Law Tips: Eliciting Change Talk in Mediation

Doug Noll, a fulltime peacemaker, emphasizes the importance of “micro-moments of emotion” when mediators should respond appropriately in order to bring the parties to an amicable settlement. Mr. Noll specializes in difficult, complex, and intractable conflicts and he trains others in those conflict resolution skills. A segment of his mediation training focuses on eliciting change talk. Today, Doug is generously providing an outline of how change talk can assist in a positive outcome in your clients’ settlement. Let’s learn about DARN C:

Eliciting Change Talk

Eliciting change talk, or self motivational statements, is an important component in mediationsettlements. This strategy helps to establish and resolve ambivalence and move forward.

Change talk is the party making statements that are in favor of resolution, which suggests that the party is becoming more ready, willing, and able to settle. However, although a mediator may want to hear change talk, she avoids imposing it. The goal is to elicit it from the party in a collaborative fashion. Eliciting change talk has to come about through a consensual, negotiated process between the mediator, the party, and counsel. Change talk can occur in several forms that make up the acronym DARN C.

D =Desire statements. Statements indicating a desire to make a change.

  • “I’d like to get this over with if I could.”
  • “I wish I could make my life better.”
  • “I want to take better care of my kids.”
  • “Getting past this would make me feel so much better about myself.”

A= Ability statements. Statements that speak to the party’s self-efficacy or belief in the ability tomake changes.

  • “I think I could do that.”
  • “That might be possible.”
  • “I’m thinking I might be able to do that.”
  • “If I just had enough money to survive until I got back on my feet, I could probably be OK.”

R = Reasons statements. Statements that reflect the reasons the party gives for considering a change.

  • “I have to settle because the stress and cost is driving me to bankruptcy.”
  • “To keep my sanity, I should probably figure a way out of this mess.”
  • “My marriage is over and I might as well just accept it and move on.”
  • “I don’t like my kids to see me like this.”

N = Need statements. Statements that indicate a need for change. These can be similar to R statements, but the emphasis is more affective or emotional than a more cognitive R statement.

  • “It’s really important to get my life back.”
  • “Something has to change or my marriage will break.”
  • “I’ll die if I keep going like this.”

These DARN statements are important to recognize and then emphasize through reflecting or directing the party to further elaboration. These statements are avenues to the most important part of change talk, the “C” in the DARN C.

C = Commitment language. Commitment language is the strength of change talk.

For example, aperson could say, “I might settle”, or “I could consider settling”, or “I’m planning to settle” or “I will settle”. The last two examples represent authentic commitment. The strength of the verb in the sentence corresponds with the strength of the commitment language.

An important mediator skill is addressing party commitment to change over the course of the mediation by recognizing and responding to change talk. The goal is to strengthen the commitment level.

Amrhein and Miller (2003), a linguist and a psychologist respectively, have shown that while allelements of change talk can be important in building commitment language, it is the stronger commitment statements that predict positive behavior outcomes. In other words, the more a party is making strong commitment statements like “I will do this” and “I am going to do that,” the more likely the party’s behavior is going to change.

I appreciate the contributions of Douglas Noll, both for Law Tips and as a faculty member for ICLEF. His DARN C pointers surely can help to recognize and strengthen the commitments of parties in various situations. I hope you have enhanced your mediation skills through his advice.

For further information on Mr. Noll’s training you may want to visit his website: There are two quality seminars available live from ICLEF in the coming months that offer you the opportunity to earn Civil Mediation Education hours. Click a title below for full details:

CME for Family Mediators – 6 CLE / 6 CME – November 13

Epic Change: The Evolution of the Legal Profession – 3 CLE / 3 CME / .5 E – December 3


About our Law Tips faculty participant:
Douglas E. Noll, J.D., M. A. In addition to being a keynote speaker and negotiation trainer, Doug is a full time peacemaker and mediator. He is an adjunct professor of law and has a Masters Degree in Peacemaking and Conflict Studies. Mr. Noll was a business and commercial trial lawyer for 22 years before turning to peacemaking. He is a Fellow of the International Academy of Mediators, a Distinguished Fellow of the American College of Civil Trial Mediators and on the American Arbitration Association panel of mediators and arbitrators. With his colleague Laurel Kaufer, Mr. Noll, co-founded the award-winning pro bono project, Prison of Peace, training life inmates in maximum security prisons to live lives of service as peacemakers and mediators. He is the author of  Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts (Prometheus Books, April 2011).

About our Law Tips blogger:
Nancy Hurley has long-standing connections with Indiana lawyers. She was formerly a member of the ISBA and IBF staffs for over 30 years. Nancy’s latest lifestyle venture is with ICLEF. We are utilizing her exceptional writing and interviewing skills while exploring how her Indiana-lawyer background fits with ICLEF’s needs. When she isn’t ferreting out new topics for Law Tips, her work can be found in our Speaker Spotlight blogs, postings on the ICLEF Facebook and Twitter pages, and other places her legal experience lends itself.

Thank you for reading Law Tips. You may subscribe to this weekly blog through the RSS link at the top of this page.  Also, you are encouraged to comment below or email Nancy. She welcomes your input as she continues to sift through the treasure trove of knowledge of our CLE faculty to share with you.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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