Washington State Seminars (Part 1)

WSBA leg 11-4-13Last week I spoke to about 120 Legislative Aides for the Washington State House of Representatives for 3 hours and I spoke to the Washington State Bar Association for 6 hours. The topic, of course, was managing high-conflict people. As I explained to both groups, we are seeing an increase in high-conflict behavior in all aspects of modern society, including citizens and clients who seem to attack the people most trying to help them: government representatives, lawyers, police, counselors and other professionals. Being against the government and against lawyers seems popular these days in the media, and there are a lot of jokes and dramatic sweeping complaints about both occupations. However, what is entertaining for most adults is role-modeling for young people and those with mental illnesses. So nowadays, legislators and lawyers have to think about an increased level of risk from those in the public who may decide to personally attack them because of some grievance, which in their minds justify hatred and sometimes violence.

At the program for Legislative Aides, I listened to a presentation on security before my seminar. The head of security explained risk factors to watch out for, gave a history of various complainants and how they were handled, and explained security systems that are in place to protect everyone on the grounds of the state legislature. I thought it was sad that we have come to a point when some citizens cannot be trusted to be respectful and non-violent when they disagree with government officials. Yet this is today’s reality.

In my seminar, I emphasized positively engaging potentially high-conflict people in problem-solving activities, such as corresponding with emails that are BIFF responses: Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. (For more on this method, see the book BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People). Also, giving them choices and explaining the possible outcomes of those choices – so that they feel respected even in a conflict. I also emphasized the need for setting limits, as high-conflict people don’t stop themselves from their own aggressive behavior.

I explained that all of these methods can help, whether they are dealing with a citizen, a co-worker, an employee or boss, or a family member outside of work. This was the first time that I have spoken to legislative aides for a state government, although I have spoken many times at state judicial conferences for judges, appellate court justices and their staff, and to federal judges and federal agency administrators.

The issues today are not all that different and I imagine that more and more government personnel will be seeking information on tips for managing high-conflict citizens, co-workers – and even a few politicians!

I enjoyed my brief visit to Olympia, Washington State, and just caught the end of some beautiful autumn foliage surrounding their capitol building (see photo).

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Bill Eddy is an attorney, mediator and therapist, and the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speakers and trainers to professionals for managing personality disorders and “high-conflict people” in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare disputes and educational disputes. High Conflict Institute also provides resources for anyone dealing with a high-conflict person, including books, Video Training On Demand and dozens of free articles. For more information: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.