Mari J. Frank, Esq & Associates, Laguna Niguel, California Atorney and Meditor, Laguna Niguel, California
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Mediation Article

How to Deal With Hostility During Heated Negotiations
Lawyers can take on the fight so fervently that they lose their ability to separate the people and emotions from the actual problems to be solved.
By Marl J. Frank
Verdicts & Settlements, Supplement to Los Angeles Daily Journal and San Francisco Daily Journal, Friday, September 16, 1994

In our profession, we constantly deal with hostile people. Sometimes, it is another attorney.

Our clients come to us for help to resolve their conflicts; they bring their anger, frustrations, and other negative emotions with them. We all know lawyers who take on their clients' negative emotions as they advocate for a just result. Spending much of our time with disputing parties may affect us so negatively that we become stressed ourselves - unless we have the insight and negotiation skill strategies to deal with anger appropriately.

Lawyers can take on the fight so fervently that they lose their ability to separate the people and emotions from the actual problems to be solved. Instinctively, human beings react to conflict by fighting , fleeing, or submitting-- none of which resolves anything. Recently, the adversarial court battle is becoming a less socially acceptable form of "fighting."

Our goal as evolved beings with intellect and logical reasoning is to respond proactively (not reactively) in a manner that does not get us hooked into the whirlwind of anther's anger or fear. As my own "karate kid" son reminds me, "If someone gets you mad, he can control you." When our anger (or any motion) takes over in negotiations, our ability to think and act is greatly impaired. Our intellect and higher self is overridden, and we are not in control. That's when we make "the greatest speeches we will ever regret!"

The following approach is to be used any time someone attacks you or your client or pushes your "hot button."

  • Open Your Ears, Close Your Mouth. Stop yourself from saying anything (until you detach your emotional reactions from your thought-driven response). If you react to hostility in a like manner, you will lose credibility. Likewise a defensive posture may invite more attacks

  • Note Your Body Reaction and Detach Physically. Hear the hostility and immediately direct your mind to what's happening in your physical body. For every emotion there is a physical reaction; the physical reaction for negative emotions happens to be very strong.

Some of us feel a dryness in the throat, others feel a knife in the solar plexus, others get cold sweaty hands, rigid shoulders, tightness in the neck, etc. Take a moment right now and close your eyes (this will allow you to focus). Imagine a judge reprimanding you, or a client yelling at you. What is happening in your own body?

When you identify your own automatic physical reaction to verbal battle, you become conscious of the interference. The first time you analyze this physiology it may be strange for you to decipher what is taking place. Once you have this insight it is very valuable information because you can override that powerful reaction with your intellect.

  • Reverse Normal Reaction. Whatever physical manifestation you have incurred is reversible by your own conscience decision. If you feel stabbing in the solar plexus, visualize a removal of the knife. Set your mind to reverse the process by 'placing" cold hands in warmed gloves, Do whatever is appropriate for you. Then be conscious of taking slow, deep, deliberate breaths. This has a calming effect, so that your logical mind can take charge.

Your body will usually react to hostility in the some manner each time so that your "remedy" will also be effective each time. Therefore, with practice your physical detaching stage will eventually just take a split second.

  • Detach Mentally. In a live hostile situation, once you have detached physically from the anger, you are ready to detach mentally from the anger. Mentally separate this person from his other problem. Remember, his or her perceptions are not truth, but interpretations of fact (just as your  perceptions are for you). You will never be able to convince the person to reinterpret those perceptions through argument or defensive actions when he or she is in this angry state Forget any need to be right (he or she will argue anyway). Do not judge, or stand on principle, otherwise you will be sucked into the tornado of hostility and give up your negotiating power.

  • Listen Carefully. Listen actively to every word. Focus only on hearing, not on preparing to respond. Look at your "negotiation counterpart" directly (nod to show understanding, for example). Do not resist or react (hostilely) in mind or body to anything they say. (This does not mean you agree.) This approach is the exact opposite of what your opponent expects. Your courteous non-contentious listening will begin to diffuse the hostility automatically. Your listening will show the other party that you are open and receptive to hearing and understanding all. In turn this will promote an attitude of receptivity by your opponent. You will both lean new information. This knowledge gives you additional power to work an effective deal for all parties.

  • Restate Exert Words. No matter how abrasive your opponent is, you must restate exactly what was said to you without a nasty tone of voice. Your neutral-toned response may he "You stated that I am an 'x' because I arrived late to this meeting. You think that it is very unprofessional." At this point you may add, "I apologize for the delay. I understand your frustration and anger. Can we put that aside and discuss settlement of our other issues?" (Refocus on real issues, legitimize the perspective of opponent).

  • Ask Open-Ended Questions. Whenever possible, follow up a restated hostile remark with an open-ended question to refocus on the issue at hand. For example, your opponent says, "Your client lied, and you refused to turn over important documents of discovery!" Your response may be, "I understand it is your perception that my client lied and refused to turn over important documents of discovery. Please clarify which documents you are referring to and we will work with you to clear up any misunderstanding. Let's make an agreement to discuss concerns by phone immediately so that we need not make delayed accusations which tend to interfere with our good  faith negotiation"
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