Why Tight Business Practices Are Critical to Avoid Lawsuits and Attacks by High-Conflict Personalities
Anyone who has launched a business (or practice) kicks it off with exuberance and dreams of freedom and unlimited potential. It starts with a great idea coupled with boundless enthusiasm about the future. We put in the effort to develop protocols, policies and procedures so we can have an efficiently run business and off we go to fulfill our life's purpose.
But it doesn't take long for business to become overwhelming. Things start slipping through the cracks. A year goes by, then another. We forget a mandatory filing, miss the deadline for updating our professional license, etc. In the digital age, the burden of updating websites and related social media sites adds another responsibility that's often neglected. We're busy with the busy part of business and fail to keep on top of the business part of business.
We get by with it most of the time. Under normal circumstances, the result may be payment of a fine, a probation period, or something similar. We usually can easily remedy these situations with little or no damage....until that day when the process server knocks at your door and hands you a notice that you're being sued. After your blood pressure settles down and you read through the suit, and read it again, you first realize that whatever you have (or haven't) done is pretty minor--something that most people would never sue over. Then you read it again and realize that you've left a crack for someone to sneak in and create chaos in your business and in your life. Who is this someone? Chances are it's someone with a high-conflict personality. How can you tell? And why does it matter?
How can you tell if someone has a high-conflict personality (HCP)?
Of course there's a place and need for lawsuits and complaints, but most people, approximately 80-85% of them, will either ignore the problem or try working it out through a conversation, an email or letter, or even through a mediator. They give you a chance to right the wrong and make a correction.
The high-conflict personality skips those steps and instead go straight for the jugular. And they'll usually find a lawyer to match their personality. One that will be aggressive like a pit bull.
A typical lawsuit by an HCP has some or all of these characteristics. They:
- won't compromise
- seek to punish and humiliate you
- have to win
- fabricate to make themselves look fabulous and you to look evil
- accuse you of being devious and deceitful
- file lengthy pleadings
- want something extravagant and outside the norm from you
There's no negotiation.
Why should you care?
You went in to business to fulfill your dreams, make a reasonable living and do what you love. All of that is compromised once you're involved in a legal battle with an HCP. It takes time, money, and mental and emotional energy. These are distractions from business and family. An HCP can keep you wrapped up for a lengthy period of time, leaving little time or energy to focus on your business life and your personal life.
What should you do to protect yourself from being sued by an HCP?
It comes down to risk management. Make the "business" part of your business as important as the every day part. Don't ignore it.
Schedule an annual well-business check (like a well woman check with your doctor). Make it an all day or all week event in which you start by making a list of everything you do in the business that is outside the normal course of everyday business. Then, once each year (or more often depending on your circumstances), go through the list to make sure that:
- insurance is up-to-date, and that you have the necessary coverages
- taxes (city, state, federal) are filed timely and paid
- employee policies are updated
- intellectual property rights/trademarks/copyrights/patents are protected
- corporation filings are up-to-date
- continuing education credits are submitted
- agreements/contracts have not expired
- websites are current
- forms are in compliance with current laws (particularly in medical field)
- records are filed properly
- licenses are properly renewed
- if you don't have employee policies or solid business contracts in places, don't delay (contracts are golden)
Keeping up with everything on this list reduces your risk of being sued, although some HCPs sue over nothing, so even the tightest business practices aren't a guarantee. But the goal is to reduce your risk to the extent possible. Remember, they're driven by a fear-based operating system (fear of being abandoned/ignored/dominated/inferior) that is outside the norm (read more in High Conflict People in Legal Disputes by Bill Eddy, 2016). They need to feel good again--free of anxiety and the only way they know to get there is to blame someone. Don't let it be you.
MEGAN HUNTER, MBA, is CEO of Unhooked Media and publisher of High Conflict Press and its imprint, Unhooked Books. She speaks on high-conflict relationships and is the author of Bait & Switch: Saving Your Relationship After Incredible Romance Turns Into Exhausting Chaos and co-author of the forthcoming Dating Radar: Why Your Brain Say Yes to People Who Will Make Your Life Hell (Summer 2017).