How to deal with high-conflict people

How do you spot a ‘high-conflict person’?

In this video, Bill Eddy, mediation expert and president of the High Conflict Institute, identifies four characteristics of ‘high-conflict people’:

  1. a preoccupation with blaming other people — it’s 100% your fault and 0% my fault;
  2. all or nothing thinking — there are only good people and bad people in the world;
  3. unmanaged emotions — people who start shouting, crying or storm out of a room;
  4. extreme behaviours that 90% of people wouldn’t engage in.
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Do you see yourself in this?

When I’m in conflict with someone, I’m usually doing the first one. I think I’m 100% right and it hasn’t entered my mind that any part of the situation is being caused my me.

It tends to happen when I’m feeling something uncomfortable — shame, guilt, sadness, embarrassment or frustration, and rather than taking responsibility for how I’m feeling, my default can be to find someone to pass my emotion on to.

My business partner calls this the blame ‘relay’. In a work context, the negative emotion gets passed down the chain of command, and can often be taken home and released onto the family.

My clients often tell me they want to learn how to not take their frustrations out on their loved ones.

How to deal with high-conflict people

Eddy’s advice is to try not to argue with a ‘high-conflict person’ and, ideally, to avoid them completely. Of course, that’s not always possible if they’re your boss, someone you manage or a member of your family!

I have been around someone at work before who seemed to constantly want to be starting arguments with people. He would make a provocative comment, for example, about people on benefits, in the hope that someone would ‘bite’.

It is hard not to react though, especially when the person directs their provocation at you. To not take it personally can be very tricky indeed.

Your responsibility in the situation

What helped me with this difficult person was to meditate on wishing for him to be happy. Very quickly, I was able to see things more from his perspective. I could see that he wanted to be happy, he just didn’t have a very successful strategy for it. Perhaps he wanted attention and/or wasn’t able to handle his emotions, as Eddy suggests.

Someone said to me recently that you only have control of two things: how you act and how you react. You can’t control how other people act or feel.

Once you acknowledge that, it can be a kind of liberation, because it’s fruitless hard work trying to change other people, whereas changing yourself is within your control.

Learning to meditate will help you calm your emotions. I’ve had several clients now who’ve gone from expressing anger at people several times a day, to hardly at all.

The particular meditation I recommend is this one on well-wishing. It’s a very powerful way to see things from other people’s perspectives, as well as focusing on your own desire to be happy.

If you would like support in dealing with a high-conflict person, you can book a free one-hour phone consultation here.

My work is all about love. Loving yourself, loving other people and loving the earth. I do that through writing, podcasting, coaching, running workshops.

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