What’s Your Goal?

© 2011 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

There are usually three goals to consider with HCPs:

  1. To manage the relationship, such as when you work with the person, when this person is your daughter, etc. In other words, when the relationship is important to you OR you have no way to get out of it.

  2. To reduce the relationship to a less intense level, such as with a friend, neighbor, or even a family member.

  3. To end the relationship, usually by phasing the person slowly out of your life.

How you respond will make a big difference to the HCP. If you inadvertently give him negative feedback, you will increase the intensity of his interactions with you, as HCPs can’t handle negative feedback. It’s better to use BIFFs and avoid talking about the past. Even if you are in a committed relationship or a position of authority and explaining your concerns about the past is necessary, it helps to put the emphasis on the desired future behavior – although you may have to acknowledge the past or address it officially. Just keep the focus on the future as much as possible.

If you are too rejecting, such as attempting to suddenly end the relationship, the HCP will increase her interactions with you and the intensity of her emotions with you – usually to try to talk you out of ending the relationship or to punish you for ending it. For this reason, I recommend “phasing out” relationships with HCPs, if you plan to end them, as they need more time to process and accept change. Otherwise, when endings are too abrupt, they may try to hold on to you by stalking you, harassing you, or suing you in an attempt to keep contact going in some manner, even if it’s negative.

In many cases, people choose to reduce, but continue, their relationships with HCPs at a less intense level. This way they maintain the positive aspects – such as a shared interest – while avoiding the most negative aspects. Many employers are encouraged to take this approach, because their HCP employees are sometimes making important contributions to the organization – even though they do not have good conflict resolution skills.

Whichever goal you have, keep it in mind when interacting (or avoiding interacting) with an HCP and giving a BIFF response. Ask yourself: Will my response engage the other person more in my life? Or allow him to back off without defensiveness. Defensiveness is the key word in explaining the HCP model. Throughout the examples in this book, you will see that the main effort is to avoid triggering HCP defensiveness, while also accomplishing your goal.

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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