Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Keeping Your Cool with High Conflict People

Whether you are familiar with the dynamics of High Conflict People (HCPs) or not, one of the hardest things to do is to Keep Your Cool around them. This actually makes sense, once you understand HCPs.

Their high conflict behavior and emotions have the social purpose of grabbing your attention and making you feel responsible for fixing their problems. In many ways, they are like young children who feel afraid and helpless, and have learned a dysfunctional method of trying to enlist your help. It may have actually worked in their families when they were growing up, although these behaviors are dysfunctional in the adult world of close relationships and work relationships.

Recent research about the brain indicates that our emotions are contagious, and high conflict emotions are the most contagious. We unconsciously mirror what other people are feeling. Perhaps this is rooted in human group survival methods that developed long before we learned how to speak. Fear and anger are especially contagious and can grab you before you consciously realize it. Therefore, we have to actively resist the natural, unconscious, emotional pull that HCPs will have on us.

Here’s a few ideas I’ve been thinking about this week:

Remind yourself that it’s NATURAL to get emotionally hooked, and that you can get unhooked as soon as you recognize that this is happening to you. Just say to yourself: “Oops! I just got hooked. Now I can let go.” This often occurs when you are listening to someone complaining about all their problems, which are mostly self-created. You may suddenly feel responsible for their problems and either: 1) want to solve all their problems for them, or 2) want to criticize them for creating their own problems.

Either way, if you feel responsible for fixing their problems, then you got hooked. Now, remind yourself: “I have choices here. I can offer a suggestion and if they don’t want a suggestion, I can drop it. I can change the subject. I can leave the conversation. I’m not responsible for their problems.”

But what if you are in a position of responsibility? Perhaps you are their therapist or supervisor or lawyer or friend? Then, you have to remind yourself that you are not responsible for THEIR behavior or THEIR problem or THEIR solution. You are only responsible for being their therapist, supervisor, lawyer or friend, and doing the “standard of care” for your role. This doesn’t include fixing their problem, but rather doing normal, established procedures to assist them in solving their own problems.

For example, if their behavior in a legal dispute (such a child custody battle) or workplace dispute is inappropriate, take standard action and provide STRUCTURE (you may have to redirect someone’s energies or provide new instructions) or CONSEQUENCES (such as small-step-by-small-step disciplinary measures) as you and/or your organization would usually do. Be matter of fact. You’re not the cause and you’re not the cure (as they say in Alanon).

And always remember: It’s not about you! You don’t have to prove yourself. You don’t have to defend yourself. High conflict people act the way they do, because it’s who they are, not what you did. To read more on these and other subjects please go here

Good Luck! And have a cool summer! Bill

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What if your adversary is a narcissist lawyer who also has experience as a therapist?

*I* know what he is like, but he never shows that self to anyone in public.