"It's hard to solve, 'He's a jerk,'" says Packard. "Tell your friend, 'Give me an example of something he does.' He's a slob. He leaves his wet towels on the floor. Something you can talk about and help the person figure out how to bring up with the other person."

Learn to defuse. There will be times and fights, of course, that even the most skilled mediator can't bring to a peaceful resolution. In those cases, your only goal is to not escalate the situation.

"In the moment, when someone is extremely angry, it can be hard to think of a way to be tactful but clear," Packard says. "The best thing you can do is help them get clear about what to do next."

Sometimes it's as simple as, "This is a really tough situation. What do you think your next step is? What's most important to you in this situation?"

"The person in the middle has to put their own oxygen mask on first," she says. "If you're dealing with all the stress coming off of them, you're putting yourself at risk and limiting your own thinking and it's going to be harder for them to hear anything you say. You have to be able to give yourself a break."

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

Store-bought mediation

Still at a loss? You could hand your friends Mediator in a Box, a kit created by two sisters — a family law mediator and a conflict resolution expert — that provides conversation cards, ground rules and a game board intended to help people resolve seemingly insurmountable conflicts. The following pointers are spelled out in the box. Maybe you want to slip one or two of them into casual conversation.

Set the rules. "There are two ground rules: Respect each other. Listen without interrupting."

Know the goal. "Sometimes it's not clear what the real problem is. It can be hidden in superficial details or you may be trying to solve two or three problems at once. Try to narrow it down: 'What's most important here?' 'What we need to solve is …' 'We need to decide …' 'Let's find a way to …'"

Speak the same language. "The better you become at deciphering the meaning behind the words, the better you will understand another's perspective, and the easier it will be to reach a solution together. Check out what you think you heard by asking: 'When you say …,I understand that to mean … Is that accurate?' "

Discuss solutions. "Are there solutions that the two of you can agree on? Discuss how you would implement them."

Stick to your solution. "Write down the details of the solution(s) you've agreed to try. Who will do what, when, where and how? Set a date to check in with each other to evaluate how your solution is working."

Mediator in a Box costs $64, including shipping; go to simplehelpinabox.com.

— H.S.