As frustrating as they are, high-conflict people (HCPs) tend to have predictable patterns of behavior which you can recognize once you learn the warning signs. This means that you can learn effective ways of dealing with them at work (or anywhere!) when you recognize their patterns of behavior. One important point is to NEVER tell the person you think he or she is a high-conflict person. It will make your life much worse if you do. Just keep it to yourself and adjust your strategies for dealing with the person.
You CAN Deal with Them
Once you recognize – or even just suspect – that you are dealing with a high-conflict person, there is a four-step method that we have developed that is generally effective at calming their behavior and focusing them on solving problems.
We call this the CARS Method and it stands for:
• CONNECTING with empathy, attention and respect
• ANALYZING alternatives or choices
• RESPONDING to misinformation
• SETTING LIMITS on inappropriate behavior
This 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. We at High Conflict Institute have used this method successfully in a wide range of workplace and legal disputes. What is so amazing is that this 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. You can use the CARS Method with anyone.
The CARS Method is designed to help you organize your responses to reinforce their best behavior, to calm them down and to redirect their energies.
Connecting with E.A.R. Statements
The first step or skill is to attempt to calm the HCP’s emotions by forming a brief positive connection with the person. Of course, the first thing that most people feel like doing when they’re blamed or attacked is to attack back. Instead, it is helpful to respond with a statement that shows empathy, attention, and/or respect – what we call an “EAR Statement,” such as the following:
“I can see how important this is to you. Don’t worry, I will pay attention to your concerns, so that I understand them as best as I can. I have a lot of respect for the efforts you have made to solve this problem.”
This can be very difficult to do at first. However, an EAR statement usually calms down the high-conflict person right away, at least long enough to use their problem-solving skills for a while. This gives them the chance to work with you rather than against you for a few minutes to solve the problem. It soothes the high-conflict person’s unconscious defenses enough to calm their fear of you and allows them to see you as less of an enemy and more of an ally in solving an objective problem.
This is an example of CONNECTING, the first step of the CARS Method, which we teach in our seminars on Managing High Conflict People at Work.