Thursday, November 10, 2011

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:


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Dianne said...

Hi, interesting blog. A question! Is not temperament characteristics evident at birth? In which case the HCP does fit into the Myers Briggs personality profile. I would suggest that life's experiences coupled with temperament profile would work together to create a HCP. Unless you advocate that the HCP is an abnormal personality is evident at birth. Persistence, intense negative reactions which are evident at birth, if coupled with being raised in an abusive, neglect, or violent environment, being the victim of a bully themelves, experiencing rejection. and traumatic transitions in their childhood could conceively work together to give birth to a HCP. I will love to hear your comments on this idea.

I agree with how to respond to HCP.

Dianne Martin, BSW, RSW