EAR Statements for the Holidays

©2021 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. The past two years have been stressful throughout the world, with endless Covid, endless crazy weather, and endless political tensions. Now that it’s the holidays, you would think that we could relax and enjoy each other’s company. But with Omicron, new vaccine and mask mandates, and everything else, tensions continue to run high. Yet we still want to gather together and do it peacefully. What could help us do this? I, of course, think that practicing EAR Statements will benefit everyone and help create a general atmosphere of peacefulness. (After all, our logo tag line is “the missing peace.”) EAR Statements communicate Empathy, Attention, and Respect in less than a minute. About 90% of the time, an EAR Statement™ will calm any upset person, whether they’re angry, sad, or just frustrated. You can say a sentence that only includes Empathy (“I feel that way too sometimes”), or just Attention (“I want to understand, tell me more”), or simply Respect (“I respect your time with our daughter”) or all three.    Masks For example, if you want people to wear a mask inside your house during a large gathering, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not, some people might object. You might give them an EAR Statement like the following (and have a sign near your front door: “Masks required”): Friend (angry): “This rule is really stupid. You can do whatever you want at this house gathering. It’s your house!” You (in a friendly tone of voice): “I can understand that this is frustrating: it’s harder to breathe, your glasses get fogged up, and we all look silly too (Empathy). I feel the same frustrations and respect your concern (Respect). But we are very fearful of another Covid spike and are willing to wear masks for now—and we ask that you do too. We’re glad you’re here and we want to catch up with you (Attention).” Or suppose you’re on the other side of this issue and opposed to masks. You could use similar EAR language for expressing your point of view and the rules in your house. You (in a friendly tone of voice): “I can understand your frustration with my opposition to masks (Empathy), and I respect your personal right to wear one (Respect). I’m glad to see you and want to hear what you’ve been up to (Attention). But I have a policy against wearing masks in my home and you’ll need to decide what you’ll want to do for today.”  While these examples show connecting in all three ways (Empathy, Attention, and Respect), even just one way might be sufficient. After all, a friendly tone of voice is often the most important part of an EAR Statement. Meat Vegetarian vs. meat is another common family and friend holiday topic ripe for conflict. For example: Vegetarian: “I can’t believe that your house smells so strongly of meat dishes. You know I’m not just thinking of myself here. It’s unhealthy for you too, and the planet can’t support meat eating anymore. You (in a friendly tone of voice): “I respect your concern about meat eating (Respect). I’ve cut down on my own red meat eating, although I still eat some and most of my guests do too. But don’t worry, we have a couple great vegetarian dishes, including my favorite eggplant dish. I want you to feel comfortable and satisfied with your meal today (Empathy). Meat eater: “I see you don’t have any meat dishes here today! Are you trying to make me feel uncomfortable?” You (in a friendly tone of voice): “I can relate to your concern about this (Empathy). I respect your opinion and still eat meat too (Respect). But I thought that there are so many vegetarians coming today that I would put out an all-vegetarian menu that meat-lovers can enjoy too. There’s meat-like sauces and veggie burgers too. Let me know what you think after you’ve tried everything. I’m interested in your opinion so I can decide whether to do this again (Attention). Thanks.” Again, these statements include two or three of our ways of connecting with EAR Statements, but even just one may help. It seems that the key is to be friendly and acknowledge the other person’s concerns, even if you don’t agree with them. Create a sense of “us against the problem,” not “me against you.” More There are many more areas of potential conflict when family and friends gather together, especially in large groups. Politics is especially heated nowadays, but religion and other topics can be areas of controversy too. The reality is that no one is going to change anyone else’s mind in an argument. Nowadays, everyone’s mind is already made up and we all feel very strongly about our conclusions. One approach to this reality at gatherings of family and friends is to post a sign which says something like this: This is a Respectful Gathering Tis the season to be jolly—and respectful! Let’s all have a good time and steer clear of hot topics that can cause discomfort to others, such as politics, religion, food preferences, people’s chosen lifestyles, and so forth. We’ve all been under a lot of stress the past two years, so a few days of peace and celebration are in order. If someone starts to discuss things that make you uncomfortable, just point to this sign. Thanks for making this a pleasant time for all! Conclusion This is a short example of how EAR Statements can reduce conflicts and help people have a good time over the holidays. Empathy can be expressed with sentences like these, which show the ability to pay attention and experience similar feelings: “I can understand your frustration. I can see how hard this is for you. I can hear that this is not what you hoped for.” Just don’t say you “know” what the other person is feeling. Attention can be paid by saying things like this: “Tell me more. I want to understand

“Fast Facts” for Professionals: 3 Ways an EAR Statement Can Calm Clients

hand catching a falling white father

“Fast Facts” for Professionals: 3 Ways an EAR Statement™ Can Calm Clients ©2021 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Professionals and businesses are facing more and more clients who are upset about something these days. It may be the state of the world, someone else, or even you. Regardless, an EAR Statement can calm almost any upset person by giving a statement (often just a sentence) that shows empathy, attention, and/or respect, such as the following: Empathy: “I can understand how difficult this situation is.” Or: “I hear your frustration.” Or: “I can see how worried you are about this.” Attention: “I want to understand. Tell me more.” Or: “I will pay full attention to your concerns.” Or: “I’m interested in knowing your point of view.” Respect: “I respect your efforts at dealing with this problem.” Or: “Congratulations on your promotion.” Or: “That was a helpful presentation you gave.” Just a simple sentence or two can often calm an upset person in less than a minute. By letting them know you want to connect with them in a positive way, you can turn an adversarial situation into a problem-solving situation. Of course, your tone of voice and body language need to be open and positive as well. While this doesn’t work all the time, we have found that it works about 90% of the time and helps both people feel better. With a little practice, anyone can give an EAR Statement! Read more in Calming Upset People with EAR How Statements Showing Empathy, Attention, and Respect Can Quickly Defuse a Conflict.   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, developed methods for managing high-conflict disputes, and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries. He is also co-host of the popular podcast, It’s All Your Fault, and writes a popular blog on Psychology Today.

An Interview with Bill Eddy: Calming Upset People with EAR

book cover for Calming Upset People with EAR along with Bill Eddy headshot

An Interview with Bill Eddy: Calming Upset People with EAR ©2021 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.   1.     What does “EAR” stand for and why did you develop it? EAR stands for Empathy, Attention and Respect. In working on high conflict disputes in families, the workplace, and legal cases, I realized that people were constantly upset and needed help calming down. I specifically developed the technique we call “EAR Statements” as described in the book, as a quick and easy way of calming people who were in an increasingly intense conflict. It is especially useful with people who are stuck in high conflict and can’t get themselves out of it. After one or two or three EAR Statements, most (probably more than 90%) calm down at least enough to start working on solving problems instead of just blaming each other. 2.     How can we avoid “catching” other people’s strong emotions? Emotions are contagious. Our brains are designed this way to help us work together or save our lives through group action in dangerous situations. Upset emotions are particularly contagious because they tell us there is an urgent problem that needs to grab our attention. Emotions activate several parts of the brain, including the amygdala, which is particularly sensitive to upset emotions. If someone is anxious or afraid or angry, the amygdala tells us to get ready for fight, flight or freeze. It can happen in less than a tenth of a second. The more anxious a person is, the more likely they are to catch other people’s strong emotions. Another aspect of the brain is our mirror neurons, which tell us to imitate the behavior that we see other people doing. This can be positive or negative. For example, if you see a group of people running away from the ocean (probably to avoid a tidal wave), there’s no time to waste thinking about it. Your body just immediately starts running before you have time to really analyze the situation. Likewise, with strong emotions, if someone nearby is angry, it’s very likely that you will get angry too—either at the same target of anger or at the person who is angry. This is the nature of mob behavior, which may be totally emotional and people join in without any knowledge of what the issues are that are driving the mob. To avoid catching others’ emotions takes some training, which we do with High Conflict Institute. We teach people to focus on giving an upset person an EAR Statement, rather than reacting with the same emotions. We also teach people to give themselves EAR Statements to help them manage their own emotions and avoid getting “hooked” emotionally. For example, you can tell yourself “It’s not about me,” when someone calls you names or yells in your face in a way that’s totally inappropriate. By regularly reminding yourself that such behavior is “Not about me,” you can maintain calm and avoid getting “emotionally hooked.” With High Conflict Institute trainings, we give people practice exercises with someone being upset and angry, and the other person responding as calmly as possible with an EAR Statement. It takes practice and no one becomes perfect at this, as it is still hard-wired to some extent in our brains. But people do get better and better at this. And it can be positive emotional contagion, such as when you give someone else and EAR Statement and it helps them feel better. 3.     How are EAR statements different from the reflective/active listening that counselors often use? Reflective listening and active listening are great tools and everyone should learn to do them. But they focus on only reflecting back what one has heard, including the content and emotions. Counselors help their clients become more self-aware by using reflective listening or active listening.  But EAR Statements in daily life are designed to give a little bit more of yourself by making a statement that gives the other person your empathy, your attention and your respect. EAR Statements were originally designed for situations in which someone is dealing with high conflict people, who are generally more intensely upset than the average person. So we developed EAR Statements to do more than just reflecting back what someone is saying and feeling. For example, a reflective listening statement might be: “I hear that you are aware that I arrived late and you are angry about that.” An EAR Statement might be: “I hear that you are aware that I arrived late and you are angry about that. I have a lot of empathy for the awkward position I put you in.” Or: “I’ll pay attention to your concerns; tell me more.” Or: “I hear your frustrations about his problem and I have a lot of respect for your efforts to solve it.” These statements all show more than reciting what you have heard. They show an investment in the other person by giving empathy, attention, and/or respect.  4.     How can EAR statements transform contentious relationships? In making an EAR Statement, a person needs to listen to what the other is saying and find something that they can show empathy for, listen to more, or show respect for. This focus on connecting with a positive intent immediately reduces a contentious relationship from the point of view of the person giving the EAR Statement. But since emotions are contagious, their EAR Statement often is very pleasing for the other person to hear and it reduces their anger or defensiveness, so that they may feel neutral or positive toward the person who gave them an EAR Statement. It may seem complicated, but it’s really about each person shifting themselves into a positive state of mind rather than staying in a negative state of mind, regardless of how negative the other person may be. 5.     Do these statements always work to calm people down? From my experience and other High Conflict Institute trainers and staff over the past dozen years or so, they calm people down at