Pre-Mediation Coaching Can Produce Better Outcomes In High Conflict Mediation

Pre-mediation coaching can be helpful in cases involving High Conflict People (HCPs), or high conflict parenting issues. How do you identify HCPs? First, they tend to focus on the past, fixate on "storytelling", constantly blame others, identify as victims, all while rarely taking responsibility for the natural consequences of their own behavior. HCPs lock into positions and approach problem solving and conflict with an "all-or-nothing", black and white, point of view. They have little or no control over their reactions and emotions, often exhibiting angry outbursts and extreme behaviors.

Bill Eddy, throughout the New Ways for Families® method, talks in detail about the characteristics of High Conflict People, as well as some of the brain science that seems to drive their reactivity. There are right brain/left brain differences in our responses to conflict that correlate to two types of conflict resolution: logical problem solving and defensive reacting.

Logical problem solving is a left brain activity, characterized by linear, detailed, analytical thinking. Information is processed more slowly. In any conflict resolution process, this is ideally where both parties should be functioning the majority of the time.

While our right brain is the source of creativity, intuition, and seeing the big picture, it is also the source of defensive reactions to perceived threats. The right brain pays more attention to non-verbal cues, tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, eye contact.

Normally, when problem solving or faced with conflict, we can switch back and forth between the hemispheres depending on what the situation may require. When we are threatened, our brain quickly moves to the right brain and the "flight or fight" response. If we are approached calmly, in a less threatening manner, our left brain is more likely to engage and dominate the problem solving process.

Bill Eddy explains that HCPs get stuck in right brain defensive reacting, and then are unable to move back to left brain, rational thinking, and that there may be a physiological difference in HCPs/personality disordered parties that cause them to shut down logical problem solving. This makes it harder for them to self-regulate.

If a party becomes triggered during mediation, he or she may shut down and be incapable of adequately engaging their executive functioning and logical problem solving skills. In this state, they are unable to make [good] decisions, or will make impulsive, poorly considered decisions/agreements to get out of what their brain tells them is a threatening situation. In fact, in this mental state, I would argue they actually lack the requisite capacity to make decisions. They are fully engaged in the fight, flight or freeze response, and may agree to things just so they can escape the threatening situation.

At times, family law professionals can become so fixed on settling the case that we do not recognize that one party or the other may simply be unable to voluntarily and knowingly consent to the agreements proposed because of their emotional state. Agreements reached under these circumstances often fall apart after the mediation session when the party is calmer, operating from their left brain, and better able to logically consider the terms they previously agreed to.

The premise behind the New Ways model of pre-mediation coaching is to teach the four skills (Flexible Thinking, Managed Emotions, Moderate Behaviors, Checking Yourself), and then provide the opportunity for each party to practice them prior to mediation. This will hopefully help them remain calm and use the skills learned to stay in left brain problem solving during the mediation process, and thereby better able to make good decisions regarding the resolution of their conflict.

I offer New Ways for Families pre-mediation coaching as a stand-alone service to one or both parties or as an add-on to my mediation services. If you are interested in receiving more information, please contact me at 952-224-7208 or

For more information see the article, Skills Before Decisions: Can Difficult Clients Learn Decision-Making Skills?

Categories: Blog