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Mediation: Difficult Conversations with High Conflict Parties

Mediators work with high conflict people during divorce mediations. Often, parties seem fated or programmed through months or years of a declining relationship to immediately start difficult conversations in a destructive manner. Each party knows how to push the other's buttons to create a hostile environment.

One of a mediator's tasks in a mediation is to stop this behavior from sabotaging the negotiating and settlement process.

One method may be for conversations to be guided by questions like

µ Can you say a little more about how you see things?

µ What information do you have that the other person does not?

µ How do you see it differently?

µ Say more why this issue is important to you.

When high conflict parties come in to me for divorce mediation and think that they will never be able to sit at a table and discuss important and difficult conversations, I recall the story I learned from Israeli negotiator Moty Cristal.

In 2002, he was an Israeli negotiator charged with negotiating with a terrorist group concerning a hundred terrorists who had overtaken the Church of the Nativity. Obviously, physical force could not be used. Here were two high conflict sides meeting in an attempt to find a resolution, not unlike two divorcing parties meeting to resolve their difference.

When he first met his Arab negotiator counterpart, the conversation went something like this:

Moty: My name is Moty and I am the Israeli negotiator.

Arab: My name is Mohammed and my comrades are in the Church.

Moty: I hate you and you hate me.

Arab: Yes.

Moty: You want to kill me and I want to kill you.

Arab: Yes.

Moty: So, now that we know where we stand, let's sit down, talk and see if we can reach some goals and agreements.

Although that negotiation lasted 40 days, the table was set with the preliminaries. Both parties acknowledged that they did not have to like each other. They needed to respect each other and be candid with each other in order to find a resolution of a life and death tense scenario.

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