2-Day High-Conflict Training in El Paso

El Paso Aug 2014On August 5-6 I gave a training to approximately 70 department supervisors, lawyers and Human Resource professionals for the County of El Paso, Texas. The focus was on dealing with consumers as well as employees and others who may demonstrate high-conflict behaviors or personalities. Day One was primarily my presentation, explaining five high-conflict personalities that are increasingly common in today’s society and some of the brain research about how we might manage them more effectively. A key message throughout the training was the concept that the right hemisphere of the brain is where some of our strongest negative emotions and reactions are, while the left hemisphere of the brain tends to focus more on problem solving – with use of language, planning, analyzing and looking at details. Under stress, the right brain tends to take over and to have more “all-or-nothing” thinking, more intense negative emotions and drives more extreme behavior.

I presented what we (High Conflict Institute) call the C.A.R.S. Method for managing high-conflict situations:

  • CONNECTING with Empathy, Attention and Respect (EAR Statements)
  • ANALYZING options and proposals
  • RESPONDING to hostility or misinformation
  • SETTING LIMITS on misbehavior

The idea is that in high-conflict situations, we have to calm the right brain and then engage the left brain in problem-solving. If you just focus on problem-solving, a high-conflict person (HCP) will often become even more upset. So calming them with EAR Statements can really make a difference in whether you can even get to problem-solving.

I demonstrated all of this with my “extra brain” – a plastic brain I brought with me which can be separated in the middle into the left and right hemispheres. People at the training got used to seeing me holding the right brain up high while the left brain was tilted to show it being inactive. This demonstrated a very upset person being overwhelmed with right brain over-active and the left brain inactive. Then, after giving EAR Statements, I would bring down the right brain and the left brain would become engaged and active in problem-solving.

I find this visual image very helpful when I am involved in a conflict situation and I see someone suddenly escalate into anger and blame. I just picture helping them calm down and shifting over to their problem-solving skills.

Day Two of this training gave them an opportunity for practice exercises, because the C.A.R.S. Method is often the opposite of what people feel like doing. It takes repetition to get used to giving EAR statements when you really feel like strangling the person. Yet, EAR Statements really work to calm people down in over 90% of situations, from my experience and the feedback I have received over the past 8-9 years that we have been teaching this method to professionals – and ordinary people too.

Day Two focused on practice exercises in small groups, and included BIFF Responses: writing emails that are Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. For County managers, lawyers and HR professionals, this approach can be very handy for keeping things from getting angry or long-winded. A BIFF Response helps avoid unnecessary escalation of a dispute in writing.  I enjoyed teaching them how to coach each other in writing BIFF Responses and they enjoyed writing nasty comments – which they then revised after being “coached.” We all agreed that it can be a lot of fun role-playing being a high-conflict person. On the other hand, I think they were seriously planning to use many of these new skills in managing potentially high-conflict situations – as well as with ordinary people.

One of the general conclusions of the two days was that it is so important nowadays to engage employees and consumers in solving problems, rather than just trying to dictate to them what should be done – whether or not they are dealing with a high-conflict person. As a trainer, it was very gratifying to see them using this general “engagement” approach more and more frequently in our exercises.

I think that the County of El Paso was very forward-thinking to ask for and receive this training. While they seem to be doing quite well at this time, I have read that El Paso is one of the ten fastest-growing cities in the U.S. because of its affordable housing, employment opportunities, wide-open spaces, sense of safety for children and well-managed government. I look forward to working with them again in the future.

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Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and a regular speaker and trainer in managing high-conflict situations and personalities. He is also the author of BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People (2nd Edition released in September) and a new book So, What’s Your Proposal (also available in September). High Conflict Institute has several speakers and trainers, as well as numerous methods and resources for resolving high-conflict situations. For more information, see the following websites: www.HighConflictInstitute.com; www.NewWays4Families.com and www.BIFFResponse.com.