It's All Your Fault - At Work! Author Interview Part 1

It's All Your Fault - At Work! Author Interview Part 1

An Interview with It’s All Your Fault at Work! co-authors, Bill Eddy and Georgi DiStefano

Part One with Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
© 2014 High Conflict Institute


 

Q:           You’ve written many books on high-conflict personalities. This one is the first title focused solely on the workplace. What prompted you to go in this direction?

 

A.            While my career focus has been on legal disputes and resolving them out of court as much as possible, such as through mediation, I have also been asked to give seminars and provide consultations for dealing with high-conflict individuals in the workplace for several years – where high-conflict personalities seem to be increasing. It is an area where a lot of knowledge and skills are needed, because the impact of one high-conflict personality can affect so many other people at work. Since people so often react to high-conflict people in ways that make things worse, it just made sense to provide a resource and simple method to help people in the workplace understand what NOT TO DO and what TO DO. Collaborating with my colleague Georgi DiStefano made it easy to write, because we have been discussing these ideas for years and she has so much experience in workplace management, EAP work, conflict resolution trainings and so much insight as a master therapist.

 

Q:           Is this book intended to help anyone in the workplace at any level? Employees all the way up to the CEO?

 

A.            Absolutely! The problem is the personalities and how to respond to them. Whether it’s an employee, co-worker, supervisor or CEO, the same principles apply. In many cases, we’re helping employees learn how to manage their managers! It’s all about high-conflict personalities and not positions in the organization.    

 

Q:           The subtitle is Managing Narcissists and Other High-Conflict People. Do you see narcissism becoming more pervasive in the workplace? If so, how does it impact a company’s competitive advantage and ultimately its profitability?

 

A.            Narcissism is growing throughout modern society, as technology helps us become more individualized and isolated in our work. While there’s many enjoyable aspects to this (playing with our tech toys, individual choice in so many areas of our lives, setting our own schedules, etc.), the down side is that we have less empathy for others and are becoming more self-absorbed – as a modern culture around the world. Some people have more extreme versions of narcissism which can become narcissistic personality disorder. Someone with such a disorder can really mess up a business, in terms of diverting attention away from the work of the business – or any organization – and financially costing the business in terms of low morale, endless in-fighting, time spent on complaints, firing people and hiring new people, and so forth. In fast-moving times, an organization that is absorbed in dealing with such internal conflicts loses its edge.

 

Q:           Can your book be beneficial for small businesses as well as large corporations? If so, how?

 

A.            Definitely! As I mentioned before, the problem is high-conflict personalities, not the position or the setting. In many ways, small businesses have more trouble with high-conflict people because they instinctively respond to them by trying to be nice and tolerant. This often delays addressing the problem and it can take over the whole organization. Large businesses are more likely to have procedures in place to address and isolate the problem behavior sooner, although they sometimes get bogged down as well.

 

Q:           How did this book differ from your books on legal disputes, particularly those on family law?

 

A.            In legal disputes, there are often two teams fighting each other – plaintiff and defendant, or in divorce Husband and Wife. There may be lawyers, witnesses, experts, etc. The goal is to get a legal decision, then the case is over. In most legal cases, the parties go their separate ways and never deal with each other again. In divorce cases, there are often children, but the parents can mostly avoid dealing with each other except at certain times. In the workplace, each individual is usually part of a team and needs to get along with other team members for months or years. A high-conflict person can disrupt a whole organization for months or years. The goal is to help them behave in a manner that is productive rather than disruptive. So our emphasis in this book was on trying to “manage” the person first, then only going separate ways if necessary.

 

Q:           What was the most surprising thing you learned in your research for this book?

 

A.            We looked for some high-profile examples of high-conflict people in management, so that there would be a lot of public information about how they functioned in the workplace. For example, we looked at Steve Jobs and Richard Nixon. They were CEOs who many people said were difficult and met the characteristics of high-conflict behavior. The surprising thing was the insight about how Steve Jobs surrounded himself with people who would argue with him and challenge his thinking – and had great success at developing the iPhone, iPad, and other devices. Whereas Richard Nixon surrounded himself with people who put up a wall around him to keep out conflicting ideas and feedback. Both were seen as “difficult” but Jobs was highly successful as the CEO of Apple, while Nixon isolated himself and destroyed an otherwise successful career as the CEO of the United States in the 1970’s. Our belief is that the people around a high-conflict person can manage them successfully – or not – by using the basic principles we explain in the book, at any level of the organization.

 

Q:           What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject that isn't so?

 

A.            Most people think that you can motivate high-conflict people by criticizing them and pointing out their self-defeating behavior. While this may work with an ordinary person, it makes things worse with high-conflict people. It basically starts a war with them that can go on for months or years.

 

Q:           What is the most important thing that people DON'T know about your subject, that they need to know?

 

A.            That most of high-conflict people’s behavior problems are unconscious – that they truly don’t see how they are ruining their own lives and relationships. It’s not a matter of insight. So people can deal with them better by looking at their future options and imposing consequences – in a manner that shows empathy and respect. Unfortunately, today most people at work tend to criticize a lot, but rarely give consequences. The opposite is what works best.

 

Q:           What was the hardest part of writing this book? And what did you enjoy most about writing this book?

 

A.            Finding time to write was the hardest part, because of so many competing demands – especially my travel schedule got so busy this year giving so many more trainings. Most enjoyable was collaborating with Georgi, as we both had similar backgrounds from working together in substance abuse treatment in the 1980s. We saw a lot of parallels that applied easily to the workplace and high-conflict behavior. And, after 25 years, it was surprisingly easy to think and collaborate on a project together again.

 

Read Part 2 with Georgi DiStefano 

 

It's All Your Fault at Work! Managing Narcissists and Other High-Conflict People at Work (January 2015).