a young rock band.

Conclusion

Since intense conflicts can break out anywhere these days, EAR Statements can come in handy to calm these situations. They are really very simple, but they do take some practice. This book is simple and brief, so that anyone from teenagers to lawyers and business owners can use it to calm disputes and conversations anywhere. It may even make a good gift for those going off to school or starting a new job.

You never know when someone will be angry or upset with you. An EAR Statement may just calm things down enough to avoid a major confrontation. And we can all use a little empathy, attention, and respect these days. After all, when you give an EAR Statement to someone, maybe someday they will give one back to you.


BILL EDDY, LCSW, ESQ. is the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, California. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and is viewed globally as the leading expert on managing disputes involving people with high conflict personalities. He has written more than twenty books on the topic and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries.

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