Add Your Heading Text Here

hand catching a falling white father

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

“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.

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

An Interview with Bill Eddy: Calming Upset People with EAR

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

Read More »
crowd of people on subway platform

7 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People During this Crisis

7 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People During This Crisis ©2020 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq How are you doing during this homebound coronavirus crisis? We hope you’re managing okay, staying healthy and washing your hands a lot. This article is about the reality that even during a crisis we still have to deal with some difficult people. With this in mind, here are several tips that may help you cope with them, including co-parenting exchanges and dealing with an abusive person. 1. Difficult people tend to act worse during a crisis, not better, so be prepared. We all have this hope that everyone will pull together and act reasonably during a crisis, but the opposite is true for people with a pattern of difficult behavior. They are stressed too, so they act more like themselves, not less. Whether you live with them, work with them over the phone or by Zoom, or are dealing with an ex-spouse or long-distance family member, it helps to anticipate their usual pattern of dealing with difficult problems which may include all-or-nothing solutions, unmanaged emotions and extreme behaviors. Yelling, blaming, impulsive actions, and dramatic withdrawals may be common. If you have bad news to deliver or a controversial issue to discuss, be prepared to stay calm through their storm. 2. Calming upset people with lots of EAR statements. EAR statements show empathy, attention and/or respect for an upset person. This may be the last thing you feel like doing, but calming an upset person may make your own life a lot easier. When you start a conversation, you can ask how they are doing and give them some empathy. “Yeah, I hear your frustrations. What a stressful time for you and the rest of us.” Or some attention: “Tell me what your concerns are about this problem. I want to understand your point of view.” Or some respect: “I respect your efforts to make this work. We just have to work out a few more details.” 3. Keep the conflict small: avoid the past and focus on current choices. Difficult people spend a lot of time complaining and arguing about the past. Be prepared for them to try to bring up past issues while you’re discussing a current problem. Focus on what you can do now about it. Have 2-3 solutions (proposals) in mind before you start the conversation. Difficult people often jump from topic to topic, bringing unrelated issues into the discussion of your request. Don’t be surprised. Expect this and say “Let’s finish talking about this issue first, before we talk about that. Thanks.” 4. Avoid getting emotionally hooked; stay focused on what to DO. When difficult people are high conflict people, they are preoccupied with blaming others. Be prepared to be attacked or blamed or criticized for something. Remind yourself “It’s not about me—it’s about the decision or plan we need to make.” You can even say out loud: “Let’s stay focused on what to do now,” and stick with it. 5. Take breaks and allow others to take breaks. When people are under stress or in a conflict, it’s easy to just keep pushing through it to get it resolved and done with. But the reality with difficult people is that they often can’t disengage and in fact relate to people by engaging in conflict with them. Be firm about your need to take a break, repeating that you’re taking a break now and won’t discuss it further until you’ve both had a chance to think about it. And if the other person wants to take a break, certainly let them do that. Feeling trapped makes people act worse, not better. Especially during this stay-at-home period, everyone needs a chance to take a break from each other. 6. Resolving co-parenting issues between two households. Courts are closed, so dealing with separation and divorce conflicts are best handled with mediators, such as those on the website of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators. One of the biggest issues for co-parents right now is the exchange of children between two households, amid fears of catching or spreading the coronavirus. The standard worldwide is to follow the court orders, unless to do so would be very dangerous. Of course, who decides what’s very dangerous? Many families are grappling with this right now and there’s no clear-cut answer. When there’s a high conflict co-parent, this easily becomes a huge power struggle. Reasonable parents communicate and make compromises, including lots of virtual time with the other parent. However, high conflict co-parents tend to make it a chance to seize power and withhold the child. In this case, here’s a few extra tips: a)  Keep a daily record of where the child is, what the other parent said and what you said about exchanges. This may be needed when courts open again. b)  Emphasize to the withholding parent how you think the courts would address the issue of withholding a child. Try not to make it about you versus the other parent, but rather about standards. c)  Adopt an objective system for deviating from the court orders, such as this suggested by the National Self Represented Litigants Project in Canada: If a parent thinks they or someone in their household is coming down with COVID-19, they should immediately notify the other parent and self-quarantine for 14 days—with the child if the child is already with that parent or without the child if the child is already at the other parent’s house. Maintain the status quo for 14 days, then return to the normal exchange schedule. 7. Living with an abusive person. Usually a person is encouraged to stay away from an abusive person, but if you can’t here’s some tips: a)  Find distracting calming activities (movies, TV, board games with the kids, etc.). b)  Avoid criticism and blame (even if you’re being criticized or blamed) and try using EAR statements that show empathy, attention or respect (any of these may help). Examples: “I know this is a hard time. I know you’re frustrated. I’ll help you with this.”

Read More »