© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Excerpted from BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Businesses today have many opportunities to deal with HCPs as customers, suppliers, contractors, partners and in negotiations over future business relationships. Professionals face similar situations, as they often operate as small businesses and deal with HCPs on a regular basis.
All businesses and professions create expectations, but the expectations of HCPs are often very unrealistic. This can lead to angry outbursts, customer relations complaints, consumer affairs complaints, licensing board complaints, rumors among colleagues, bad publicity and lawsuits. B.I.F.F.s can help you manage risks and reduce the distraction of draining emotional issues of HCPs.
The goal isn’t to avoid all HCPs in business and professional work – you can’t ever succeed at that (see Chapter One) because HCPs are usually not obvious at the beginning. Instead, the goal is to contain the emotional challenges and stay focused on the services that you want to provide. When handled correctly, most HCPs can be satisfied customers, productive employees and even sources of future work.
This chapter will include B.I.F.F.s for a high-conflict client and a high-conflict business partner.
A Disgruntled Client
For many years, divorce mediation has been a significant part of my work as a lawyer and social worker. After almost thirty years, I received a letter with the following general message (it is not the exact letter, as mediation is confidential).
You met with us on Sept. 9th for our divorce mediation and we scheduled another meeting for Oct. 15th. We are now cancelling that meeting, because both my wife and I (and my attorney) believe that you did not handle our mediation properly. You allowed many criticizing and blaming comments to be made and we accomplished nothing. I paid for the mediation and I would like my money back. Please respond promptly. We have found another mediator who does it correctly.
Sincerely, Disgruntled Client
I remembered this case, as this client came late, took two phone calls on his cell phone during our meeting and left early. He made several blaming comments toward his wife, did not take responsibility for solving problems and yet interpreted her as being unreasonable.
This is not unusual for a first session in mediation and I expected to slowly get him to solve problems over the next 3-4 sessions. So I was surprised. However, after I got over my surprise and anger at this letter, I sent the following B.I.F.F. response®:
Thank you for your letter expressing your concerns about our mediation session. After doing nearly 1000 divorce mediation cases and teaching a course in mediation at two law schools, I have learned that people have different styles of providing mediation services. I am glad that you have found a mediator that fits you. Best wishes in completing your divorce.
Sincerely, Mr. Mediator
I never heard from him again. You may wonder why I didn’t tell him directly that I wouldn’t refund his money. I believe that I performed my services totally satisfactorily and that he acted inappropriately. There was nothing that I needed to apologize for and I think this letter makes it clear that I did not believe that I did anything wrong. I didn’t want to make him think about a refund any further, as raising the issue and then rejecting it was more likely to influence him negatively than just telling him that I’m very experienced, that mediators have different styles and that I wish him well. This was the least likely approach to increase his defensiveness, and it appears to have helped him let go.
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.