One of the most frequent questions we hear in workplace conflicts, in counseling and in mediation, is why doesn’t the other person ‘get it’? Clients often bitterly complain that despite the clearest of circumstances, the other person appears to have no idea how difficult or harmful or counterproductive they are being. Often our clients shake their heads in disbelief and wonder why this seemingly intelligent and productive person can’t see their own behavior or role in conflict.
Unfortunately, the other party frequently has what we term a “high conflict personality.” One of the major characteristics of a high conflict personality is the inability or reduced ability to self-reflect and change, which we also see in the characteristics of a personality disorder.
Counselors will tell you that during a counseling session that most people lay out the problem and explain the various players. However, before the hour is over most healthy people begin to reflect on their part of the conflict. They might say “I should have done this or I could have said that.” They begin to take some responsibility for their contribution to the conflict. However, HCPs generally do not “self-reflect”. They generally take no responsibility for the problem. “It’s all your fault” they think. They do not see their contribution to the problem because they cannot consider and reflect upon their own behavior. The more you try to get them to see it, the more escalated the problem will become.
We can instead help them by focusing on the future — a feed forward conversation. Ask the other party to make a proposal or offer one you, and avoid discussing what has already occurred as much as possible because it will only escalate the conflict.
What to do? Take the RAD approach:
R Recognize that you may be dealing with an HCP. This means that they have little ability to self-reflect or take responsibility. You don’t have to be certain – you can use these tools with anyone.
A Adapt your responses accordingly. Give up trying to get them to see the issue as you do. Avoid direct criticism or anger. Try to focus on the future.
D Deliver a CARS response: Connecting, Analyzing, Responding and Setting Limits. Utilizing the CARS method, work with the individual to obtain a mutually agreeable solution. This will require that you do not to take the issue personally and do not escalate your own emotions. The key is to focus on managing the relationship in a productive way.
Georgi DiStefano is an Employee Assistance Professional (EAP) and licensed therapist. She is a workplace conflict resolution trainer and has an extensive background in addiction treatment.
Bill Eddy is an LCSW, family lawyer and mediator, and the President of the High Conflict Institute. He regularly provides training to mediators, lawyers, counselors and others regarding high-conflict personalities.
Read more about the RAD approach in their book, It’s All Your Fault at Work: Managing Narcissists and Other High-Conflict People (Unhooked Books, 2015).