© 2013 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Last week I gave a three-day intensive course in Managing High Conflict Personalities in Legal Disputes to 50 law students and legal professionals at Monash University Law Chambers in Melbourne, Australia. It was a very interactive group and the combination of students and professionals seemed to benefit everyone. It seems that Australia has the same issues with personality disorders and high conflict personalities as the U.S., Canada and most of the urban world. (Note: In 2007 the world population tipped from primarily rural to primarily urban. In 2001-2005, a study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that there were more personality disorders in urban areas than rural parts of the United States.)
Many of the professionals in the course worked with children and families in the court system (Children’s Court), which has shifted to put much more emphasis on mediation and “less adversarial trials” (LATs) over the past few years. Australia has been a real leader in moving family conflict out of the courts as much as possible. The class was particularly interested in the emphasis I put on teaching parents negotiation and decision-making skills, which they can then teach their children. They were very interested in our New Ways for Families® method and I showed them some clips from the demonstration video about New Ways for Families. I also shared the impressive research results we are getting out of Medicine Hat and Calgary in Canada, where this method is being used and studied.
Several other professionals deal with workplace settings, dealing with bullying complaints and investigations, among other things. They were very interested in the New Ways for Work method we (High Conflict Institute) is developing. I told them I hoped to have our Workbook and Manual out in about six months for this coaching method for potentially high conflict employees – ideally before more serious disciplinary action has to be taken.
I explained the diagnostic criteria and conflict dynamics of 5 personality disorders: borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder and/or histrionic personality disorder. I also showed the statistics which suggest that all of these are increasing in society in recent generations. We had some very spirited discussions of the many reasons for this.
I said that our shared culture is currently teaching personality-disordered behavior to young people through increased images of violence, disrespect, drama, narcissism and histrionic news 24 hours a day. These all can be absorbed into personality development – especially for children growing up with insecure attachments and/or an overblown sense of entitlement. Unfortunately, Australia hasn’t escaped some of the cultural influences that some United States movies and dramas seem to be exporting. (But then, of course, Australia gave the world Rupert Murdoch, who has played a large role in promoting histrionic news.)
But the focus of the course was what to do. I emphasized shifting to “positive engagement” with high conflict people, rather than reacting to them negatively and increasing their defensiveness. I really emphasized the need for conflict resolution structures that downplay their negative focus on the past and blaming others, and instead give a lot of reinforcement for positive use of conflict resolution skills and focusing on the future. We had some role play exercises to practice this shift in mediation.
I taught the C.A.R.S. Method, which is explained in my book It’s All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything: Connecting with E.A.R. (you can read up on what that stands for); Analyzing Options (including an emphasis on clients making proposals); Responding to Hostile or Inaccurate Information (including the BIFF Response method, which we practiced): and Setting Limits (because high conflict people often can’t stop themselves).
I really enjoyed the students and the organizers at Monash, and I have already agreed to come back next year!
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.