So, you’ve done a good job of ‘managing your chimp’ and you are arriving at mediation feeling calm and rational. For mediation to work, our ‘human’ needs to talk to our ex’s ‘human’ and so it is important that you continue to manage your chimp and avoid exciting your ex’s chimp.

I am reminded of a recent experience of calling a utility company over the course of a few days to complain about Internet problems. You know what it’s like - you are usually already frustrated by the time you get through to the right person having already selected several options on the phone, been routed through to the wrong person and having had to explain the issue three times over. But anyway, I was prepared, and I managed my chimp well. When I eventually got through to the right person, I discovered three different types of response, and I noticed the impact they had on me.

In the first, the support centre asked if I had done some simple housekeeping fixes (which I had) and then said immediately that it clearly wasn’t their problem and the problem lay with my computer. This made me feel angrier and more frustrated than ever. My chimp definitely woke up and I had to manage it firmly if the conversation wasn’t to degenerate into the sort of thing you see in comedy sketches.

In the second, they spent time listening to my problem and asking questions to clarify the situation. They sympathised with me, saying how frustrating that must be and they would see what they could do to help. They didn’t actually accept any blame at this stage, but they showed concern and care. This felt wonderful! I felt understood, I felt they cared and I felt they would help me find a solution. We even started chatting about holidays and the weather. I also found myself actively looking for solutions with the other person and doing all I could to help them.

In the third, they seemed to go through a script which included saying they were sorry for the inconvenience whilst not sounding sorry at all. The last response led me to treating the person like a machine as they were acting like one (yes, ok, maybe I fell into chimp behaviour here.)

As I noticed the impact these responses had on me, I thought about some of the most helpful responses to avoid exciting another person’s chimp when having a tough conversation.

Here are my suggestions:

  • LISTEN to what they are saying. You don’t need to agree with it, you don’t need to take any blame. You just need to listen.
  • UNDERSTAND what they are saying and show that you empathise with what they are feeling. You don’t need to agree with it, you don’t need to take any blame. You just need to show you understand what they are saying and how they are feeling.
  • DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY – even if they are making it personal. Just listen and show you understand.
  • LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS and invite the other to look for solutions, too.
  • STAY CALM and don’t let your own chimp get excited. Breathe and take a break if necessary.

For more ideas on how to communicate efficiently so that others will listen, take a look at this blog here.



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