Navigating High Conflict People
Last week, I participated in the annual four day Academy of Professional Mediators Conference in Reston, Virginia and learned with mediators who had flown in to the D.C. area from all over the world. Of particular interest to me were sessions I attended on high conflict clients and high conflict mediations.
Bill Eddy has worn many hats -- kindergarten teacher, substance abuse counselor, therapist, lawyer, and mediator. He is also President of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego. I attended one of his seminars called Mediating High Conflict Disputes (New Ways for Mediation) a couple of days ago at Multidoor Dispute Resolution in Washington, D.C. What I learned is helpful not only in terms of mediating high conflict cases but in navigating all kinds of daily interactions with certain difficult personalities.
High conflict people can be very smart, successful, charming, and good looking! Bill says that some high conflict people regularly criticize or blame others without taking any responsibility. Some high conflict people have personalities in which they lack self awareness about why they are the way they are. Other high conflict people are extremely rigid, self absorbed, and certain that they are superior and right 100% of the time. Still others are always dramatic personalities who exaggerate, tell exciting stories, and need to be the center of attention. Bill says what high conflict people have in common is: (1) blaming others, (2) all or nothing thinking, (3) unmanaged emotions, and (4) extreme behaviors.
Bill explained in his seminar that people who are not high conflict solve conflicts with logical problem solving such as focusing on analyzing a problem, looking for a number of solutions, and feeling a need for a thorough analysis. A high conflict person will focus instead on fighting, seeing only one solution, and feeling the need for fast action to survive.
Bill suggests that when a high conflict person is having a dispute with another person, the response that works is to immediately shift over from blaming, criticizing, and attacking each other to problem solving as a starting point. In other words, don't get stuck in a rehash of what happened in the past. Keep everyone calm by asking "So, what's your proposal?" There is no need to argue. The first person can suggest a proposed solution to a defined problem. The other person can ask questions about how the proposal would work and ultimately say "yes," "no," or "I'll think about it." If the other person says no, then that person makes a new proposal.
I started to use this approach yesterday when I found myself in a meeting with two high conflict personalities. It will take practice, but I found that I was able to keep the conversation going in a positive and productive manner by refusing to engage in the "chaos of the past" and insisting on moving forward with concrete solutions to identified problems. Read more about Bill Eddy and his work at www.highconflictinstitute.com.
Thanks for the great article BizLaunch! I've been a certified mediator since 2010 and have really enjoyed mediating lots of different court referred cases over the past five years. Now I am busy mediating cases through my own practice as well:
Earlier this year, attorney Ellice Halpern decided to make a change. Her friends and associates were asking her to help them with complex divorce issues or for her advice in working out problems with contractors. She was referring them to colleague attorneys and mediators, but she soon realized her opportunity. "I realized I wanted to be the one to help people resolve disputes and move them forward to resolution and agreement," she says.
Halpern took the step and decided to start her own business. Little Falls Mediation LLC opened earlier this year, but Halpern said she knew she couldn't do it alone. She made the decision to open in Arlington because of its reputation for welcoming small businesses. She joined the Arlington Women Entrepreneurs as a support system and networking group. She continued her own mediator education. And she reached out to BizLaunch to make sure she was doing things correctly to start her own venture.
"(BizLaunch) has been a rock star in terms of helping me set priorities for my business to help it grow," she explains. She took part in BizLaunch's one-on-one mentoring services and participates in other seminars and workshops. She says that assistance, the different way of looking at her business, is what's helped her success.
What The Judge Thinks...
Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in a round table discussion with Honorable Judge Diane Brenneman who presides over Small Claims cases in D.C. Superior Court where I mediate. She often refers cases to mediation so that the parties can try to resolve their dispute collaboratively around a table in lieu of holding a trial in the courtroom. Our judge is wonderful, and I wanted to share some of her wisdom:
• Typically there are 10,000 cases per year in the Small Claims Division although 2015 is a little slow -- a lot of cases for one judge to handle!
• Multidoor Dispute Resolution, located in D.C. Superior Court, is the best court based mediation program in the entire country. We train courts in other countries. The best thing we have in the Small Claims Division is mediation.
• In mediation there is a 65% chance of coming to an agreement; in trial there is a 25% chance of success. In a trial, the plaintiff must prove the facts to the judge.
• Here is why people lose in court: (1) plaintiffs don't prove the facts; (2) there is no law on the books governing a plaintiff's particular situation; (3) plaintiffs are suing the wrong defendants; and (4) plaintiffs don't show up to court.
• Judge Brenneman's job in Small Claims is about ruling on money matters only. Disputes are usually about more than just money. Judge Brenneman tells the parties in court, "This is your last chance to be in control of your case. You know your case and knowledge is power. Take that power into mediation. An agreement between two citizens is recognized throughout the land. And -- you don't have to prove anything to me."
• She goes on to tell the parties, "Come to me for trial and you will have no power. The Judge has all the power. I will decide your case and move on to the next case."
Wouldn't you rather have all the power than give it all away?
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.