Teaching Monash Law Students in Australia
Last week I had the pleasure of teaching 30 law students and professionals at Monash University Law Chambers in Melbourne, Australia. (Pronounced “Melbin” here.) It was a particularly interactive class, with many questions and ideas throughout the 3-day course. I must admit that I get energy from teaching this class on “Managing High Conflict Personalities in Legal Disputes,” so the fact that it was three 8-hour days teaching on my feet was not a problem.
One of the hottest topics was the apparent increase in personality disorders in society – everywhere. We discussed the increase in narcissism among all age groups, but particularly among their peers in their 20’s and early 30’s. Why? The self-esteem movement since the 1970’s has been teaching parents and school teachers to give children good self-esteem. But this has to be earned, not given.
Why starting in the 1970’s? The sexual revolution kicked off by birth control pills in the 1960’s made it possible to have smaller families, with only one or two children. Thus, the 1-2 children got to be doted on and told they were “special” in ways that families didn’t treat their children prior to 50 years ago. Also, in addition to that, all generations now alive are becoming more individualistic and self-centered with the ability to live alone and play with electronic toys much of the time – even when we are around other people.
What to Do?
We discussed warning signs for personality disorders or “high-conflict” personalities. There’s a lot of overlap between the two, but not everyone who is high-conflict has a personality disorder and not everyone with a personality disorder is high-conflict.
I suggested that in terms of dating or hiring that some key warning signs are “being charming” and “being too good to be true.” Isn’t it a shame that we have to watch out for people who are too good! But this knowledge will help many people avoid getting into bad relationships with people who may not show their high-conflict “side” until 6-12 months into a relationship. That’s why I tell people dating that they should wait at least a year before making a major commitment, like getting married or having kids. But also, I wish that employers could keep employees on probation for a year, before they get embedded in a job and then their high-conflict behavior comes out.
The C.A.R.S. Method
I taught them the importance of using the CARS Method with High Conflict People (HCPs). They particularly liked “Connecting with EAR Statements” for dealing with HCPs. While this seems like the opposite of what you feel like doing, this approach can help in almost any setting and can be used whether or not someone has a high-conflict personality. Of course, we also discussed the importance of Analyzing options, Responding to hostility or misinformation with BIFF Responses (see new Second Edition of BIFF available at UnhookedBooks.com), and Setting Limits on misbehavior. (C.A.R.S.)
One of the differences between Australia and the United States (and some other countries, such as Sweden), is that they have laws on the books against Bullying in the Workplace. This is good, in terms of Setting Limits – something which HCPs usually don’t do themselves. They need limits and consequences, because they don’t think ahead about their behavior. They are consumed in the moment with proving something (such as “I’m very superior” – for Narcissistic personalities) or avoiding something (such as “Don’t abandon me” – for Borderline personalities). So they aren’t usually thinking about the consequences.
Now, with their anti-bullying laws, individuals and upper managers can be penalized and fined personally for bullying or allowing a bullying environment to exist. There are strong consequences, so maybe people will hold back on their bullying behavior. But we discussed the down side of these laws, in that possibly up to 40% of complaints may be brought by HCPs themselves! They may consciously (most likely antisocial personalities) or unconsciously claim that they are a victim in a situation, when in fact they are the perpetrator. By bringing a claim against another employee, a worker may protect himself from being accused of being a bully. So it’s clearly a system that needs to sort out the bullies from the true victims. We addressed much, much more in this 3-day intensive class. But overall, I found it to be a very stimulating and sharp group of students. I also became convinced that every law school should teach this course. Future lawyers need to know how to protect themselves from hostility and false claims, as well as protecting their clients from the misbehavior of high-conflict people. I look forward to teaching this course at Pepperdine University School of Law in October – and to returning to Monash University again in a year or two.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, mediator and the President of the High Conflict Institute, based in San Diego. He is the author of two books, just out this September: 1) The Second Edition of BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People, Their Hostile Email, Their Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns. 2) SO, WHAT’S YOUR PROPOSAL? Shifting High-Conflict People from Blaming to Problem-Solving in 30 Seconds. Both are available on our website, on the Books & Products page. For more information about High Conflict Institute’s seminars, books and other resources, see: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.