Minnesota Family Law Institute

Last week, on March 19th, I spoke at the annual

Minnesota CLE Family Law Institute in St. Paul, MN. It was a huge gathering of about 700 family lawyers, with interests from mediation to collaborative law to cooperative law to litigation. The issue of dealing with difficult clients and cases was a popular one, with several workshops addressing this topic.

I focused on Understanding and Managing 5 “High Conflict Personality Disorders.” I have come to emphasize three characteristics of all personality disorders which lead some of them to become “high conflict people.” The three traits include:

1) A lack of self-awareness of how they affect others and how their own behavior creates or exacerbates their own problems. They truly do not see their part in the problem. This means that efforts to “get them to see what they’re doing” or to “try to make them understand” their self-defeating behavior will get you nowhere. The word I’m teaching these days for this lack of self-awareness is “forgetaboudit!” Most professionals waste 50-80% of their time on trying to make people with these disorders “see” or “understand.” If those words come up in your mind, you need to “forgetaboudit!” You’ll be less stressed from trying to make them do something you can’t. And they’ll be less stressed by not having to defend themselves from your best intentions that really feel like criticisms and personal attacks to them.

2) A lack of behavior change. This is related to their lack of self-awareness, but often accompanied by threats if they don’t change (like “I’ll fire you as a client,” etc.) Threats don’t work well with high-conflict personality disorders, as they become more defensive, not less, and therefore tend to act worse instead of better. They may become more aggressive toward you, or passive aggressive in terms of not paying fees or not returning phone calls or mail when you need something from them.

3) Externalizing responsibility. This means that they truly believe that forces outside of themselves cause their many problems. For many people with personality disorders, this belief or blame is not focused on any one person or other cause, but generally, such as the universe or “the government.” But some of them do focus on one person or group, and attack that person or group (their “target of blame”) verbally, financially, legally (like bringing one lawsuit after another), or even violently (like domestic violence). These are the people who I think of as having “high conflict personality disorders,” because they focus on a specific target of blame. We see a lot of this in family court, yet few people realize what’s going on.

I explained the above in terms of 5 personality disorders: narcissistic, borderline, paranoid, antisocial and histrionic. Only the people with a target of blame do I consider to be high conflict people (HCPs), such as narcissistic HCPs, borderline HCPs, etc. Then I gave four key tips for dealing with them in the practice of family law, with too many details to go into here.

During my last hour, I focused on presenting the New Ways for Families method. I explained that we now have New Ways available in 3 Models:

Court/counseling model: This is the full method, with 6 counseling sessions using the Parent Workbook for each parent, then 3 Parent-Child sessions with a Parent-Child Counselor. The goal is to help parents learn and practice new skills with their counselors for conflict resolution: flexible thinking, managed emotions, moderate behaviors and checking themselves. If they can’t reach full agreement on their parenting decisions, then they go to court and tell the judge what they have learned before the judge hears their complaints about each other. It shifts responsibility onto each parent to work on themselves before blaming each other.

Collaborative Divorce model: In this method, there are 3 coaching sessions for each parent, followed by the 3 Parent-Child sessions similar to that described above. All professionals on the team reinforce the same 4 skills whenever decisions are discussed.

Decision Skills Class model: This is our newest model and the Decision Skills Workbook and Instructor’s Manual should be ready by May for those who want to use this class model within an existing parenting class or as a free-standing class. It is not designed to be a substitute for a parenting class, but more specifically focused on decision-making skills.

I also mentioned that we are considering developing a “Pre-Decision Coaching” Workbook and Manual for professionals to use with clients – such as lawyers, counselors and mediators – which they could use for 1-2 hours to prepare a client(s) before a decision-making session, such as in mediation. Several lawyers were interested. If you’re a professional and would be interested in such materials, let us know.

It was a high-energy group and I look forward to future training opportunities with them!



About Bill Eddy Bill Eddy, L.C.S.W., J.D. is a family law attorney, therapist and mediator, with over thirty years’ experience working with children and families. He is the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is also the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speakers, trainers and consultants on the subject of managing high-conflict people in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare and education. He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law and he teaches Psychology of Conflict at the Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law. He is the author of several books, including:

Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder

BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns

It’s All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything

For more information about Bill Eddy, please visit: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.