Seminars in London and Greece
© 2017 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
I just spent a week giving four days of seminars in London and then a full day in Thessaloniki, Greece. Both trainings were hosted by ADR-ODR International, a new mediation and training organization in Europe and beyond. (See photos of the group in Greece and some of the organizers for ADR-ODR International.)
What a wonderful time with wonderful people! Many were mediators or new to mediation. Some were lawyers, including the heads of the Bar Associations of two cities in Greece! Some were managers and others were Human Resource professionals. Several were students at a university in Greece where my lecture was held. They were very interested in learning our skills for managing high conflict personalities in mediation, at work and in families—essentially for any setting.
I was surprised in London at how many of the participants had read one or more of my books. In some ways that made it easier, but in other ways they had very nuanced questions and challenges from time to time. All of it led to refinements of my PowerPoint slides, especially making clearer than ever before what you SHOULD NOT DO with high conflict people, as well as what seems to work. Here are five of the key lessons of what not to do, which I have said briefly in the past but now realize I need to emphasize:
Don’t try to give high conflict people (HCPs) insight or feedback into their self-sabotaging behavior. While this is very hard to resist at first, it will save you a lot of trouble and make it easier to work together. This is because they become very defensive when it is implied that they have been doing something wrong.
Don’t focus on the past. No matter how innocent, bringing up the past also triggers defensiveness for HCPs. Just don’t go there focus on the future and the choices they have now.
Don’t engage in emotional confrontations. Of course, angry confrontations send HCPs into pure defensiveness and resistance to change. But many of them also can’t manage their emotions, so that when you trigger their emotions nothing else can happen. This includes simply telling HCPs that you are frustrated with them or that they bring you to tears or give you a sense of helplessness. These emotional triggers will shut down any productive work you are trying to get done and any useful conversation you are trying to have.
Don’t ask them how they feel. For the same reasons described above, opening up the feelings of HCPs usually puts them in touch with a lot of unresolved pain and anger. HCPs chronically feel helpless, vulnerable, weak and like a victim-in-life. They have taken this position in many or all of their relationships. Therefore, if you ask them how they feel, they HAVE TO tell you that they feel awful—especially in the middle of difficult conversations, negotiations or mediations.
Don’t tell them that you think they are HCPs, or have a personality disorder, or are a difficult person. While it might make you feel better to say this to them (especially if you are feeling frustrated, which most of us do with HCPs from time to time), it will trigger so much defensiveness that you will soon regret it.
All of these fit within the concept of “feed forward, not feedback” which L. Georgi DiStefano, LCSW, and I explained in our increasingly-popular book It’s All Your Fault at Work. These principles of what NOT TO DO were just the beginning of what I taught in London (a city over one thousand years old) and Thessaloniki (a city over two thousand years old). While there I got to be a tourist and enjoyed learning lots of history. It makes the United States look very young. Of course, after explaining that HCPs were often impulsive, had all-or-nothing thinking and could be very self-centered people, I was asked about our new President (who had just impulsively fired James Comey, head of the FBI, while I was in London). While I didn’t give a diagnosis, they found new understandings of HCPs to be very helpful in understanding today’s politics.
I look forward to future collaborations with organizations in Europe, including ADR-ODR International. And if you want to know what TO DO instead of what NOT TO DO, come to one of our High Conflict Institute seminars. We have speakers ready to go anywhere in the world.
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.