Two Weeks in Melbourne

I just finished spending the past two weeks in Melbourne, Australia. It was my fifth visit to Australia and my fourth year teaching at Monash University Law Chambers. I must say I loved teaching the students and experienced lawyers, judges and other professionals here. I did the intensive Managing High Conflict People in Legal Disputes in just three 8-hour days with 35 students – half law students and half practicing lawyers, mediators and judges (see photo). They had fun with the exercises, taking turns being high-conflict clients, then being their lawyers and then their mediators. I emphasized teaching clients new skills, to engage them more deeply in resolving their legal disputes. This included teaching clients BIFF Responses®, asking questions, making agendas and making proposals  - and responding with questions for each other and then saying “Yes, No or I’ll Think About It.” While these methods are very simple, it takes a lot of practice to resist the urge of professionals to jump in and tell their clients what they should do. When done effectively, they can feel the difference as clients and as lawyers, mediators and other professionals.

I also spent two days with members, mediators and staff of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (Victoria is the state of Australia that Melbourne is in). VCAT, as it’s known, deals with a wide variety of disputes and emphasizes trying to resolve them in mediation before going in front of a judge. While I taught the members and mediators of the tribunal our New Ways for Mediation structure and techniques, I taught the staff our methods for dealing with high-conflict clients and employees on a one-to-one basis. I taught our CARS Method®, which emphasizes all four of the following:

CONNECTING with Empathy, Attention and Respect


RESPONDING to misinformation and hostility – especially in writing

SETTING LIMITS on misbehavior

For more on this approach see our book:  It’s All Your Fault at Work

Monash Law Chambers also agreed to host a 2-day training on managing high-conflict people in the workplace and I had 19 very experienced professionals, including H.R., managers, workplace mediators and coaches, and another judge. This program emphasized coaching and methods for dealing with employees and managers who are creating problems, but which the organization mostly wants to keep – because they are generally good employees but lack basic conflict resolution skills. I explained and trained them in our New Ways for Work coaching and workbook method. I encouraged them to consider using this approach as early as possible when an employee or manager appears to be headed for trouble.

This New Ways for Work approach may be especially useful Australia, because they have anti-bullying laws and employees have the right to ask for an investigation – which can take months, often leaves the work group in a state of tension and often doesn’t have a clear outcome. Also, some investigators here tell me that as many as 60% of the complaints may involve a complainant who is a high-conflict person themselves. In many of these cases, I believe that the workgroup and the individuals involved would be much better off to be diverted as soon as possible into 3 or more sessions of New Ways for Work Coaching, so that they can learn skills to succeed, rather than putting all the emphasis on their past behavior and what they did wrong. This whole future focus is a real paradigm shift that we are proposing for workplace problems. I credit my co-author, L. Georgi DiStefano, with coming up with the phrase “feed-forward” rather than feedback, as the best way to help employees and managers make improvements when past behavior has been less then desirable – but the organization still wants to keep the person, if they can manage themselves better.

I’d like to add that during my visit to Melbourne, I also spoke to four other groups for an hour each:

A free public lunch-time lecture about workplace problems hosted by Monash Law Chambers.

An overview of managing high-conflict clients to Victorian Barristers and judges.

A Webinar for the Queensland Law Society on managing high-conflict clients.

An internet radio Interview about our book It’s All Your Fault at Work with Tess Brook, a coach and mediator in Brisbane.

Overall, it was a great trip with wonderful people (with special thanks to the Monash staff), and I have already made arrangements to repeat the 3-day law course and the 2-day workplace training for professionals next September, 2016.

And now I’m off to Canada! Follow our High Conflict Institute Upcoming Events and free monthly newsletter to see where all of our HCI speakers will be speaking over the next couple months.

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.