How to deal with high conflict personalities

High conflict people are stuck in conflict. You don’t have to get hooked too.

How to deal with high conflict personalities

In these times of being forced to stay at home, some people are going to discover that they’re living with a “high conflict” person or dealing with one online. That’s someone who is stuck in conflict; who can’t let things go; who has to have their way all the time. You know when you’re living with someone like that, but you probably didn’t understand why—or what to do about it.

High Conflict Personalities

I’ve been working with and studying high conflict people for over 20 years. I estimate that about 10% of adults tend to have a high conflict personality. They tend to overlap with personality disorders, which are about 15% of the general population according to the DSM-5 diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association. 1 But many people with personality disorders do not have high conflict personalities, and many people who are high conflict do not have personality disorders. (Also, children are naturally this way, but most grow out of it by adulthood.)

Here are the four primary characteristics of high conflict personalities, which is not a diagnosis but a description of conflict behavior:

  1. Preoccupation with blaming others (their “targets of blame”)
  2. All-or-nothing thinking
  3. Intense or unmanaged emotions
  4. Extreme behaviors (often what 90% of people would never do)

If you’re dealing with someone like this don’t tell them that you think they are a high conflict person! That just makes it worse, because high conflict people (HCPs) are stuck in defensiveness already and they’ll never let you forget how you labeled them. Instead, just keep it to yourself and adapt how you deal with them. (If you see these four characteristics, you can often predict at least another 40 behaviors. For a list of those, see my book 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life.)

It’s important to understand that you can’t change their personality. If that was going to happen, it would have already happened by now in most cases. Since HCPs are preoccupied with blaming others, they don’t reflect on themselves and therefore they don’t try to change anything about themselves. But you can still manage your relationship with them by changing the way you interact with them. Here are four tips. I call them “The 4 Forgetaboudits” with high conflict people:

1. Forget about trying to give them insight into themselves.

This won’t work (because they can’t self-reflect) and it will make your relationship worse. Any effort you make to try to “get them to see” their part in a problem or “understand what they are doing wrong” will just trigger more defensiveness, rather than insight. You probably discovered this already but couldn’t stop yourself. Well, just stop it now. If they are an HCP, they will blame you more, not less, for doing this.

2. Forget about the past; focus on your future choices.

HCPs are stuck in the past. You’ll notice that they are always talking about how you or other people have treated them in the past, and how you or others were wrong and how they were right. You can’t win such a discussion and by focusing on the past, the conflict will just escalate. Instead, it helps to get them focused on what to do now: what you can do (like take a break from the conversation), or what the other person can do (“You have a choice here: Try choice A or choice B, what do you think?”), or what you can do together (“Let’s change the subject to tonight’s dinner. Any ideas?”).

3. Forget about emotional confrontations.

High conflict people get easily stuck in their emotions and have a harder time than most people in bringing themselves back down to ordinary discussions. So, avoid expressing anger at them as much as possible (no one’s perfect at this). Instead, focus back on your choices. Even try to avoid telling them they’re frustrating, bursting into tears in front of them, or other emotional confrontations. It’s better to just take a break if you feel tempted to do these things. And after your break, try to focus on the future rather than re-opening a discussion of the past.

4. Forget about telling them they have a high conflict personality.

As I said above, this doesn’t help. If they have a high conflict personality, they are already very defensive and will get even more defensive. If they don’t have a high conflict personality, they still won’t like being judged or labeled. Just think it to yourself and try to remember these four Forgetaboudits.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with someone with a high conflict personality or not — or even a child. These four Forgetaboudits will help you manage close quarters with anyone anywhere.

1. American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013, 646.

What is High Conflict Personality?

A person with a High Conflict Personality (HCP) usually has underlying trauma associated with distinct personality traits. Traditional diagnostic categories characterize persons with these personality qualities as “dramatic, emotional or erratic” cluster (Cluster B) that includes antisocial, borderline, narcissistic and histrionic personality “disorders.” Personality issues are often longstanding patterns of behavior and experience that adversely affect a person’s interrelationships with others and ability to function effectively in the world. People with HCP do not necessarily fall neatly into one of these recognized categories. Instead, they can demonstrate symptoms from one or more of the Cluster B diagnostic categories, and they may by exclusion fit into the category of “Personality disorder not otherwise specified.”

How is High Conflict Personality treated?

How to deal with high conflict personalitiesIn most cases, psychotherapy is the treatment of choice for HCP, whether in an individual or group setting. Since HCP Clients have been helped by both psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral treatment modalities, therapists have several tools at their disposal. One, in particular, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), a method of psychotherapy originally developed to treat Borderline Personality Disorder, has been effective for Clients with HCP, as the two disorders have many characteristics in common. While medication may not be the treatment of first resort, it can be appropriate for some Clients, especially for those who may be suffering from other psychological issues, especially mood disorders, in addition to HCP.

What Causes High Conflict Personality?

Like many psychiatric disorders, specific causes of HCP have not been clearly identified. In general, research has demonstrated an association between personality disorders and abuse or neglect early in life. There are many theoretical constructs that attempt to explain the circumstances that give rise to one disorder or another, but definitive causes are generally elusive. If nothing else, it is fair to say that there is no demonstrable link between these disorders and any genetic or physiological condition, although temperament may play a role in their development. It is believed that HCP is related to an insecure or disrupted attachment in childhood. Accordingly, the symptoms of HCP can clearly be exacerbated by situations like divorce or relationship difficulties (that are filled with conflict even for people without HCP).

What are the Symptoms of High Conflict Personality?

How to deal with high conflict personalitiesHCP, given its overlap with the antisocial, borderline, narcissistic and histrionic personality disorders, may be more of a descriptive term than a specific diagnosis. Persons with HCP tend to have several things in common. They initiate and receive reward from conflict with others, and they are usually at the center of whatever conflict is occurring. They appear to treat conflict as normal and expected in their interactions, to a point at which conflict becomes a defining aspect of relationships. They are adept at escalating conflict and at blaming others.

At the same time, they have great difficulty seeing things through the eyes of others and they are extremely reluctant to take responsibility in their lives or to accept blame when things go wrong. They are often referred to as “chronic blamers.” They tend to be emotional, aggressive, mistrustful and controlling. They easily see themselves as victims, and they are extremely resistant to acknowledging that they may have contributed, in even the smallest way, to making a situation difficult.

For people with HCP, the world appears in black and white. Others are either with them or against them. They have little or no insight into their own behavior, and they are easily threatened by interpretations of behaviors that do not comport with their own worldview. Splitting is an important concept among persons with high conflict personalities. The people around them are perceived as all good (over-idealized) or all bad (devalued). Someone who has “split” off a family member or friend may refuse contact with that person and may speak very negatively about them.

Clients with HCP are not naturally insightful. They can react with hostility to therapeutic intervention, often interpreting the therapist’s efforts as an attack. These qualities can make treatment difficult, but a trained therapist who understands HCP can work through these difficulties using specific techniques. Change may be gradual, but Clients with HCP can ultimately adopt more effective ways of living. For persons more on the narcissistic spectrum, initiating therapy may be difficult to impossible. Forming a deep relationship with a therapist is also difficult for them.

Many of the symptoms of HCP are most pronounced in interactions with those closest to the Client, so these relationships are especially important to effective treatment. The involvement of family and friends in treatment can be enormously helpful for all parties, encouraging them to understand the behaviors at issue and to adopt new, more productive ways of interacting.

Its time to start talking about them.

Posted October 9, 2017

How to deal with high conflict personalities

Did the shooter in Las Vegas have a high-conflict personality? Does the President have a high-conflict personality? Are you dealing with someone with a high-conflict personality in your personal life or work life?

It’s time we started talking about the predictable patterns of high-conflict personalities, how to identify them and, most importantly, how to deal with them effectively. Individually, without this knowledge, many people make things worse by how they react to a high-conflict person. Collectively, our current Culture of Blame is escalating high-conflict behavior rather than managing it. As a society, it’s time to develop awareness of high-conflict personalities.

This is a new blog series about five types of high-conflict people (HCPs) and what you need to know to protect yourself and manage (or avoid) relationships with them at home, at work, in your neighborhood or anywhere. This first blog talks about the basic, predictable and troublesome pattern of high-conflict personalities.

When I was trained as a clinical social worker in the 1980’s, I worked in psychiatric hospitals and learned about personality disorders—people with social impairment, lack of self-reflection and lack of change. No matter how hard I worked to help these patients plan for discharge, save their marriage, their job, or their apartment, there would always be another crisis created for me to manage.

When I became a lawyer in the 1990’s, I thought I was making a career change, but I quickly realized that many of the people in legal disputes also had personality disorders or traits—but they were undiagnosed and slightly different.

The pattern: Here’s what I saw: In my court cases I was seeing personality-disordered people who had a Target of Blame: someone they focused all of their anger onto, all of the responsibility for their problems, all of their energy. Their life purpose became controlling, eliminating or destroying that other person. Yet many of their targets were innocent of any wrong-doing, such as victims of domestic violence, neighbors who were just trying to get along, co-workers who were bullied, or strangers who were targeted simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another part of their pattern was the constant recruitment of Negative Advocates: people who they would persuade to help them in attacking their Targets of Blame. People would become emotionally hooked into the dispute, but uninformed about what was really going on. These Negative Advocates were often family members, but sometimes friends, co-workers and even their professionals. Yet, surprisingly, the HCPs frequently turned on their Negative Advocates, who became their next Targets of Blame.

Lastly, these HCPs were Persuasive Blamers. They often got many professionals and the court to agree with them and find fault with their Targets of Blame, rather than holding the HCPs responsible. They were getting these cases backward.

While I tried to explain to lawyers, judges, and mediators what was happening in these cases, it was too complicated to explain in a 10-minute discussion or 20-minute court hearing. So I started writing and teaching legal and workplace professionals about these high-conflict personalities, their Negative Advocates and their Targets of Blame. This has become the focus of my work for the past 15 years. Now we’re seeing the same patterns in community violence and world politics.

The DSM-5 suggests that about 15 percent of the adult U.S. population have a personality disorder and I estimate that about 10 percent have a high-conflict personality. These are huge numbers which are hardly talked about, yet they’re similar to the percent with substance abuse disorders.

It’s important to know that not all HCPs have personality disorders and not all people with personality disorders are HCPs. But there is a lot of overlap and this has been helpful in developing methods of dealing with high-conflict people. We need to have compassion because no one seeks to have a high-conflict personality. But we also need to set limits.

So here are three key tips for this first blog. I will share more over the coming months:

Look for the pattern

The four primary characteristics of a high-conflict person:

1. Lots of all-or-nothing thinking
2. Unmanaged emotions
3. Extreme behavior or threats
4. A preoccupation with blaming others

If you recognize this pattern, you can generally predict at least forty other behaviors. For example, you can predict that they will not reflect on their own behavior or change their own behavior—no matter how much negative feedback they get from others, which just builds their resistance and leads to more extreme behavior.

Don’t try to change the person: If you see this pattern, don’t try to change the person. Change how you respond to the person.

Don’t label people as HCPs: Don’t tell someone you think they have a high-conflict personality and don’t label anyone publicly. Just be aware of the possibility that someone has a high-conflict personality and adapt your approach as I will describe in this series.

Next blog (in two weeks): The Four Biggest Mistakes When Dealing with High-Conflict Personalities

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

What is High Conflict Personality?

A person with a High Conflict Personality (HCP) usually has underlying trauma associated with distinct personality traits. Traditional diagnostic categories characterize persons with these personality qualities as “dramatic, emotional or erratic” cluster (Cluster B) that includes antisocial, borderline, narcissistic and histrionic personality “disorders.” Personality issues are often longstanding patterns of behavior and experience that adversely affect a person’s interrelationships with others and ability to function effectively in the world. People with HCP do not necessarily fall neatly into one of these recognized categories. Instead, they can demonstrate symptoms from one or more of the Cluster B diagnostic categories, and they may by exclusion fit into the category of “Personality disorder not otherwise specified.”

How is High Conflict Personality treated?

How to deal with high conflict personalitiesIn most cases, psychotherapy is the treatment of choice for HCP, whether in an individual or group setting. Since HCP Clients have been helped by both psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral treatment modalities, therapists have several tools at their disposal. One, in particular, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), a method of psychotherapy originally developed to treat Borderline Personality Disorder, has been effective for Clients with HCP, as the two disorders have many characteristics in common. While medication may not be the treatment of first resort, it can be appropriate for some Clients, especially for those who may be suffering from other psychological issues, especially mood disorders, in addition to HCP.

What Causes High Conflict Personality?

Like many psychiatric disorders, specific causes of HCP have not been clearly identified. In general, research has demonstrated an association between personality disorders and abuse or neglect early in life. There are many theoretical constructs that attempt to explain the circumstances that give rise to one disorder or another, but definitive causes are generally elusive. If nothing else, it is fair to say that there is no demonstrable link between these disorders and any genetic or physiological condition, although temperament may play a role in their development. It is believed that HCP is related to an insecure or disrupted attachment in childhood. Accordingly, the symptoms of HCP can clearly be exacerbated by situations like divorce or relationship difficulties (that are filled with conflict even for people without HCP).

What are the Symptoms of High Conflict Personality?

How to deal with high conflict personalitiesHCP, given its overlap with the antisocial, borderline, narcissistic and histrionic personality disorders, may be more of a descriptive term than a specific diagnosis. Persons with HCP tend to have several things in common. They initiate and receive reward from conflict with others, and they are usually at the center of whatever conflict is occurring. They appear to treat conflict as normal and expected in their interactions, to a point at which conflict becomes a defining aspect of relationships. They are adept at escalating conflict and at blaming others.

At the same time, they have great difficulty seeing things through the eyes of others and they are extremely reluctant to take responsibility in their lives or to accept blame when things go wrong. They are often referred to as “chronic blamers.” They tend to be emotional, aggressive, mistrustful and controlling. They easily see themselves as victims, and they are extremely resistant to acknowledging that they may have contributed, in even the smallest way, to making a situation difficult.

For people with HCP, the world appears in black and white. Others are either with them or against them. They have little or no insight into their own behavior, and they are easily threatened by interpretations of behaviors that do not comport with their own worldview. Splitting is an important concept among persons with high conflict personalities. The people around them are perceived as all good (over-idealized) or all bad (devalued). Someone who has “split” off a family member or friend may refuse contact with that person and may speak very negatively about them.

Clients with HCP are not naturally insightful. They can react with hostility to therapeutic intervention, often interpreting the therapist’s efforts as an attack. These qualities can make treatment difficult, but a trained therapist who understands HCP can work through these difficulties using specific techniques. Change may be gradual, but Clients with HCP can ultimately adopt more effective ways of living. For persons more on the narcissistic spectrum, initiating therapy may be difficult to impossible. Forming a deep relationship with a therapist is also difficult for them.

Many of the symptoms of HCP are most pronounced in interactions with those closest to the Client, so these relationships are especially important to effective treatment. The involvement of family and friends in treatment can be enormously helpful for all parties, encouraging them to understand the behaviors at issue and to adopt new, more productive ways of interacting.

How to deal with high conflict personalities

Since they lack self-awareness, high conflict personalities (HCP) make no effort to change their own behavior when things go badly.

They view complex problems and relationships as all another person’s responsibility and don’t see their own part in causing the problem or finding a solution. They don’t change their own behavior to try to make things better, so things don’t get better.

In fact, they are highly defensive about their own behavior, so they put all of their energy into defending their own actions and shifting the blame to others. Finding easy ways to avoid unnecessarily triggering this “HCP defensiveness” will make your life a lot easier.

Ordinary people are constantly changing their own behavior. They want to be more successful in their lives and they learn from their experience and their mistakes. But HCPs don’t seem to learn from their social mistakes – even when you try to make them see it. Forget about it! Don’t say: “look in the mirror, Buddy!” You’ll just make things worse.

That’s why BIFF (Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm) responses seem to work so well. They don’t trigger HCP defensiveness when done correctly. The goal is to disengage from the HCP’s blaming behavior. It’s not easy. It takes practice to change your own behavior while dealing with an HCP’s behavior. But by changing your own behavior, you can change the interaction and relationship dynamics. You can do it if you are a reasonable person who is self-aware and continues to learn and change.

I recommend that you have a private working theory that someone may be an HCP. You don’t tell the person and you don’t assume you are right. It really doesn’t matter! You simply focus on key methods to help in managing your relationship, whether or not you are dealing with an HCP. Use your private working theory to change your own behavior, not theirs.

While a BIFF response itself isn’t going to change anyone, it should help you end a conversation that has been escalating out of control. This may seem easy, but it’s actually pretty hard to do at first – while restraining yourself from doing Blamespeak back. It’s often helpful to step back and not respond right away. Here’s a short description of each step:

BRIEF: Your response should be very short, such as one paragraph of 2-5 sentences in most cases. It doesn’t matter how long the Blamespeak statement is that you are responding to. The point is to avoid triggering HCP defensiveness in the other person and focusing them on problem-solving information. Don’t give too many words for the other person to react to. The more you say, the more likely you are to trigger another Blamespeak response – which doesn’t do you any good. Keeping it brief isn’t easy. When I can, I give my BIFF responses to someone else to review before I send them out. The reviewer almost always cuts them down – often in half.

INFORMATIVE: Give a sentence or two of straight, useful information on the subject being discussed. If there isn’t a real subject or issue (because the personality is the issue), you can still give some related helpful information. It shifts the discussion to an objective subject, rather than opinions about each other. Don’t include any words of your opinion or defensiveness about the subject. Just provide straight information, presented in neutral terms, as briefly as possible.

FRIENDLY: This is often the hardest part, but very important. You can start out by saying something like: “thank you for telling me your opinion on this subject.” Or: “I appreciate your concerns.” Or just: “thanks for your email. Let me give you some information you may not have…” You can also end it with a friendly comment. For example: “I hope you have a nice weekend.”

FIRM: The goal of many BIFF responses is to end the conversation – to disengage from a potentially high-conflict situation. You want to let the other person know that this is really all you are going to say on the subject. In some cases, you will give two clear choices for future action. If you need a response, then it often helps to set a firm reply date. If you are going to take action if the other person does not do something, then you could say, for example: “If I don’t receive the information I need by such and such date, then I will have to do such and such. I really hope that won’t be necessary.” (Note that this is both firm and friendly.)

Source: coParenter.com. Excerpt from BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People: Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email, and Social Media Meltdowns. Second Edition by Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. UNHOOKED BOOKS. HCIPress.com

Author: Bill Eddy LCSW, Esq – Bill is a lawyer, therapist, mediator and the President of High Conflict Institute. He developed the “High Conflict Personality” theory (HCP Theory) and has become an international expert on managing disputes involving high conflict personalities and personality disorders.

In our roles as a security professional we will at times come across individuals with high conflict personalities, especially if you are working in a team leader / management type role. To be successful it is essential that we learn to deal with each of these personalities in a professional, tactful and respectful manner.

High net worth circles can provide you with these challenges on an almost daily basis; this may be from personal assistants, house/estate managers or other heads of department within your Principals organisation with whom you may have to work. If you work for a Principal who is a big name with great wealth and status it can give a greater sense of importance to the senior staff that fill key positions.

Individuals may feel under more pressure and strain the higher the stakes and will be a lot more protective of their jobs and with the information they receive and pass out. Important information can be like currency with some heads of department, some would rather hold onto the helpful information that they receive rather than passing it on and working as a team. You can sometimes get the sense that if helpful information is given to you, that the person will at some point want something in return.

Remember when dealing with individuals of this type that you give them the respect that their position deserves and talk to them correctly in the same manner you would expect in return, they are not the Principal, they do however work for the Principal and all parts should be working as one.

People with high conflict personalities tend to exhibit all-or-nothing thought processes, appear impulsive and can be demeaning and demanding of the people they interact and work with if they feel they have a higher status. There can be a complete lack of logical reasoning which makes a high conflict personality extremely difficult to deal with, we must learn to remain calm and in control when faced with these situations.

The best way to handle a high conflict personality in practice, and remain professional in doing so, is to fully understand who you are dealing with and find a way to make it work until your goal is achieved whatever that maybe. This will take trial and error if you are new to an organisation and don’t yet know the personalities but as long as you are professional and courteous to your peers you should be able to navigate these tricky waters fairly easily.

High conflict personalities tend to share similar characteristics and there are so many different types of high conflict people that you are likely to encounter, both within your professional and personal lives. These personalities can be bred based on an underlying fear of abandonment or insecurities in comparison to others around them. Some characteristics include all-or-nothing thinking, impulsiveness, a total lack of responsibility for their actions, and distorted perspectives and expectations.

Good advice which I have read and have always found useful when dealing with someone who has these character traits is to stop yourself from attempting to “diagnose” or going up against the person with the high conflict personality; instead recognize when you are dealing with someone exhibiting these characteristics and work around as it is this which will always lead to the better solution. You cannot change a high conflict personality, so you must have a calm and well-practiced approach to working alongside them. If you cannot control them, you must control yourself. Control your body language, the tone of your voice, remain calm and firm; threatening a high conflict person is unproductive.

If the high conflict personality has an issue that is affecting you and you feel it is escalating where it is hindering you in your role providing a security function you could confront the person, hit the problem head on and try to eliminate it before further escalation. A high conflict person is generally more than happy to tell you what their issue is with you so by getting it out in the open it can sometimes be a good thing, this way you can both put the issues to bed and once again start operating as a team.

Other people will always sense the high conflict personality in action, if you remain calm and professional throughout it will only highlight the weakness of the other person. As a security professional you should be looking to avoid conflict wherever possible and provide solutions to the problems with which you are faced.

If you receive an email from someone with a high conflict personality whom you may be having issues with, sit on the email, do not immediately send a nasty reply. Best advice is that you hold onto the reply for 24 hours before deciding whether or not it is appropriate to send out. Also a good tip is to remember to not put the recipients email address in until you are sure you want to send the message to avoid sending inadvertently.

Dealing with high conflict personalities is and always be tricky, but if you remain calm and in control you can get the job done professionally and become better in each future dealing which can only help when looking to get the job done!

Remaining Professional: Dealing with High Conflict Personality
By: Shaun West

Its time to start talking about them.

Posted October 9, 2017

How to deal with high conflict personalities

Did the shooter in Las Vegas have a high-conflict personality? Does the President have a high-conflict personality? Are you dealing with someone with a high-conflict personality in your personal life or work life?

It’s time we started talking about the predictable patterns of high-conflict personalities, how to identify them and, most importantly, how to deal with them effectively. Individually, without this knowledge, many people make things worse by how they react to a high-conflict person. Collectively, our current Culture of Blame is escalating high-conflict behavior rather than managing it. As a society, it’s time to develop awareness of high-conflict personalities.

This is a new blog series about five types of high-conflict people (HCPs) and what you need to know to protect yourself and manage (or avoid) relationships with them at home, at work, in your neighborhood or anywhere. This first blog talks about the basic, predictable and troublesome pattern of high-conflict personalities.

When I was trained as a clinical social worker in the 1980’s, I worked in psychiatric hospitals and learned about personality disorders—people with social impairment, lack of self-reflection and lack of change. No matter how hard I worked to help these patients plan for discharge, save their marriage, their job, or their apartment, there would always be another crisis created for me to manage.

When I became a lawyer in the 1990’s, I thought I was making a career change, but I quickly realized that many of the people in legal disputes also had personality disorders or traits—but they were undiagnosed and slightly different.

The pattern: Here’s what I saw: In my court cases I was seeing personality-disordered people who had a Target of Blame: someone they focused all of their anger onto, all of the responsibility for their problems, all of their energy. Their life purpose became controlling, eliminating or destroying that other person. Yet many of their targets were innocent of any wrong-doing, such as victims of domestic violence, neighbors who were just trying to get along, co-workers who were bullied, or strangers who were targeted simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another part of their pattern was the constant recruitment of Negative Advocates: people who they would persuade to help them in attacking their Targets of Blame. People would become emotionally hooked into the dispute, but uninformed about what was really going on. These Negative Advocates were often family members, but sometimes friends, co-workers and even their professionals. Yet, surprisingly, the HCPs frequently turned on their Negative Advocates, who became their next Targets of Blame.

Lastly, these HCPs were Persuasive Blamers. They often got many professionals and the court to agree with them and find fault with their Targets of Blame, rather than holding the HCPs responsible. They were getting these cases backward.

While I tried to explain to lawyers, judges, and mediators what was happening in these cases, it was too complicated to explain in a 10-minute discussion or 20-minute court hearing. So I started writing and teaching legal and workplace professionals about these high-conflict personalities, their Negative Advocates and their Targets of Blame. This has become the focus of my work for the past 15 years. Now we’re seeing the same patterns in community violence and world politics.

The DSM-5 suggests that about 15 percent of the adult U.S. population have a personality disorder and I estimate that about 10 percent have a high-conflict personality. These are huge numbers which are hardly talked about, yet they’re similar to the percent with substance abuse disorders.

It’s important to know that not all HCPs have personality disorders and not all people with personality disorders are HCPs. But there is a lot of overlap and this has been helpful in developing methods of dealing with high-conflict people. We need to have compassion because no one seeks to have a high-conflict personality. But we also need to set limits.

So here are three key tips for this first blog. I will share more over the coming months:

Look for the pattern

The four primary characteristics of a high-conflict person:

1. Lots of all-or-nothing thinking
2. Unmanaged emotions
3. Extreme behavior or threats
4. A preoccupation with blaming others

If you recognize this pattern, you can generally predict at least forty other behaviors. For example, you can predict that they will not reflect on their own behavior or change their own behavior—no matter how much negative feedback they get from others, which just builds their resistance and leads to more extreme behavior.

Don’t try to change the person: If you see this pattern, don’t try to change the person. Change how you respond to the person.

Don’t label people as HCPs: Don’t tell someone you think they have a high-conflict personality and don’t label anyone publicly. Just be aware of the possibility that someone has a high-conflict personality and adapt your approach as I will describe in this series.

Next blog (in two weeks): The Four Biggest Mistakes When Dealing with High-Conflict Personalities

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

High-conflict personalities are people with known behavioral issues or have a history of problematic relationships with others. Unsurprisingly, divorcing someone who is predisposed to conflict can complicate the separation, making it more contentious or longer than you may expect.

The good news is that there are strategies you can apply when divorcing a high-conflict spouse.

Plan Your Divorce Carefully

A divorce of this nature cannot be done haphazardly. Before filing, make sure you have all the necessary paperwork ready, including personal documents and photos of your assets. You should also secure assets acquired before the marriage as these are considered separate property under Texas law.

Next, consider how to break the news to your spouse. There are no hard and fast rules here, but it is always a good idea to let your intentions be known slowly rather than surprise your spouse with the divorce papers.

Set Realistic Expectations but be Firm

During the divorce proceedings, be sure to set realistic expectations taking into account your spouse’s personality.

Providing a bit of leeway when setting dates for meetings or mediation, for example, can be an effective show of good faith. At the same time, however, you should not allow your spouse to renege on agreements or ignore dates your attorneys have already agreed on. Don’t allow your spouse to manipulate or gaslight you into making the divorce more complicated than it should be.

Accept that Your Spouse’s Behavior Isn’t Going to Change

You shouldn’t expect your spouse’s problematic behavior to change in the middle of the divorce. The fact that your relationship arrived at this point means that you see separation as the only option left. If you see a divorce as a way to convince your spouse to change, you may end up being manipulated into canceling the case, only to end up being hurt and abused once more.

Don’t be Baited into a Fight

High-conflict spouses thrive in fights. They see it as an opportunity to manipulate their partner, or worse, pin the blame of the failed marriage on them. The last thing you want is to be baited into a conflict because this does nothing to change the outcome. If anything, it will only make your case weaker, which could have disastrous consequences if children are involved.

For example, your spouse may egg you into a fight and secretly record your conversations, editing it to twist the context of the conflict. Unfortunately, this is legal in Texas. Evidence of fights on text messages and social media can also be used as evidence in court.

Don’t Shut Your Spouse Out

While a high-conflict spouse presents a number of challenges during a divorce, you should still involve them in the settlement. After all, a cooperative high-conflict spouse is still better than an uncooperative spouse with no issues. Getting your spouse to participate in negotiations over custody and property will help resolve the case faster, which is what you should be aiming in addition to getting an outcome in your favor.

If you have more questions about divorce in Texas you would like to ask a qualified divorce attorney about, get in touch with Austin family law attorney Daniella Lyttle of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today at (512) 215-5225, or use our contact form to schedule a consultation about your case.

Updated Over a Week Ago

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How to deal with high conflict personalities

There are always going to be different types of personalities in the workplace and not everyone’s going to get on all the time. But with a large portion of people’s lives spent at work, a harmonious environment is at the top of the pile when it comes to the well-being of your team.

An uneasy or tense atmosphere isn’t good for motivation or productivity, and that’s bad news for your business as a whole. As a manager, it’s your job to spot the signs of conflict early and to step in quickly to get it sorted out. Ignoring tension and allowing conflict to fester and escalate will have serious repercussions if it ends up as a formal grievance or tribunal.

Here are some signs to watch out for, and how to deal with personality conflicts quickly and easily:

What Is Conflict?

Thankfully, serious conflicts such as bullying and discrimination are less common. And at the other end of the spectrum, some conflicts can be positive – healthy competition between team members encourages people to excel and reach their goals and targets, in turn allowing you to reach your own. Healthy rivalry is good. But when the conflict takes a darker turn and relationships become strained, you need to step in. A conflict between two people can soon spread wider with other staff taking sides.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs of a personality clash may not always be obvious. In some cases, there will be no getting away from it – it’s difficult to ignore a stand-up row in the middle of the office.

Other signs aren’t so obvious. You may begin to notice indications such as a member of staff being talked about or being left out of social events. A team member’s motivation and productivity may drop, or there may be an increase in absenteeism from sickness, or their once impeccable punctuality starts to slide.

How to deal with high conflict personalities

What to Do

Use your judgment of the situation and the people involved to assess if the conflict is minor enough to leave them to be treated like the adults they are and left to resolve their differences on their own.

If not, then it’s time for you to step in. Speak to them individually, remaining impartial. Listen carefully and be understanding. Ask them how the conflict started, if there is anything you can do to help, and what would be their ideal resolution.

After speaking to each team member individually, hold a meeting where you can speak to them together. Encourage them to be open and honest to each other and to air their feelings, while keeping calm and professional.

If there’s a specific reason for the bad feelings between them and you’ve got to the root of the problem, airing their grievances about each other in a formal setting will hopefully allow a resolution to be agreed upon.

But if their conflict is purely a personality clash and they’re never going to get on, you may decide to physically separate them by moving one of them to another part of the office or delegating tasks where they don’t have to interact.

Whatever the outcome, documenting everything thoroughly during the process, in case things escalate to a formal grievance and you need to show the steps you took to prevent this from happening, is of vital importance.

How Should Leaders Handle Conflicts of Personality?

If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

How to deal with high conflict personalitiesUnfortunately, dealing with difficult people is a part of life. They can be found everywhere from our own homes, to our jobs, which is way it’s important that we know how to deal with these difficult and high conflict people so that they don’t negatively affect our lives.

Noxious people can not only cause us to feel miserable, but they can also cost us job advancements, relationships, mental and even physical health.

Over the years I’ve dealt with my fair share of difficult and high conflict people and one of the most valuable things I’ve learned is to not take it personal.

I realized that most of the time when someone was being difficult with me, it actually had very little if anything to do with me. Sometimes these people are just difficult people and they are that way with everyone. Some people are just going to hate. That’s who they are. Don’t take it personal. Allow that person to be who they are, but that doesn’t mean they have to affect you. When you take it personally, you will not only feel bad or angry, but it will make it much more difficult for you to effectively deal with that person.

I wrote a post about not catching the ball, which means that you don’t have to catch whatever someone is throwing at you and difficult, high conflict people are always throwing their anger, hate and insanity at you. You can simply let it fly past you and drop to the floor (or someone else can catch it if they want). It’s sometimes helpful to visualize their negativity as a ball and see yourself not catching it, this way it can’t affect your emotional state.

Difficult people also hate to be told anything, even when they are wrong. They don’t like to be given negative feedback, so doing so will just stir up more resistance and a bigger conflict. Instead of making statements, try asking questions instead to try to get that person to see the errors in their thinking.

For instance, recently I was speaking on the phone with a high conflict parent, asking him to come and pick up his daughter from school, who had just had a panic attack and didn’t feel safe walking home. He didn’t see the big deal and was very angry that we were asking him to come and get his daughter who walks home everyday (yes I know, most parents wouldn’t react this way, but many parents I deal with are out of touch with their children especially when it comes to their mental health). I simply asked him, “Sir, what if she has a panic attack on the way home and falls out, hits her head or worse, gets hit by a car.” Needless to say, he came and got her.

Also, asking questions can help you turn the tables. When that parent said, “I can’t pick up my daughter” I could have said, “Who CAN pick up your daughter?”. If he would have said, “I can’t do it right now” I could have asked, “When CAN you do it?”

Also, effective communication is important. Difficult people often misinterpret what you say and will become very defensive. You have to be ready to say things such as, “That is not what I said” and “Please let me finish”.

Also, use “I-statements”. By saying “I” rather than “you”, you are taking away some of the accusation from the person and they are less likely to react negatively. For example, instead of saying, “You didn’t give me that report”, you can say, “I never received that report”.

High conflict people like to argue and sometimes no matter what you say, they will have a better idea in their opinion, that even if it is really bad, they will stick to just to be difficult. That’s why it’s important to learn to separate the issue from the person. The same works if the other person is criticizing your idea. Separate the idea from yourself, that way it won’t feel so personal.

Be assertive, not aggressive or obnoxious.

There is a difference between being passive, agressive and assertive. There is no need to be a doormat and there is also no need to be as aggressive and obnoxious as the other person may be, but it is good to be assertive. To stand up for yourself while also respecting the other person. You can state your opinion and make your points without attacking.

Since we are talking about agression, if at anytime you feel your personal safety is at stake, don’t hesitate to remove yourself from the situation and get help if needed. There is never any need to subject yourself to violence.

Lastly, difficult people have purpose in our lives. Sometimes they help us practice patience, to brain storm, control ourselves or to learn how to communicate better. Look at every encounter you have with a difficult, noxious, high conflict person, as an opportunity to practice those qualities and you will emerge a better person each and every time.

This three-step method can help you decide whether to engage or back off.

High-conflict people (HCPs) have high-conflict personalities. This means they have an ongoing pattern of all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, extreme behavior or threats, and a preoccupation with blaming others. They have a Target of Blame, whom they regularly bully, harass, blame, humiliate, annoy, spread rumors about, and subject to many other adversarial behaviors. This pattern increases and maintains interpersonal conflicts, rather than reducing or resolving them — which is what most people try to do. How can you spot HCPs early on, instead of being caught by surprise? How can you avoid marrying them, hiring them, working for them, living next door to them or any other number of bad situations? Look at their words, your emotions, and their behavior.

Words: It’s easy to watch out for their words. Do they speak in extremes most of the time, such as all-or-nothing terms? Are people either all good or all bad in their eyes? Or winners or losers? Do they blame other people for their own problems? Are they unable to reflect on themselves and see their part in problems?

How to deal with high conflict personalities

The more frequently you see this type of problem, the more likely you will have to deal with it in the future. If people are all good or all bad in their eyes, you may be next. Don’t fall for their extremely pretty words — they may cover up some very ugly behavior in your future relationship, whether it’s romantic, work-related, or community-based.

Emotions: What are your emotions around the person? Do you feel uncomfortable or on the defensive? Do you feel like you have to justify yourself around them? Do you feel angry with them or angry with someone else, after they spoke about someone else? Emotions are contagious, and high-conflict emotions are highly contagious. You may catch the person’s fearful or enraged emotions, which be harmful to you if you act on them towards others. High-conflict people are always trying to recruit negative advocates for themselves, who will fight their fights and defend them when they are caught misbehaving. If you feel yourself getting sucked into one of their battles against someone else, stand clear!

Behavior: Does the person have a history of extreme behavior? Do they constantly try to justify their extreme behavior with excuses, such as being tired or stressed, or say they are just responding to someone else’s extreme behavior? Would 90 percent of people ever do what this person has done? Even a single incident can tip you off to the presence of a pattern beneath the surface sometimes, if the single incident is something that 90 percent of people would never do — even if they were tired, stressed or otherwise out of sorts. Keep in mind that high-conflict people can look good and behave extremely well for weeks or months sometimes, before showing their full range of negative behavior. Unless you have seen them in a crisis or close relationship, you may not know their potential for high-conflict behavior.

The WEB Method℠: All put together, I call this three-part analysis the “WEB Method℠,” so it’s easy to remember, especially under stress. Over time, I find that I can fairly quickly pick up on high-conflict statements and then check my own emotional responses around certain people. This method is explained in depth in my new book, 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life: Identifying and Dealing with Narcissists, Sociopaths and Other High-Conflict Personalities.

An additional part of this method is noticing the underlying fears and self-sabotaging patterns of each of the five types of high-conflict personalities I mentioned in my blog two weeks ago: Narcissistic HCPs are characterized by an underlying fear of being inferior or powerless, so they are constantly putting themselves above other people—which alienates them in the process and tends to make people look down on them. Borderline HCPs have a deep fear of being abandoned, so they are constantly clinging and demanding reassurance, but alternating that with occasional rages when they feel abandoned — which often pushes people to abandon them. Antisocial HCPs really don’t want to be dominated by others, so they try hard to dominate others, but often end up in prison, where they are dominated. Paranoid HCPs have a fear of being betrayed by those around them, so they may overreact and attack those they fear — which tends to drive people to turn on them. Histrionic HCPs are preoccupied with being the center of attention and will often publicly criticize other people’s behavior (their Targets of Blame) in an effort to get sympathy and more attention. Knowing these patterns makes it easier to spot them, especially when this is combined with observing the four characteristics of HCPs at the top of this article.

All of this spotting takes practice and occasionally getting caught by surprise. Therefore, it can help to get other people’s opinions before making a big commitment, like marriage, hiring decisions, choosing your neighbors or even electing public officials. It’s always easier to stay out of a relationship from the start, rather than trying to get out after a painful experience. And splitting up with high-conflict people is often when you see the most extreme behavior of all.

How to deal with high conflict personalitiesHigh-conflict people leave you feeling used, abused and usually wrong.

You cannot do enough to make them happy, get their approval, or feel you can relax. That takes relationship help.

You may well be living or working with a high-conflict person if:

  • you never quite feel you can trust them
  • you always feel as though you are being seduced in some way
  • they seldom take responsibility for anything because it is always your fault, somehow
  • one day they see you as their angel, the next, their devil
  • they’re favorite exercise is jumping to conclusions
  • they use their emotions rather than facts as supposed tools of logic and reason
  • they belong to the “there ain’t no flies on me” School of Dubious Self-reflection
  • fears they have are wildly exaggerated

If you’ve never heard the term “high-conflict” applied to people, let me tell you a little about the folks I’m talking about. You’ll recognize them right away. Often, though, people are so close to them that they fail to see the patterns. Here are a few serious patterns that come clear when you can stand back and look at them objectively over time:

  • They love to blame others, for everything and anything. Nothing lands at their feet. It is always someone else who has caused the problem, the failure, the lack, or the upset.
  • They don’t seem interested–and may be incapable–of caring about the feelings or events that are affecting others. They seem to lack empathy.
  • They are both unwilling–and, again, unable–to examine and/or thoughtfully reflect on their own behavior. It’s all about others.
  • They don’t respond to Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. They are sure they are right, even if they fail repeatedly.
  • They find it almost impossible to accept or heal from losing someone or something in their life.
  • They will do double flips to avoid taking responsibility for a problem. And, surprisingly, they don’t want to take responsibility for a solution, either.
  • They are constantly seeing the negative in everything and everyone, Doris or Donald Downer!

I call these people Hijackals®.

Are you still plagued by someone you divorced long ago who simply will not let you rest, or stop criticizing you, your life, your choices, or your parenting? It could be that you are in relationship with a high-conflict person. If several of these traits ring true, it’s possible that you are.

Know that, for the most part, people with several of these traits operating consistently are not able, and are usually not willing, to take responsibility for their actions. They think they are acting appropriately. That is why they are so adamant that they are right. They are surprised that you are upset with them, actually. They get defensive. They honestly think that you are “making them” act in extreme ways that have negative effects on their personal and professional lives. Really! That’s true.

You now see that this is much more than just a difficult person. A high-conflict personality requires you to see around, think around and work around them. Arguing with them and reasoning with them is unlikely to bring about a positive result. Unfortunately, their high-conflict tendencies seldom show up during courtship. It takes time for these traits and patterns to emerge. And, they are not unreasonable in every relationship, in every environment. They might be just fine at work, for instance, and very difficult to live with at home. When you get really close to them for an extended time, they just cannot keep the covers on their real selves, and their dysfunctional behavior patterns emerge, and are hopefully recognized. Then, steps can be taken.

Think you may be living with a high-conflict person and need relationship help. We need to talk!

How to deal with high conflict personalities
Dr. Rhoberta Shaler offers private and couples sessions to get the support, skills and solutions you need to engage lovingly or disengage peacefully. As the Relationship Help Doctor, she mediates, teaches and facilitates so that you and your partner can make healthy relationship decisions
. Book a 1-hour introductory session today. Take a step toward saving your sanity soon.

Dealing with high conflict behaviour in the workplace can be a perplexing but necessary task. If left unchecked, this type of behaviour can lead to high rates of turnover, absenteeism, stress claims and lost productivity.

Dealing with High Conflict Behaviours offers practical tips to anyone who works with a difficult person. It covers the most common situations in which people find themselves, such as:

  • working with others
  • managing performance
  • recruiting staff
  • understanding and being comfortable with conflict
  • restoring good relationships within the team.

Through a series of case studies, the the guides illustrate to the reader how to use the tips in practice.

This resource contains:

Dealing with High Conflict Behaviours

Please note: Due to the use of images and graphics, this document is being provided in its original PDF format, as published by the former State Services Authority in November 2011. If you have difficulties downloading or require an accessible version, please contact VPSC.

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Page Updated: 1 March 2015

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By Ossiana Tepfenhart — Written on May 10, 2017

How to deal with high conflict personalities

The other day, I was at the store when I witnessed a woman make a scene over something insanely foolish. All dolled up in her yoga pants and Lululemon jacket, she called over someone behind the counter of the nearby florist aisle and squawked, “Can I talk to your manager?”

Since I was legit just looking at vegetables at this point, I decided that this might be interesting to watch. Maybe she found some rotten fruit I should know about? The manager, a poor teenaged boy, came to the front and asked her what’s wrong.

“The price of this fish is not acceptable. I want it lowered,” she said, in full seriousness.

“The price can’t be negotiated. It’s store policy, ma’am,” he said apologetically.

“Don’t ‘ma’am’ me. You’re insinuating I’m old. Who the hell do you think you are? You overcharge for fish, and now you insult your customers?” she said, raising her voice.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t change the prices. It’s corporate policy,” he said, gesturing her to keep her voice down.

“Well, do something, right now, before I CALL CORPORATE,” she barked.

The dude looked like he was about to cry. At this point, a guy had to step in and tell her that she can go to another store if the prices were so unacceptable. She huffed, turned beet red, and left, her cart still in the aisle. People around us exchanged glances uncomfortably.

Ladies and gentleman, this is what a high conflict personality can look like. People who have these kinds of personalities aren’t popular, even if they think they are. They aren’t liked because no one wants to be around a bully who will browbeat them until they get their way. The way most people deal with them is to roll over and then avoid them.

A lot of people who are high conflict personalities know that there’s something wrong with the way that they’re handling problems. They may think it’s just an anger issue, or that they are just constantly wronged by society.

People who have high conflict personalities actively go out of their way to bully, browbeat, and pick fights with others, often because it makes them feel better about themselves.

The truth is that there’s a chance that you may be a high conflict personality, and that you might need to look into professional help in order to have normal relationships. If you notice any of these signs, you may want to think about how you’re living life and the impact that your love of conflict could be leaving on friends, family, and lovers.

1. You pick fights with people for no good reason.

Stop doing this. No one wants to be around people who pick fights with them. If you know you’re doing this, then you already probably have a suspicion that you might have a high conflict personality. Just saying, this should be confirmation for you.

2. If you were honest about yourself, your love of getting in a fight isn’t about actually getting anything goodit’s about winning over another person.

This is really what it boils down to for a lot of people who have this personality issue. There are plenty of healthier, kinder ways to feel the thrill of winning. Have you tried racing? Boxing? Muay Thai? You can win without alienating people.

3. Your friendships seem to be short-lived.

The problem with being a high conflict person is that your friendships suffer because your friends will eventually be worried about your wrath. The end result is that, after a fight or ten, people end up distancing themselves from you.

4. You have a major queen bee streak in you.

If you are a high conflict personality who is socially adept, you might end up turning into a real-life Regina George. In these cases, you may have a stranglehold on your friends, but you definitely don’t have real friends. After all, real friends don’t fear one another, use each other, or feel like they can’t be real with one another.

5. People have called you a bully beforea lot, actually.

Though it’s somewhat rare, there are people out there who will call out high conflict personalities on their bad behavior. If you regularly have both men and women call you a bully, tell you that your behavior is uncalled for, or tell you that you’re really aggressive, then you need to take a good look at yourself.

6. You’ve been banned from restaurants, bars, salons, or grocery stores.

Generally speaking, these are places that you can only really get banned from if you make a scene, start a physical fight, or do some really atrocious stuff. If you have been banned from a number of places, you definitely need to rethink the way you do things.

7. You’ve given people you don’t even know attitude over little things like pushing your shopping cart an inch away from you or walking too slow.

At this point, you either are trying to just actively ruin someone’s day, lack self-awareness or are looking to pick a fight. Stop being a jerk and check yourself.

8. You expect to be treated preferentially, and bully others if they don’t bend to your wishes.

This is also a sign that you may have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but the fact is that it also tends to coincide with high conflict personalities, too.

9. Your kids, parents, or spouse have told you that you’re being abusive and have cut off ties with you as a result.

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If it’s gotten to the point that your own family no longer wants to speak to you, a high conflict personality is only the tip of the iceberg. This is one of those points in your life that you need to take a step back and look at yourself, what you did, and why you did it. Otherwise, you won’t have anyone left to turn to.

10. People have told you that you’ve got a hair-trigger temper.

If it gets to the point that people actually say you’re famous for your temper or your aggression, chances are that it’s a problem you need to confront. Being a hothead isn’t cool, no matter what you think you get out of it.

11. You’ve actually faced legal or financial repercussions as a result of your arguments, threats, and temper.

This could be a sign that you have anger problems, a personality disorder, or a very conflict-prone personality. Either way, it’s something that should tell you that you might need professional help.

12. You’ve noticed that people are very unwilling to introduce you to their friends, and have said this is the case because they “don’t know how you’d get along with them.

Though there could be other reasons for this, one of the most common reasons that people would be so worried about introducing you to others is because they’re worried you’ll start arguing with their friends. Needless to say, high conflict personalities tend to have a hard time networking as a result.

Exploring the five types of people who can ruin your life — people with high conflict personalities — and how they weave themselves into our lives in romance, at work, next door, at school, places of worship, and just about everywhere, causing chaos, exhaustion, and dread for everyone else.
They are the most difficult of difficult people — some would say they’re toxic. Without them, tv shows, movies, and the news would be boring, but who wants to live that way in your own life!
Have you ever wanted to know what drives them to act this way?
In the It’s All Your Fault podcast, we’ll take you behind the scenes to understand what’s happening in the brain and illuminates why we pick HCPs as life partners, why we hire them, and how we can handle interactions and relationships with them. We break down everything you ever wanted to know about people with the 5 high conflict personality types: narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, antisocial/sociopath, and paranoid.
And we’ll give you tips on how to spot them and how to deal with them.

Bullies at Work with Catherine Mattice

In this episode Bill and Megan talk with guest Catherine Mattice, founder of Civility Partners, and author of ‘Back Off! Your Kick-Ass Guide to End Bullying at Work.’

  • 44 min
  • MAY 5, 2022

Q&A Lab – Answering Listener Questions

Q&A Lab – Answering Listener Questions

Bill and Megan return for their Q&A Lab to answer listener questions and respond to comments. They address HCPs in the family, ADHD, psychopathy, and reconnecting with HCPs.

  • 34 min
  • APR 28, 2022

Part 2: Borderline Personality Disorder for Family Members

Part 2: Borderline Personality Disorder for Family Members

Bill and Megan continue their discussion with BPD expert Amanda Smith, LCSW, founder of HopeforBPD.com. In this episode – part 2 of 2 – Amanda gives hope and help to family members and friends of those with BPD. She discusses what to do and what to avoid. She will explain whether BPD is a hopeless situation with no resolution or whether something can be done to intervene – including whether an “intervention” can work.

  • 30 min
  • APR 21, 2022

Part 1: Borderline Personality Disorder for Those Who Suffer

Part 1: Borderline Personality Disorder for Those Who Suffer

Bill and Megan talk with BPD expert Amanda Smith, LCSW, founder of HopeforBPD.com. In this episode – part 1 of 2 – Amanda discusses the basics of BPD and how to get help. In next week’s episode – part 2 – she will focus on what families can do to help.

  • 37 min
  • APR 14, 2022

Will Smith: High Conflict or Just Upset?

Will Smith: High Conflict or Just Upset?

The slap heard around the world. Obviously this was a high conflict situation, but was it a one-off incident resulting from a highly stressed person, aka Will Smith? Or two highly stressed people, Smith and comedian Chris Rock? Or did either of them show signs of a potential high conflict personality?

  • 32 min
  • APR 7, 2022

When a High Conflict Decision-Maker Uses BIFF & EAR on You

When a High Conflict Decision-Maker Uses BIFF & EAR on You

Bill and Megan continue their conversation about dealing with High Conflict People in the workplace. They take a listener question about a high conflict situation in the workplace that deals with when actual ‘high conflict people’ in management turn the “Bill Eddy” skills around and use them with others who are not high conflict. Tune in for this and more!

How to deal with high conflict personalities

Here’s a fast fact about high-conflict people: life is better when you avoid them. Bill Eddy, mediation expert and president of the High Conflict Institute, describes them not only as difficult but also potentially dangerous. So how can we avoid becoming a target in their path of destruction? First, you have to be able to recognize them, says Eddy. They tend to share these four key characteristics: a preoccupation with blaming others, all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, and extreme behaviors. Once you know what you’re dealing with—a textbook high-conflict personality—you can take measures to manage this relationship, whether it’s at home, at work, or beyond. Eddy shares his matter-of-fact methods for withdrawing from these people or, if that’s not an option, for how to resist their conflict lures and disengage from the drama. Bill Eddy is the author of 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life: Identifying and Dealing with Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other High-Conflict Personalities

Bill Eddy: What’s interesting is high-conflict personalities seem to—we’ve really boiled it down to four key characteristics. The first and maybe the most stunning is a preoccupation with blaming other people. It’s really, “It’s all your fault,”—and you may have experienced this—“and it’s not at all my fault”. That’s zero. “My part of the problem is zero.” And that’s how high-conflict people talk. And they’ll say, “Don’t you get it? It’s all your fault.”

The second is a lot of all-or-nothing thinking. “Of course it’s all your fault, but my way or the highway.” Solutions to problems are: “There’s all-good people and there’s all-bad people.” So they have this kind of all-or-nothing perspective.

A third is often, but not always, unmanaged emotions. And you may see that; people that just start yelling or just start crying or just storm out of a room—that kind of behavior we’re seeing, but it’s emotions that they’re not managing.

And the fourth is extremes of behavior.

And one thing I talk about in the book ‘Five Types of People’ is this 90 percent rule, that 90 percent of people don’t do some of the things that high-conflict people do. So if you see some shocking behavior and then the person makes an excuse for it, that’s often the tip of the iceberg.

So it’s preoccupation with blaming others, all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, and extreme behaviors. That seems to be the pattern for high-conflict personalities. People that have those we call high-conflict people. But, by the way, don’t tell them that you think that—that’ll blow up in your face.

So target of blame seems to be why these folks can become so difficult. If you’re the target of blame your life may be ruined by one of these folks, and that’s what people need to become aware of. So the target of blame—each of these five high-conflict personalities tends to zero in generally on one person. It could change over time but they see that person as the cause of all their problems. And so they want to control that person or eliminate that person or destroy or humiliate that person. It’s a fixation on one person, and all of their life problems they emotionally focus on that person. So you don’t want to be one of those folks.

How to avoid being a target of blame? First of all, if you see warning signs of this behavior don’t get too close to such a person. You may be a friend, but don’t be the closest friend. You may be a co-worker, but don’t be the closest co-worker. Because what seems to happen is the people they get really close to are the ones that are most at-risk of becoming their targets of blame.

But it could be anybody. They tend to target intimate others and people in authority. So this could be boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, parents, children, co-workers, neighbors they get close to. It also could be police, it could be a government agency or government official, it could be their boss, it could be the company owner. So they tend to focus on intimate others and/or people in authority.

Now the way to avoid becoming a target of blame is not getting too close to them but also not engaging in conflict with them. They often invite conflict, like they’ll say outrageous things and you may feel like you’ve got to persuade them that they’re wrong, and that’s what I call a “forget about it”. Just forget about it. You’re not going to change their mind. If they’re a difficult person, a high-conflict person, this is who they are, and you may not really even exist for them. So if you argue with them they’re not going to change. So save yourself the trouble.

But when people challenge them is often when they turn against you, and they see you in their all-or-nothing eyes as “all bad”. And so you don’t want to have that kind of relationship.

So if you’re in a personal relationship, family relationship, neighbor, co-worker, et cetera, you can manage relationships with these folks, but usually at an arm’s length, and don’t make it too confrontational. Don’t say they have a high-conflict personality. Don’t argue with them or try to convince them. Don’t try to give them insight into themselves. You can just say, “Oh well, that’s interesting. Hey, I’ve got to go now.” Something like that.

How to deal with high conflict personalities

How to Manage High Conflict Employees: Steps and Missteps

In every workplace, there is a small percentage of employees who thrive in creating and engaging in persistent workplace conflict. They have very strong opinions on workplace issues, policies and personnel and become very aggressive (and/or passive-aggressive) when others disagree with them, including union representatives, supervisors and managers. They have difficulty accepting any type of direction or criticism – and commonly and aggressively challenge others on any decisions with which they disagree.

Characteristics of High Conflict Employees

When these employees are confronted regarding their workplace behaviour or performance through the imposition of workplace expectations or discipline, they launch aggressive and disrespectful campaigns against management, “witnesses” and at times, shop stewards, through grievances, harassment complaints and otherwise. Many use social media – such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs – to defame others in an attempt to intimidate them and shut them down.

Bill Eddy is a specialist in High Conflict Personalities and runs the High Conflict Institute. Mr. Eddy’s research and experience indicate that high conflict employees share one or more of the following characteristics:

  • A repeated pattern of aggressive interpersonal behaviour, often disproportionate to the situation at hand;
  • Frequent “all-or-nothing” and/or paranoid thinking, including: “It’s all so-and-so’s fault.” or “I’m purely a victim in this.” or “I know everyone is out to get me.”;
  • Frequent unmanaged emotions, such as yelling, loud swearing and similar outbursts;
  • History of extreme behaviours, such as threats against other employees; hostile emails; false statements; and spreading malicious rumours;
  • A lack of flexibility, self-awareness or apparent ability to change;
  • A preoccupation with being a victim, and as a result, preoccupied with blaming/bullying others; and
  • The ability to appear innocent, so that others become their “advocates” and work to defend them.

These employees have a destructive effect on workplace morale, employee engagement and overall productivity. They expose organizations, including unions, to significant costs through filing multiple complaints against others – both informal and formal. Many employees quit or transfer as a result of this behaviour. Others take sick leave in response to anxiety-based symptoms, such as nausea, headaches and insomnia.

As a result of their aggressive demeanour, many coworkers of “high conflict personalities” are reluctant to confront or report them. Supervisors and shop stewards are equally reticent to address issues with them in a direct and forthright manner.

What Needs to Happen?

These employees need to be “managed” in a fair, firm and progressive manner. They need to be given clear and specific expectations regarding their workplace behaviour and communication and then need to be held accountable in meeting these expectations. To the extent they have an objectively and properly diagnosed disability, they need to be reasonably accommodated in the workplace to the point of undue hardship. However, such accommodation should not in any way include the accepting or condoning of intolerant, disrespectful or aggressive workplace behaviour.

Shop stewards, supervisors and managers need specific training on how to manage high conflict employees. As part of this training, they need to “expect” that these employees will be insubordinate and will file complaints against them in response to being held accountable. Instead of hiding from this behaviour, individuals need to address it immediately and directly in a respectful and calm manner.

From the management perspective, discussions should be followed up with clear written expectations. Failure to follow clear directions should result in progressive discipline up to the termination of the employment relationship.

From the union perspective, shop stewards should be trained on how to establish clear and respectful boundaries with a high conflict “member” to protect themselves from “personal attacks” should the employee decide to “turn on them”.

Harassment complaints launched by these employees should be investigated objectively and fairly, and any confirmed misuse of harassment policies and procedures should result in formal disciplinary action.

Directors and owners need to ensure that managers and supervisors are fully supported in their efforts to manage high conflict employees – generally – and when faced with harassment complaints and insubordination. Often, more than one supervisor should be involved in this process. A model of “shared responsibility/supervision” diffuses the intense stress, anxiety and fatigue commonly associated with supervising these individuals.

Union and management are most effective when they work as a team to build a consistent and comprehensive strategy in addressing these employees.

Using these strategies, managers, supervisors and union stewards can work to ensure that the interests of one do not overtake the interests of the whole. A healthy workplace is all about balancing the interests of the individual with those of the entire team to ensure that the environment remains productive and respectful for all.

How to deal with high conflict personalities

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Law firms can be magnets for high-conflict personalities. LSJ has these tips for lawyers managing difficult clients and colleagues.

The client who demands to sue for every last cent. The manager who tells you off in the open-plan office. The colleague who only communicates via passive aggressive emails.

Almost all lawyers come into contact with high-conflict personalities at work. The question is not whether, but how we should deal with these people when we meet them.

According to Megan Hunter, a former family law specialist with the Arizona Supreme Court and co-founder of the High Conflict Institute in the US, law firms are magnets for high-conflict personalities. It makes sense – any client seeking legal assistance is in some form of conflict that they failed to resolve through non-legal means. They go to lawyers for help, who themselves are trained to compete in high-conflict situations whether it’s mediation, negotiation or litigation in court. While high-conflict personalities can lead to great results for the client, they are not always easy to work with.

Hunter, who worked on divorces and parenting disputes in the Arizona Supreme Court for 13 years, now travels the world training professionals to work for, with and alongside high-conflict individuals. She suggests these strategies for lawyers facing off against high-conflict clients and colleagues.

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People with ‘high conflict personalities’ exist in many associations. In this post, guest blogger, Sarah Somerset from Worklogic, shares four key strategies to help you best manage high conflict personalities at work.

Do you work with someone who:

  • Aggressively blames others when problems occur?
  • Abuses people and makes unreasonable demands?
  • Lies or exaggerates to get attention?
  • Shows no empathy for the feelings of others?
  • Takes feedback as a personal insult?

If so, then it is likely that you are dealing with a ‘High Conflict Personality’ (HCP), who is the source of constant problems and angst for those around them, who is extremely difficult to manage and who can ultimately represent a high cost and risk to your business.

Recognising High Conflict Personalities

In many cases, it is likely that a HCP has one of four separate types of personality disorder described in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-IV-TR:

1. Narcissistic: pre-occupied with self, contemptuous of others, superior

2. Histrionic: attention-seeking, dramatic, prone to exaggeration

3. Antisocial: deceptive, manipulative, dominating, aggressive, irritable

4. Borderline: mood swings, unstable relationships, difficulty controlling anger

All such HCPs are driven by unconscious emotional fears, are mostly unaware of their high conflict behaviour and cannot change or adapt. Dealing with such people can therefore be extremely frustrating, enraging and/or exhausting, but it is important to remember that most HCPs demonstrate a range of predictable behaviours, and you can influence them for the better.

Four strategies to manage high conflict personalities

The most effective method of managing a HCP is to break the cycle of high conflict thinking. This can be achieved in the following ways:

1. Avoid escalation of conflict

Pay full attention and respect to the HCP’s concerns, and show empathy where you can – even if this means doing the opposite of what you feel, this is a critical step in reducing the HCP’s fear response and reducing their defensiveness. Note however that, while engaging in this conversation, it is important to avoid believing, agreeing or volunteering to fix things, to remain at arms’ length and to limit the time spent in discussions.

2. Respond early to misinformation and angry communications

Provide a brief, informative, balanced but firm response to the HCP, using the same medium that they have used. If misinformation has been sent to third parties, provide accurate information to them and to anyone else caught up in the conflict.

3. Set limits on behaviour

Respond to aggressively defensive behaviour assertively but respectfully, in order to allow the HCP to save face and to reduce the conflict – even if your instinctive response is retaliation or avoidance. Focus on external reasons for requiring better behaviour (eg laws and policies) and explain consequences for non-compliance. Also, set clear boundaries for future contact.

4. Choose how and when to respond

Make sure that you address issues with the HCP after thought, and not as an immediate emotional response. Don’t try to ‘out-conflict’ a HCP (eg. by jumping to conclusions or reacting emotionally), and be ready to disengage at any time. It can also be helpful to change the subject, and to focus on the future.

Hopefully, with these tips in mind, you are able to make the most of a difficult situation, and modify the worst aspects of your HCP’s behaviour.

About Our Guest Blogger

Sarah Somerset is a Consultant at Worklogic, a FineHaus recommended provider. She has significant experience in legal, consulting and human resource management. Worklogic can help membership associations resolve conflict at work and build a positive culture.

By Bill Eddy

A manager publicly blames a staff member for his own mistakes. An employee bullies and threatens a work colleague, then claims it was just a joke. A customer yells abuse at the petrol station checkout. A family member sends nasty emails out to the whole family and friends in a battle with a sibling.

This behaviour is considered ”high conflict” because it increases conflict instead of reducing or resolving it. It can catch the target by surprise, especially when it is done by someone who seemed reasonable. Most people with these extreme behaviours have a repeated pattern of high-conflict behaviour. It’s part of who they are. They didn’t just act out of the blue – they have done this before and will do it again.

We think of them as ”high conflict” people (HCPs). They aren’t just difficult. They’re the most difficult people, because their pattern includes four key characteristics:

All or Nothing Thinking – they tend to try to control relationships or avoid them. They see others as all good or all bad. Therefore, their relationships are often unrealistic and a frequent crisis for them. They generally want to be secure, but they undermine themselves on a regular basis causing relationship insecurity without even realising why.

Unmanaged Emotions – they tend to react emotionally and to focus on the past. Looking to the future is hard for them because they are so emotionally absorbed in their emotional reactions. They are preoccupied with arguing over who caused the problem, rather than analysing it and looking at options for fixing it.

Preoccupied with Blaming Others – they unconsciously put a spin on how they view other people, the world and problems. They exaggerate the negative or the positive then switch to negative when others don’t turn out to be as unrealistically positive as they thought. They take things personally that aren’t, then they attack back.

Extreme Behaviour – they tend to become more extreme in their behaviour when things go badly, rather than backing off and trying a different approach. They don’t connect their problems to what they are doing, so they try to stop or change other people, rather than themselves. When this doesn’t work, they become more frustrated, desperate and intense in their misdirected efforts.

To make matters worse, they lack insight into their own behaviour and how they contribute to their own problems. They sometimes become persuasive blamers, so others actually believe them when they tell everyone it’s all someone else’s fault or maybe even all your fault! Yes, chances are high that you will eventually become an HCP’s target.

When someone treats you that way, you have to learn to deal with them because it’s a pattern of behaviour that won’t just go away. This is the bad news. The good news however is that most HCPs have a range of behaviour which you can influence with the right methods. You can often bring out the best or worst in them by how you respond.

Yet most of our natural responses to HCPs often backfire and make things worse. Many people under concerted attack may have already discovered this.

As frustrating as they are, HCPs tend to have predictable patterns of behaviour that you can recognise once you learn the warning signs. This means that you can learn effective ways of dealing with them when you recognise their patterns of behaviour. One important point is to never tell the person you think he or she is a high conflict person, or similar. It will make your life much worse if you do. Just keep that judgment to yourself and adjust your strategies for dealing with the person. Once you recognise, or even just suspect, that you are dealing with a high conflict person, there is a four-step method developed by the High Conflict Institute in California that is generally effective at calming their behaviour and focusing them on solving problems. This is the CARS Method and it stands for:

■ Connecting with empathy, attention and respect;

■ Analysing options or choices;

■ Responding to misinformation; and

■ Setting limits on inappropriate behaviour.

The method isn’t complicated, but it’s often the opposite of what you feel like doing when you are faced with a high conflict person. So practice helps. What is so amazing is that the HCP problem is similar around the world and that this method generally works with all types of people. It even works with those who aren’t high conflict people, so you don’t have to worry about identifying them.

Although interpersonal conflict is sometimes thought to be too complex for the average person to fully comprehend, there are some very basic understandings about conflict that can be used to easily overcome emotionally-charged interactions.

The Nicola Method is a series of techniques that allows you to defuse interpersonal conflict as it arises. These verbal techniques allow you to disrupt and disarm the defense mechanisms that are the driving force behind most interpersonal conflict.

Because these techniques are based on the foundational mechanics of human emotionality, they work as easily in situations of mild conflict due to misunderstanding as they do in interactions with individuals who have deeply entrenched negative behavior patterns.

These techniques can serve as a form of emotional self-defense allowing you to more easily navigate through emotionally-charged interactions. They can also be used to alter habitual defensive patterns that may have developed in a long-term relationship with a loved one.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of behavior patterns that the tools of the Nicola Method are designed to address:

Controlling Behavior
Emotional Abuse
Circular Arguments
Devaluation
Put-downs and Insults
Chronic Anger
Criticism
Rage Attacks
Jealousy

This method was originally developed to allow partners of women with traits of borderline personality disorder to overcome the fear of betrayal that is so often behind their mistreatment of those they love. But because the defensive tactics used by women with traits of BPD are the same tactics used by all human beings during conflict, these techniques can be used successfully in many other high-conflict interactions.

Although I am no longer teaching this method through private consultation, I believe you will find all of the instructions you need to start using these techniques on this website.

If you have a family member who engages in behaviors associated with borderline personality disorder, you can download The Nicola Method Workbook, a free self-help workbook that will supply all of the information and the tools needed to guide your partner back into a healthy and respectful communication style.

You can also learn how to use the techniques by reading The Nicola Method Blog where you will find step-by-step instructions for how to lower the conflict in many different high-conflict situations. Just look for the box labeled “Select Category” on the upper right-hand side of your screen and choose the category of blog posts that applies to your situation.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

How to deal with high conflict personalities

Therapists are trained to help clients become self-aware and authentic. For people who grew up in invalidating environments, where they learned to suppress their feelings and needs in order to be accepted, therapy can be life-altering.

Competent therapists who provide a corrective emotional experience can make it possible for people who never had a voice to find one. Once self-actualized, people generally find the quality of their lives improve: they find the right career, attract the right mate and extricate themselves from toxic relationships.

Unfortunately, this type of personal growth can be disastrous when divorcing a high-conflict personality. When working with a client who is married to, or separating from a narcissist, therapists need to invert the goal of traditional therapy. Instead of encouraging people to be authentic, they need to counsel people to be strategic. Expressing one’s true feelings, admitting vulnerability, and apologizing for one’s missteps can bury a person who is trying to dissolve a marriage with a narcissist — especially when children are involved.

Why Don’t More Therapists Understand How to Treat High-Conflict Divorce?

Graduate psychology programs teach future therapists how to facilitate a client’s personal growth. Students learn what personality disorders look like, and how they develop. But there are no courses in graduate school that train psychology students how to help clients navigate high-conflict divorce.

When treating a client in individual therapy, a therapist doesn’t have the benefit of observing the narcissistic spouse. Even in couples therapy, a therapist might be duped by the high-conflict personality, who often comes across as charming, while the more reasonable spouse, who has spent years being traumatized by crazy-making behavior, can look like the difficult one.

5 Tips for Divorcing a High-Conflict Personality

1. Minimize Contact
High-conflict personalities thrive off of battle. Their agenda, which is often subconscious, is to maintain your relationship by creating drama: bad-mouthing you to everyone under the sun and especially to your children, cyber-bullying, multiple, intrusive phone calls and any other way they can find to keep you from moving on with your life.

While your gut reaction might be to defend yourself, you cannot reason with a terrorist. Anything you say can and will be used against you. To mitigate the chaos caused by a high-conflict personality, you must keep communication to a minimum. Avoid face-to-face contact. Cultivate a “just the facts, ma’am” style of e-mail and text correspondence. When possible, arrange neutral places such as school for the drop-off and pick-up of children.

2. Keep Your Feelings to Yourself
High-conflict personalities are bullies. They like to “win” by making you angry or beating you down. Do not act on your feelings. If you yell, cry, plead, or otherwise tip your emotional hand, you will invite more attacks. Being stuck in the cross-hairs of a narcissist is traumatic, so by all means seek support through safe means: therapy, and online support groups for people with personality-disordered exes are two examples. But whatever you do, don’t let a narcissist know how you really feel — especially if you have a different point-of-view, which will always be interpreted as a threat.

3. Plan for the Worst
Do not listen to conventional wisdom that your ex will “move on” in time. Well-adjusted people move on; high-conflict personalities never quench their thirst for revenge and their desire to feel like “the good one.” Anticipate being dragged into court for minor indiscretions, or worse, total fabrications.

Do not say or write anything that might make you look bad. Respond to even the most frivolous accusations with factual, non-defensive e-mails detailing what actually happened. Document everything; save hostile e-mails, take screen shots of abusive texts, note every violation of your court orders.

You never know if a narcissist will follow through on threats to sue you, so you must be prepared if they do.

4. Never Admit a Mistake
You can, and should be, accountable for your part in the end of the marriage. But be accountable in a safe environment: therapy, 12-step groups, or in the company of trusted family and friends.

Do not admit wrongdoing to your high-conflict ex, especially in writing. Apologizing will not create a more amicable relationship. A high-conflict ex will interpret your apology as proof that you are the mentally ill, incompetent, stupid person she says you are. Even admissions of minor mistakes can be twisted into admissions of heinous acts and spur a high-conflict ex to take you to court, or simply broadcast to everyone with whom they come in contact that you are a terrible person.

5. Stop Trying to Co-Parent
I have written before about the one-size-fits-all co-parenting model. Well-meaning, but misinformed therapists do targets of high-conflict personalities a huge disservice by advising them that they can, and should, co-parent. Certainly, an amicable co-parenting relationship is ideal for children. But attempts to co-parent with a narcissist or a borderline will keep you engaged in battle. You will forever be on the receiving end of intrusive, controlling, chaotic behaviors which will make you and your kids crazy.

Parallel parenting is the only paradigm that should be recommended to people with personality-disordered exes. This means that you give up the fantasy that you can have consistency between homes, or appear as a united front. The more high-conflict your ex is, the more you will need to separate yourself and your parenting. This may mean hosting separate birthday parties, scheduling separate parent-teacher conferences and not sharing what goes on in your house.

While you may feel that you are sending a terrible message to your children by limiting contact with their other parent, you are actually protecting them by minimizing the potential for conflict.

Targets of high-conflict personalities need to accept that it isn’t wise to be “authentic” with their ex. Strategic, limited disclosures and iron-clad boundaries are essential tools in managing a high-conflict divorce. While it may seem paradoxical, true authenticity comes from holding on to one’s sense of self while gracefully disengaging from a narcissist.

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10 tips and tactics for dealing with conflict

10 tips and tactics for dealing with conflict

A little common sense and preemptive action can defuse conflicts before they get out of hand. These tips will help you manage and resolve touchy situations.

A little common sense and preemptive action can defuse conflicts before they get out of hand. These tips will help you manage and resolve touchy situations.

One of the most important skills you can learn and develop is how to deal successfully with conflict. Successful individuals seem to have an inherent understanding of what causes conflicts and how to resolve them quickly. For others, however, it’s much harder.

During my 30 years in executive suites and boardrooms, I’ve worked with people at all levels, in a wide swath of industries and across many countries. During those periods, I’ve learned that the best conflict managers often employ a few common approaches to prevent or overcome potential issues before they become major obstacles.

Use the following tips and tactics in your professional as well as your personal life. It could help you to become one those great “conflict resolution experts” that others may call on for help.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Ask questions

Conflict can arise due to poor communication — someone didn’t say what they meant to say or perhaps misstated what was intended. Before you allow an escalation, ask questions. It won’t cause any loss of face, and may result in a quick resolution.

2: Analyze expectations

Often, conflicts develop as a result of unmet expectations on one side. If the other party — expected something they didn’t get or something that didn’t happen, the whole conversation can become negative and closed. If a conversation seems to be getting rocky, take a step back and review together with the other person to try to uncover what just occurred.

3: Recognize differing perspectives

Keep in mind that conflict may arise due to people having different perceptions. You, or the other person, saw things differently. This happens most frequently when one is dealing with someone from another organization, background, or culture. It’s easy to believe that we all see things the same way and then get derailed unexpectedly.

4. Identify mistakes

Honest and unintended mistakes frequently result in conflict. Before you let temperatures rise, do a reality check of your understanding with the other person(s). Mistakes, even small ones, can erode one’s credibility — someone made a mistake.

5: Watch out for emotional triggers

Beware of emotions. Fear of someone or somebody, loss of face, whether real or perceived, anger, and surprisingly even excitement can all result in unintended conflict, which may cause your interaction to go downhill.

6: Focus on preventing escalation

Conflict resolutions always start with one or both parties making an honest attempt at avoiding further escalation. This recognition, even if only by one of those involved, often causes a more objective review to occur.

7: Take action to control the situation

Escalation-avoidance tactics may involve one of more key steps including separating the parties, changing the location of the discussion, signaling empathy to the other involved.

8: Commit to working it out

Take charge of the process by committing to reach a resolution. A powerful impact occurs when one person makes this statement. It can turn down the temperature immediately.

9: De-escalate the conflict

De-escalation is next: This can be accomplished with a joint statement of the facts at hand, always eliminating exaggerations, embellishments or personalities, which may inadvertently apply judgments and re-created the cycle of escalation.

10: Stay calm

Cooler heads prevail in even the most difficult conflicts. Whether you’re in a business or personal situation, you can take control of it by keeping cool. And when you’re maintaining your calm, it will be easier for others involved to get back to the task at hand.

How to deal with high conflict personalities

Divorce can be a stressful process at the best of times. When there are children involved, both the divorce itself and finding a new normal afterward can be difficult. When dealing with a co-parent who is especially volatile and conflict-driven, the whole situation can become that much tougher. Continue reading for tips on how to deal with a high conflict co-parent, and call a seasoned Englewood child custody and parental rights attorney for help with a New Jersey family law matter.

Low-Conflict Communication

High conflict people thrive on conflict. The less opportunity you give them to fight, the less they will be able to engage with you. If you strike a neutral, professional tone and speak only as much as necessary to get your point across about scheduling or other matters, you strip them of the conflict they crave. It can be difficult to listen to mean things said in writing or to your face without reacting in kind, but if you are able to keep it simple and then walk away, you will deflate your co-parent and reduce the conflict.

Remind Them of the Negative Effects of Badmouthing

If you are dealing with a co-parent who verbally trashes you with your children present, there is a chance that they are letting their emotions get the best of them and are not considering the damage that such behavior does to your kids. There are good co-parenting educational resources that discuss the harm caused when one parent badmouths the other. If they persist even after being informed of the damage they are doing, then you will need to move on to other tactics.

Don’t Take it Personally

The best way to handle a high-conflict co-parent is to disengage. Your ex is likely projecting their own issues onto you. What they are saying to you or about you is not true; their view of reality when it comes to your relationship is skewed. You may simply have to accept that you cannot change their perception of you. When you accept that, and that their version of reality is skewed, it is easier to avoid getting wounded by what they say. Talk to people you trust–friends, family, therapists, etc.–to remind yourself of the kind of person and the kind of parent you truly are.

Tailor Your Communication With Your Kids Based on Their Age

High conflict co-parents may badmouth you to your children and may try to drag your children into the conflict. “Getting even” by trash-talking your ex to your kids is likely to cause even more emotional harm. However, saying nothing at all may not be the best policy. Children pick up on what’s happening around them, and if they see a lot of angry language and behavior, they may be confused when a parent tries to deny reality. Give as limited information to your children as you can, but still acknowledge the situation.

For example: “When mommy/daddy is angry, they may say things they don’t mean. They may say things that only show their side of things.” If your children are older, you may be able to be a bit more advanced, teaching them how to separate facts from feelings and stating that while your co-parent’s feelings may be valid, that doesn’t mean that what they are saying is true. Be cognizant of your children’s age and level of social comprehension, and explain the situation as you feel they are able to handle it.

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  • Mediation Techniques
  • Talmudic Mediation

How to deal with high conflict personalitiesIn this latest post on applying Talmudic principles in mediation, we will explore a Talmudic insight that can be used to manage high conflict personalities in mediation (the Talmud being an ancient Jewish legal text compiled around 500 C.E. that is a primary source of Jewish law and philosophy).

The Five Books of Moses (or Torah in Hebrew), is divided into 54 weekly portions. One of those portions is named after Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro (Exodus 18:1-20:23). Commenting on the first verse of that segment, the medieval commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (more commonly known by his acronym, Rashi), cites a source from Talmudic times that Jethro had several other names. One of those names was Yeter, which means “extra” in Hebrew, and commemorates the “extra” verses added to the Torah to convey the valuable advice that Jethro gave Moses concerning the development of a judicial system.

Rashi identifies the first of those extra verses as Exodus 18:21, in which Jethro first lists the personal qualities he believes judges must possess, and then proposes a tiered judicial system to adjudicate disputes. Rabbi Moses Sternbuch (a contemporary Israeli sage) asks, however, why Rashi identifies Exodus 18:21 as the first verse added in Jethro’s honor, when Jethro’s advice actually begins four verses earlier in Exodus 18:17, where Jethro tells Moshe, “you are not managing things properly.”

Rabbi Sternbuch answers that Exodus 18:17 constitutes criticism — Jethro finds fault with how Moses is adjudicating disputes. In contrast, Exodus 18:21, represents problem-solving — Jethro proposes a solution to restructure the judicial system. By citing Exodus 18:21 as the first verse added in Jethro’s honor, the Talmudic sages sought to convey the following point: when you see a problem, don’t complain; find a solution. Or as Henry Ford famously admonished, “don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain.”

Lawyer, therapist, mediator, and co-founder of the High Conflict Institute, Bill Eddy has pioneered techniques for managing disputes involving high conflict personalities that build on the principle “find solutions, not problems.” Eddy has published many books on the subject, including a 2014 work entitled “So, What’s Your Proposal?: Shifting High-Conflict People from Blaming to Problem-Solving in 30 Seconds!” (“SWYP”).

In SWYP, Eddy observes that high conflict people tend to complain and blame, but fail to take responsibility for solving the problems they’ve created or identified. Dealing with such people can be extremely stressful, especially in the context of a dispute.

As Eddy notes, the strong temptation is to become defensive and shift the blame back on to the complainer. But that is counterproductive. So instead of getting angry, Eddy recommends responding calmly with these four words, “So, what’s your proposal?” The idea, Eddy says, is to encourage high conflict people to “focus on the future, take responsibility, and contribute to finding solutions to problems—including those they created themselves.” Eddy says this method has proven incredibly effective, and provides many helpful scenarios in his book.

I am presently reading the book and recommend it to mediators looking to learn new techniques to manage high conflict parties in mediations.