Are you negotiating a 'High Conflict' personality?

I am going to call this man a legend, because in my eyes (and hopefully yours) he is. This newsletter is golden, so I suggest you pour yourself a cuppa, find a quiet corner, and prepare to be blown away! 

On this week’s episode of The Divorce and Separation Hub podcast, I had the pleasure of chatting with Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq, founder of the ‘High Conflict Institute’, who developed the high conflict personality theory to explain the driving forces behind people who present the most challenging behaviours.

He is an expert on managing disputes involving high conflict situations and 5 high conflict personality types, including a subset of those with narcissistic, borderline, antisocial, histrionic, and paranoid personality disorders.

As an attorney, Bill was a Certified Family Law Specialist in California and the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Centre in San Diego. Prior to becoming an attorney in 1992, he was a Licensed Clinical Social worker with twelve years’ experience providing therapy to children, adults, couples and families in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics. 

Bill has a popular blog on the Psychology Today website with over 3.5 million views, and is the author and co-author of twenty books on high conflict personalities, including two award winners, including, ‘BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns’ and ‘SPLITTING: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder’

“You cannot play the High Conflict game and win” says Bill. 

It can be difficult to admit it, but there’s ultimately no way to resolve a ‘High Conflict’ situation with logic or persuasion. You will experience chaos, stress and confusion, while the High Conflict Individual will simply play out their life patterns. Others have tried to change them, without success, leaving a trail of frustration and disappointment. 


So, what is the definition of a ‘High Conflict’ person? 

High conflict people (HCPs) have a pattern of high-conflict behaviour that increases conflict rather than reducing or resolving it. This pattern usually happens over and over again in many different situations with many different people. The issue that seemed in conflict at the time is not what is increasing the conflict. The “issue” is the high-conflict personality and how the person approaches problem-solving. With HCPs, the pattern of behaviour includes a lot of:

However, let’s be clear. We are not talking about a diagnosis, we are talking about a behavioural pattern. 

In a high conflict scenario, we see our spouse exhibit bad behaviour, which can be a natural response. Our instinct is to change this behaviour, but as Bill says, “it’s not the way we should approach it”. 

How do you change behaviour – the ‘forget about it’ approach – Fugetaboutit


1//:FUGETABOUT giving the parties insights into their own behaviour: High conflict people are stuck in a self-defeating pattern of blame and denial that prevents them from seeing their part in their problems and conflicts. They are preoccupied with blaming others and avoiding responsibility.

2//: FUGETABOUT focusing on the past. High conflict people are stuck in the past, defending their past behaviour as justified and attacking the “very bad” behaviour of others. They are preoccupied with talking about how badly people have treated them and their efforts to recruit negative advocates to agree with them and help them attack those bad people (who are often those closest to them or used to be).

3//: FUGETABOUT  about emotional confrontations or discussions of emotions. High conflict people don’t go through the normal grieving and emotional healing process the way that most people do. Instead, they carry around a feeling of being helpless, vulnerable, weak and like a victim-in-life.

4//: FUGETABOUT telling them they have a ‘high conflict’ personality. Out of frustration, professionals occasionally tell their clients that they have high conflict personalities or personality disorders. Sometimes they give this as a reason why they want to stop working with certain clients.

Then comes BIFF! 


BIFF methods theory is a method of writing with email and text. Brief, informative, friendly and firm, The BIFF Response method will help you respond to hostile emails, texts and other communications and make you feel good doing it! Most people have a hard time responding to personal attacks in emails, texts and other communication because it puts them in react mode instead of respond mode. 

The most important thing to remember is: it’s not about you! 

BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm and can be used by anyone, in any situation, but it does take practice. 

Could you respond to an email in a way that would stop or contain the hostility?

In this podcast you can learn how! 

And finally, (because we love a good acronym when it comes to communication techniques), there is ‘EAR’

What’s an ‘EAR’ Statement?

As Bill says, “Essentially, an EAR Statement includes words and body language that show empathy, attention and/or respect for the listener. Ideally, these are done in-person or over the phone, but they can be put in writing as well”.

Here are some helpful ‘EAR methods:

Empathy: (equals caring) I can see your frustration, or I hear that this is not the way I hoped it would go. I understand and share your concerns. 

Attention: Tell me more. I want to understand your concern.

Respect: I respect your relationship with our child. I respect your commitment to this problem. I respect your words. 

From parenting, to coaching, to leadership, using a simple EAR Statement can usually calm an upset person enough to talk about solving a problem or help an upset person feel better. You can use it when setting limits on misbehaviour or a difficult conversation.

Knowing that Bill is a ‘resolution magnet’, a few weeks ago, I called for questions from the D+SH community. Here are a couple that I knew you’d love to hear Bill’s response to.

Listen in as Bill shares, ‘how do you deal with a narcissistic person, when using the family court system as a weapon?, and, ‘how do you deal with parental alienation?’

Honestly, you’re going to love it. 

As always, I am here. 

Nikki x

Comments are closed.