From New Orleans to Calgary and Beyond (Part 2)
Next stop last month was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where I spoke to Academic Advisors for the Drexel University School of Nursing and Other Health Sciences. They found us through my book BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, which they found very helpful in their work with high-conflict students (and parents). We discussed how students today have higher expectations, but many have fewer personal conflict resolution skills. An added factor today is how involved students’ parents are in their academic decisions. If a student is doing poorly academically or socially, it is very common for administrators to hear from the parents – especially if they have to make difficult decisions about the student’s future at the school. I gave them similar tools as I have described above, but with an emphasis on focusing students (and their parents) on their choices and the consequences of their choices. A reality of dealing with high-conflict people is that they do not like to do what they are told, and often resist or attack those who they perceive as bossing them around. Therefore, it is much more effective to point out their choices, educate them about the consequence of each choice, and then to say: “It’s up to you.” This encourages them to use their more problem-solving brain, rather than just reacting defensively, as well as to take responsibility for their own decisions rather than blaming others. It was fun to be back in Philadelphia, where I grew up, and to see how much Drexel has grown over the years. They are now a highly respected university, at the forefront with many advances in health sciences.
Last, but not least, I spoke in Columbus, Ohio, to family law judges. I emphasized courtroom management of high-conflict litigants, as well as tips for dealing with HCPs in alienation and relocation cases. I pointed out how family law judges are really dealing with a very different population from 20 years ago when I first started practicing family law. Today’s cases in court are not those seeking guidance on what the standards should be for child support, property division, etc. – those standards have been established over the past several decades. Today’s cases are mostly high-conflict families fighting over control of the children. It’s not obvious whether one or the other or both parents has a serious problem, but domestic violence, child abuse, alienation and other issues are the focus on attention.
One of the points I emphasized to the judges is that I strongly discourage “no contact” orders while allegations are being investigated in these cases, because sometimes the more disturbed parent is the one making the allegations – a concept known as “projection” in the mental health field. Children can be protected by having a professional supervisor or monitor present, rather than having no contact, and such a supervisor can report to the court what was observed with the supervised parent. Many cases I have been involved in were quickly cleared up by having such observations early in the case, rather than after several months of no contact. It helps to really see what goes on between parent and child – with the safety of a visitation monitor – and severely disrupting parent-child attachments unnecessarily can create more problems than it solves. These judges have a very difficult job today.
Overall, I was pleased to spend the past month meeting so many people dedicated to helping children – and their parents – avoid high conflict situations in so many different settings. Now, I hope to catch up on sleep in one time zone for a few weeks!
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, mediator, therapist and the President of the High Conflict Institute based in San Diego. He is the developer of the New Ways for Families method and the New Ways for Mediation method, as well as the author of several books including The Future of Family Court and It’s All Your Fault: 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything. This year he is working on materials for the New Ways for Work method of coaching potentially high-conflict employees – or anyone – to use the same “new ways” skills for greater success in the workplace. For books, video training and free articles, visit us at www.HighConflictInstitute.com.