Training versus Education

© 2015 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

High Conflict Institute has been providing educational services to legal professionals, workplace professionals and others since 2008. At first, our emphasis was on teaching the dynamics of “high-conflict” personalities (including understanding the personality disorders that are often present).We wanted people to understand the problems and chaos that often surround high-conflict people – in family relationships, in high-conflict divorce, at work, in education and healthcare, and almost any setting – to help them avoid taking personally their blaming and other difficult behavior, so they didn’t over-react to them and make things worse.

However, as we have expanded to several speakers (see we are also placing more emphasis on training (while still educating people on this subject). We see training as practicing techniques which help people truly change their behavior in high-conflict situations – which is not an easy task. It takes practice, practice, practice! We now think of “education” as thinking about problems and behavior change, and “training” as practicing behavior change. It’s like the difference between thinking about how to ride a bike and actually learning to ride a bike – which takes plenty of practice at first, then it becomes automatic.

EAR Statement™

For several years, one of our most popular techniques has been the “EAR Statement,” which anyone can give to an upset person (including a very angry blaming person) to calm them with Empathy, Attention and/or Respect. (Learn more in our video training “Calming Upset People with an EAR Statement™”.) Once a professional (or anyone) practices this technique enough, he or she can usually calm an upset person in 30 seconds and quickly move on to problem-solving as a team that can work together. This technique is taught by all of our speakers – including a practice exercise – and the feedback we get is very encouraging (including from Europe, Africa and Australia, as well as throughout North America). Training in this technique is important because we feel like doing the opposite with high-conflict people, so it takes practicing this skill to shift our own responses from negative to positive.

Coaching for a BIFF Response®

We actually created the BIFF Response in 2007, when Megan Hunter and I started giving seminars before we formally established High Conflict Institute. It is our most popular technique, which we have taught to approximately 10,000 people through seminars, video training, our dedicated website and our BIFF® book. This is a technique which clearly takes practice.  With that in mind, in 2012 we developed the coaching method for teaching this technique, so that anyone can coach a client, colleague, friend or family member to write a BIFF Response and revise it after being asked 10 simple questions. (See our video training Coaching for a BIFF Response®)

Simple Skills

What we have learned is that anyone (even most high-conflict people) can learn relationship skills, if the techniques are made simple enough and are taught with enough repetition. With this in mind, in 2009 we developed the New Ways for Families® method and Workbook, for teaching separating and divorcing parents new skills for resolving conflicts and making decisions out-of-court as much as possible. The Workbook guides learning the skills through written and verbal practice exercises.

We have a two-day training now in New Ways for Families, for counselors, lawyers and ADR professionals who want to learn this method and teach it to their clients. (Sometimes there’s just one and sometimes both parents are high-conflict in a couple, but the method is always taught to both so they have the same skills to help their children.) Of course, the first day is “education” about high-conflict parents and the New Ways method; then the second day is “training” – a full day of practice exercises. This is especially important because of all the paradigm shifts of the New Ways method. We now have several trainers for this method, all of whom have experienced several trainings, used the method and had experience training others.

We also have a structured method for managing high conflict personalities in mediation. The New Ways for Mediation℠ method is a tightly-structured, simple process for mediating potentially high-conflict disputes. It focuses on the teaching and reinforcement of simple skills for the clients to use throughout the process.

Online Course and Webinars

We also have developed an online New Ways for Families® course for parents We also have developed an online New Ways for Families® course for parents, titled Parenting Without Conflict. Now, you might wonder whether that is really “education” or “training” – since we are such believers in training. What convinced us to create an online course in 2014 was research that shows that online can be equal to a class so long as there are numerous practice exercises. Therefore, we have included many written practice exercises, but we have also made the skills very simple and very repetitive. The entire course is built on teaching and practicing the Four Big Skills at the core of New Ways for Families: flexible thinking, managed emotions, moderate behaviors and checking yourself. With enough repetition, people can remember these in their sleep and parents can use the same repetitive approach to teach these skills to their children.

We use the same approach of simplicity and repetition in our online video training. By talking about the details of the skills, explaining the skills, explaining how to use the workbooks in practicing and using the skills in some cases, the videos can help professionals and anyone practice and use these skills in their daily lives.

Workplace High-Conflict Skills

We have now used the same skills-building approach to managing high-conflict situations in the workplace with the CARS Method® (Connecting, Analyzing, Responding and Setting Limits) and our New Ways for Work℠ coaching method. L. Georgi DiStefano, LCSW, co-author, and I have been training people in these methods, and it is again clear that practice is the key – especially because of the heated emotions which can be present in high-conflict situations. It isn’t easy to stay calm and focused when you’re under verbal attack – but we have shown that it can be done; and more and more people are learning how to do this.

Changing a Culture of Blame

The biggest problems our society is facing today are increasing high-conflict behavior (from disrespect to domestic violence to war), and more and more fighting and complaining about it. Until people realize that it is going to take individual and group training to change negative behavior into positive behavior, these problems will continue to grow. Education, analysis and blaming about these problems can go on and on for years, without changing anyone’s behavior for the positive. In fact, the constant news about negative behavior seems to train people for more of it!

As a society, we need to urgently recognize the importance of and potential for training: learning skills by practicing simple techniques which can make a world of difference. It’s time to shift our focus from a Culture of Blame to a Culture of Learning Skills.

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.

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