Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Managing High-Conflict Clients: Ethics and Risk Management


On November 22, I gave an all-day seminar in London, Ontario, to about 80 therapists, child welfare professionals, family lawyers, and other professionals involved in workplace, healthcare and other settings. The topic was “Managing High-Conflict Clients: Ethics and Risk Management.” Everyone agreed that this topic could be useful for anyone, not just professionals.

While the therapists and some others were taking this seminar to maintain their ethics credits, they said that they found it particularly practical for managing and helping any clients in today’s world. They said that the tips, such as E.A.R. Statements and B.I.F.F. Responses would also be helpful to their reasonable clients – to help them deal with the high-conflict people in their lives. For example, there were concerns about helping high school students dealing with cyber bullies and helping homeowners deal with high-conflict neighbors.

I am realizing how broad and relevant this issue is to everyone these days and I’m excited that 2012 will have High Conflict Institute giving more workshops than ever before. The seminar in London was organized by Solutions on Site and I discussed future seminars with them, including this topic of managing high conflict clients, as well as training therapists, mediators and lawyers in a future 2-day seminar in New Ways for Families program methods in other parts of Ontario.

It’s interesting to me that Canada has embraced these methods for dealing with high-conflict people in so many provinces. I really enjoyed my time there.  

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author of It's All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns, and Don't Alienate the Kids!. He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit:http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com

The Psychology of Conflict


I just finished two long weekends of teaching Psychology of Conflict at Pepperdine University School of Law, to a combined class of law students and Master in Dispute Resolution (MDR) students. What a great class of students! Of course, I emphasized dealing with high-conflict people (HCPs), as they are the biggest psychological issue in conflict resolution today. Many of the students have had a mediation course and I gave them several practice scenarios of individually working with an HCP and working in mediation with one or two HCPs.

They are eager to know how to manage HCP clients and had numerous questions. I really wish that all law students and other conflict resolution students could have such a course, to help them prepare for staying balanced and “unhooked” emotionally from the demands and confusion that HCPs can bring to ordinary conflict resolution situations. It is often first year lawyers and young professionals in all areas who get caught up in struggles with HCPs. It’s hard enough learning general conflict resolution techniques, but learning how to deal with the emotional intensity and personal attacks of an HCP make it really hard if you don’t know what to expect.

But these students now know what to expect and they have learned many tools for understanding and managing their clients. While it will certainly take practice, they have a real advantage in already knowing that when it comes to high-conflict clients:

“It’s Not About You!” It’s about their lack of skills.
“The Issue’s not the issue.” HCP thinking is the issue.    
“Don’t work harder than your clients.” Or your client won’t work at all.
“You’re not responsible for the outcome.” Just your standard of care.

These are lessons many experienced professionals don’t know about high-conflict clients. I appreciate the opportunity that Pepperdine has given me to teach this course to such a sharp group of students. The sooner that all professionals and students learn about HCPs, the easier it will be for everyone.

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author of It's All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns, and Don't Alienate the Kids!. He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit:http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Elder Mediation – A Growing Field for Family Mediators


Recently, I participated in a panel of speakers in Los Angeles at an Elder Mediation Institute for the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA). Elder law is a rapidly growing area of expertise and need. It focuses on the needs of older people while they are still alive, such as where they live (independently, assisted living, skilled nursing care), who manages their decisions and finances (themselves, conservators, trustees, etc.) and dealing with government benefits (such as social security, Medicare, etc.). The issues usually center around whether the elder needs assistance, what kind of assistance, and who should participate in decision-making. Elder mediations usually involve the older person and his or her adult children – and sometimes siblings, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends and caregivers – in discussing decisions that may include elder law and other non-legal but essential issues.

There was a demonstration mediation and I was very pleased to see some of my experienced students (from a prior elder mediation training – see September posts) using several methods of managing an elder mediation with at least one “high-conflict” person present. While some mediators prefer to do mostly separate caucuses to resolve disputes, I strongly believe that elder mediation should be done primarily in joint mediation sessions. They involve long-term relationships, which hopefully will continue long into the future, so that they need assistance in working together rather than pulling apart.

When the emphasis is on separate sessions, it’s easy for the parties to “split” into those who intensely favor what the elder says he or she wants (usually more independence and self-determination), and those who intensely favor what they believe is in the elder’s best interest (usually more care provided and more control by others). This “splitting” dynamic is particularly present when there is a high-conflict person involved – whether it’s the elder and/or one (or more) of the adult children. The solution, of course, is to guide the family in working together to integrate all of these concerns, so that the decisions include: maximum independence given the circumstances, maximum self-determination, maximum care provided and control by others only to the extent necessary.

In elder mediation, the family can be treated as a team and by working with the family all present most of the time, the elder can feel the team working on his or her behalf, rather than being stressed by how poorly his or her family gets along. Many elders with high-conflict families express that concern when these decisions are being made: “I wish you could just get along with each other.” Joint mediation sessions provide an opportunity to manage their communication (even if it’s just temporarily) and see each other as teammates, rather than as adversaries. Of course, there may be moments when the mediator(s) meets with each person separately, but the focus should be on the team against the problem rather than allowing them to focus on being adversaries against each other.

Of course, managing high-conflict families takes a lot of training and practice. I commend the SCMA for having this afternoon institute on this growing problem and the organizers for designing a great demonstration and discussion of how mediation can help bring the family together as well as needed professionals. 

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author of It's All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns, and Don't Alienate the Kids!. He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit:http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com

It’s all YOUR Fault! Congress is Looking a lot Like a High-Conflict Divorce

Once again, congress is looking a lot like a high-conflict divorce. I’m not an expert on politics, but I am quite familiar with the patterns of dysfunctional behavior and how to manage it in high-conflict divorce. Essentially what works is the opposite of what we’re seeing in congress. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned.

AVOID “ALL-OR-NOTHING” THINKING
High-conflict parents often draw a line in the sand – even before negotiating how they are going to share the children! They believe that they are so right that everyone else will come around to their way of  thinking. Of course, this convinces everyone else that they are narcissistic and have no compassion  for their children. Instead, what works is to build a team of parents first, then address the problem. We do this most effectively in methods like mediation, collaborative divorce and lawyers negotiating cooperatively. Going to court with a high-conflict case to let the judge decide usually frustrates both parents – and the judge.

AVOID EXTREME EMOTIONS
High-conflict cases often involve one or both parents sending nasty emails, yelling at the other in front of the children, and crying to everyone who will listen – all about how bad the other parent is. This raises more concern about the “blaming” parent than it does about their “Target of Blame” (the other  parent). Yet high-conflict parents lack insight about themselves. What works best is to quiet down and vent privately, out of hearing of the  children, the decision-makers and with one or two best friends or  a therapist.

AVOID EXTREME BEHAVIORS
It’s not unusual to hear about a desire to eliminate the other parent in high-conflict divorces. Some parents say that  the children would be better off if the other parent left town or was dead. This is horrible, yet this lack of empathy can arise as a case becomes more and more of a stalemate. Does this sound familiar? When one party’s goal is to eliminate the other party in the next election, I don’t think it bodes well for the nation. We need both parents and we need both parties. You can’t “win” in today’s world with just one point of view. It’s like the sound of one hand clapping. We need multiple points of  view to deal with a rapidly changing world. Perhaps it’s because the world has become  so confusing that we  slip into extreme solutions. We can’t let ourselves be seduced by this kind of thinking if we’re going to survive – together.

AND DON’T ASK THE CHILDREN TO DECIDE WHAT YOU CAN’T
One of the trends in high-conflict divorce is to have the children play a major role in decision-making. Sure, we should hear their thoughts and concerns. But parents should act like adults and make the hard decisions without putting the children in the middle. Likewise, it seems that congress wants to have the voters decide the hard decisions. Of course, voters aren’t children and should decide who gets elected. But once they’re elected, politicians should make the hard decisions so that we can have 2 years and 4 years of focusing on our own decisions, while trusting them to learn about and make the national decisions for us. Don’t ask us to do the job you were elected to do.

Maybe next year we should elect mediators and collaborative professionals, who know how to quietly build agreements that work, instead of electing extremist politicians who loudly promote disagreements - that don’t work. What do you think?

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author of It's All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns, and Don't Alienate the Kids!. He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit:http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

HCI Pattern Analysis - for Parenting Disputes in Divorce


HCI Pattern Analysis™ is a powerful new software service that assists parents and professionals dealing with a high conflict person (HCP) in a parenting dispute. This program reflects the combined efforts of High Conflict Institute (HCI) and EVDense Corporation. The following is a brief explanation.

Why Analyze Patterns?
HCPs have predictable patterns of problem behavior. They frequently over-react to situations with all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, and extreme behaviors (domestic violence, making false allegations, spreading rumors, abusing children, alienating children, hiding children, hiding money, etc.) If you are a parent facing a possible HCP in a separation or divorce, you may be very worried about what he or she will do: Will they lie and manipulate professionals and the court? Will they take extreme and abusive action toward you as the separation and divorce proceed? Will your child be abused by the other parent or become alienated from you? These are realistic concerns.

If you are a professional (lawyer, counselor, evaluator, parenting coordinator, mediator, judge), then you may be concerned that other professionals will not really understand the seriousness of one of the parent’s dysfunctional behavior. You may wonder how you can explain what’s going on to other professionals. In high conflict cases, many professionals become focused on one or two events and exaggerate or minimize their significance.

What parents and professionals often miss is the pattern of HCP behavior, which is so important in making realistic decisions and obtaining effective court orders, if necessary. Fully presenting the patterns of behavior in a case to family law professionals will help the parents (including HCPs) and their children, instead of hurting them further or exposing them to unnecessary risks.

What is HCI Pattern Analysis™? click here to learn more!

Teaching Law Students to Prepare for High Conflict Clients


On Nov. 3rd I gave a morning seminar to law students at California Western School of Law in San Diego on Negotiation and Mediation with High Conflict People (HCPs). Even though they didn’t have cases yet, they were very sharp in recognizing high-conflict traits in family, friends and work settings. One of the hardest aspects to accept about HCPs is that they do not reflect on their own behavior and therefore become preoccupied with blaming others. So the students learned that they should avoid trying to convince their future clients to have insights about themselves. That is just a frustrating waste of time, and unnecessary for resolving disputes, yet many legal professionals spent years before they learned about this. Hopefully, I saved them from blaming themselves or their clients when they do not change. Instead, we focused on four key factors that help HCPs reach settlement: 

  1. Connecting by giving them Empathy, Attention and Respect
  2. Providing lots of structure, including teaching them how to make proposals and how to communicate using BIFF responses (see BIFF book); 
  3. Reality-testing by maintaining a healthy skepticism, while avoiding fighting with clients over their perceptions (“You might be right! I’ll never know. I wasn’t’ there.”); and 
  4. Educating clients about consequences.   


I also told them that if they are dating, they should wait at least a year before making a major commitment, because high-conflict behaviors (such as significant lying, domestic violence, financial problems, lack of empathy and remorse, extreme mood swings) do not always come to the surface during the first 6 to 9, sometimes 12 months. Beyond that it is much rarer to suddenly discover that your partner has a high-conflict personality. However, HCPs often have a “sugar-coated” personality at the beginning, so it is particularly helpful to be patient and open-minded, rather than swept off your feet.

Overall, they seem much more prepared for managing high-conflict clients (and opposing parties and opposing counsel) now, and they have my book High Conflict People in Legal Disputes which should help them in their first few years of practice. I wish them well!

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author of "It's All Your Fault!", "Splitting", "BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns" and "Don't Alienate the Kids!". He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit:http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com

Article: Strategic Questions for Dispute Resolvers

by Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
© 2011 by High Conflict Institute

Asking questions is one of the most powerful – and often misused – tools for professionals in dispute resolution settings, whether legal, workplace, mediation or anywhere. When you are dealing with high-conflict clients, it is especially important to consider the timing of different types of questions and also to know what questions you should never ask. Whether you’re meeting with an individual client or meeting with two or more clients together (such as in mediation or solving a workplace problem), the following principles generally apply.  

Slow Down
The secret to managing high-conflict clients is to manage your own anxiety. One of the things that most professionals do when they’re anxious is to ask lots of questions. It gives the illusion of being in charge and of working on the problem, which distracts us from our fears or uncertainties regarding how to deal with a potentially difficult client. However, this often makes things worse and interferes with the most important first issue, which is forming a positive working relationship.

High-conflict clients usually have a history of broken relationships with family, friends and professionals. Thus, they feel extremely anxious when seeking the services of a new professional, or being required to use the services of a professional that they don’t want (such as a court evaluator or when required to use a workplace coach). Their anxiety is contagious, so we often catch it and – without even realizing it – pepper them with questions. Our own anxiety is also contagious, so that high-conflict clients often increase their resistance to us when peppered with questions, and the power struggle begins – and may never end.

Equally as problematic, is when they respond in the opposite way, so that they stop trying to say their concerns and become passive and just answer the professional’s many detailed questions. In this case, they assume that the professional will figure everything out and take care of it, with little participation by the client. Then, if the professional missed something important to them (which usually happens), they become very angry. 

To read the full article, click here.

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well as books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author of "It's All Your Fault!" and other books about managing high conflict people. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit: http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Washington State Bar Association Continuing Legal Education


On Oct 24, I presented on “Understanding and Managing High Conflict Personalities in Legal Disputes” in Seattle, for Washington State Bar Association Continuing Legal Education (WSBA-CLE). There were about 60 attorneys in the seminar room and over 90 online! They were set up in the most technologically sophisticated manner I have ever had, with hand-raising and questions from the online folks as well as in the room. This made for a very interactive seminar for all.

Questions focused a lot on managing high-conflict clients, but also managing high-conflict opposing parties, opposing lawyers and even law firm managers. The issue of high-conflict people continues to grow, especially for lawyers as we deal with conflicts often involving one or more high-conflict personalities. I asked for a show of hands about the people in their high-conflict cases. About two-thirds said that there is one high-conflict person (an HCP) driving most of their high-conflict cases, and about one-third said the majority of their high-conflict cases have two or more HCPs.

As with other seminars, they particularly liked the “BIFF Response” method and the “E.A.R. Statement” for calming upset HCPs or anyone. I made it clear that you don’t need to diagnose someone to help them in a legal case. If the lawyer simply suspects that someone is an HCP, then he or she should use these types of techniques in managing the case for everyone’s benefit.

What’s amazing to me is how few people know that there are methods available that can help significantly in dealing with high-conflict people. Fortunately, there are now another 150 or so professionals in the Seattle area who have several ideas to help them in the future in their  cases. This is a seminar that all attorneys and law students could use. After writing about this subject for over 8 years, it’s encouraging to see the interest grow; and seeing so many professionals who really want to help their clients – even their high-conflict ones.    

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author of "It's All Your Fault!", "Splitting", "BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns" and "Don't Alienate the Kids!". He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit: http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com

PERSONALITY PATTERNS: Myers Briggs vs. High Conflict Personalities


For the past three years I have been teaching a law school class at Pepperdine University’s Strauss Institute of Dispute Resolution for two long weekends in the fall. Masters in Dispute Resolution students are also in that class. Each year, a professor from the Pepperdine Business School presents the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, which is a personality questionnaire used often in business and other settings for over fifty years. The “types” include four dimensions with a range of preferences regarding communication, gathering information and decision-making: Extroverted to Introverted, Sensing to Intuition, Thinking to Feeling, and Judging to Perceiving.

These terms have specific meaning in terms of information gathering and decision-making. Their definitions were created over fifty years ago and are not the common usage for their terms, so that “Feeling” is an activity related to decision-making, rather than talking about how someone handles their emotions. The Myers Briggs is a personality inventory of normal personalities and how they fit together in the workplace and other settings. We need the other types in work groups and organizations to help us gather information and make the best decisions.

On the other hand, High Conflict People have some different basic personality patterns. They tend to have a lot of “all-or-nothing” thinking, many have difficulty managing their emotions, they have more extreme behavior and they are preoccupied with one or more “targets of blame.” Many of them have personality disorders or some maladaptive traits but not enough for a full disorder. The main point about high conflict personalities is that they are dysfunctional types of personalities and tend to increase conflict in the workplace, in neighborhoods, volunteer organizations and in families.

The question that students often ask is: Where do high conflict personalities fit on the Myers Briggs? The answer is that they don’t! There is no relationship between the normal types identified by Myers Briggs and the abnormal, dysfunctional personality types which have a lot of high conflict behavior. In other words “Not to worry!” For example, if you are a “Feeling” type of personality in the Myers Briggs, it means you may be more likely to be using social engagement in gathering information to make decisions. This is totally unrelated to the common characteristic of high conflict people of having difficulty regulating emotions, such as loud outbursts, sudden an intense anger, bursting into tears easily, or other emotional extremes.

A high conflict person in the workplace can be difficult to manage, so that the methods I write about are often helpful, especially the 4-step C.A.R.S. method of Connecting with Empathy, Attention and Respect; Analyzing realistic options, Responding quickly to mis-information, and Setting Limits of mis-behavior. (For more about this method, see my book It’s All YOUR Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything.)

With high conflict people, you don’t have to do any personality analysis – and you shouldn’t try to diagnose the person as having a personality disorder or not. If you suspect someone might have a high conflict personality, then simply use the C.A.R.S. method in your response. You can use these tips with anyone. On the other hand, ordinary communication methods and conflict resolution methods that work with almost everyone else often fail with HCPs. 

Bottom line: Myers Briggs measures normal personality types and how they gather information and make decisions. High Conflict People tend to have abnormal personality types, which increase and prolong conflict, rather than contributing to conflict resolution, with many of them having personality disorders as well. Regardless of whether a conflict is between people with different normal styles or involving someone with a high conflict personality, there are many ways of understanding and resolving conflict. I help this distinction is helpful. For more information about managing disputes with high conflict people, please see our website: www.highconflictinstitute.com.