Is there a high conflict person in your life that seems to flip pleasant moments or situations into turmoil and drama consistently?
Constant disruptive behavior from people in your workplace or family can really feel disheartening when it happens often. Maybe it’s someone you love and care for deeply, such as your partner/spouse or teenager. But sometimes these conflicts come about by a person you don’t love, but they are in your life, and you can’t avoid them. These can be your co-parent that you share children with or people at work. Long before I chose to dedicate my career to counseling families, I too had many experiences with individuals that just seemed to make everything harder than it needed to be. And back then, I didn’t have tools like these to use.
There are actually simple things you can do to minimize the impact of a person who feels high conflict to you. And no, it’s not by changing the other person. The only thing we can change is ourselves with practice. Navigating high conflict situations does get easier and actually gives you more power over your life.
How To Identify & Deal With High Conflict People In Your Workplace Or Family
Most of us don’t like conflict in our lives and want to choose peace whenever possible. But we often try to defend ourselves with high conflict people, and it doesn’t usually work. After all, you are a good, kind, and loving person, and you deserve to be treated with respect.
The good news is that you can navigate your relationships with high conflict people much more easily than you may know. And it’s not about sitting down to reach a compromise because high conflict people don’t tend to compromise. Instead, it’s about what you can do to plan for and minimize conflict when you see it coming. After all, you don’t want unnecessary drama living rent-free in your head. You’ve got a life to live, and I want you to enjoy it!
What’s The Deal With High Conflict People In Your Workplace?
Believe it or not, most high conflict people you may be dealing with aren’t bringing conflict into their lives because they want to. On the contrary, they find themselves creating conflict because they do not know how to communicate in a healthy manner. Their behavior is often related to getting the empathy, attention, and respect they crave. There’s a myriad of reasons why someone might be a revolving door of conflict. But we’re not here to get to the root of why someone is always picking fights. Instead, I want to help YOU learn to navigate these situations better to regain power in your life.
While it is true that anyone can be a high conflict person in certain situations, some people in our lives seem to be in high conflict a majority of the time. These high conflict people in your life have not yet found the tools to channel their emotions when they are triggered.
Do you have a high conflict person making your life more difficult? If you’d like to develop a plan, schedule a free 20-minute consultation with The Bridge Across.
1. Identify The Cycle Of Conflict
According to Bill Eddy of High Conflict Institute, conflict arises when someone senses they are in danger. This idea is that they feel in danger even though you may not have done anything to them to create the feeling. However, it can have a snowball effect.
Typically, a high conflict person brings out the fighting words after a Mistaken Assessment of Danger (MAD). Think of danger as feeling unsafe – they are mistaken, but they don’t know it. This leads to Behavior that is Aggressively Defensive (BAD) because they are feeling endangered (even if they are mistaken.) Then those who are on the receiving end tend to respond with Negative Feedback (NF).
In the past, I was given a lot of advice on how to deal with high conflict people. Unfortunately, that advice never really worked. Below are a few examples of advice that we are generally given when having to deal with conflict with another person. With a healthy person, the below ideas work. But with someone who is upset or who is high conflict, this is how it actually turned out.
- Put down boundaries.
- They just ignore my boundaries.
- Just tell them “no”.
- They get angrier and keep asking.
- Ignore them.
- They pursue more, not less.
- Speak up and show that you won’t be bullied.
- Things only get worse.
- Apologize and move on.
- Apologies are used against me.
- Be reasonable and compromise.
- They don’t want to compromise.
If the above suggestions do not work with the person you are dealing with, there is hope. Rather than continuing the cycle and trying things that aren’t working, I have some proven methods that you can start using today.
2. Find A Strategy To Break The Cycle
Circling back to what many high conflict people crave is empathy, attention, and respect or EAR as termed by Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute. This isn’t a battle royale of who can stand their ground the longest. Above all, it’s about finding peace for yourself. Do you need help devising a strategy that works for you and the high conflict person in your life? Contact The Bridge Across to get the tools you need to move on from the drama.
Stop Being Surprised By A Person’s Repetitive Behavior
First, stop being surprised by their behavior. A lot of times, this means lowering your expectations of them. We get upset because we have expectations about how they should behave, what they should do, what is fair, etc.
Second, minimize the drama they bring into your life by giving their high conflict side a silly nickname or phrase. “Uh oh, looks like Yosemite Sam just woke up!” Of course, this is for you and not to share with the high conflict individual.
Third, limit the time you spend talking to or thinking about this person – such as 5 or 10 minutes – and then move on. This may sound harsh, but again you don’t want them to hook you in to their emotional upset.
Identify Patterns That Bring About Conflict
Being aware of conflict-related topics can save you a lot of grief. When thinking about the high conflict person in your life, ask yourself these questions:
- Is there a certain topic that always lends itself to fights?
- Does the conflict arise in person or only by email or texts?
- Is there a certain time of day or night that you see the most conflict?
- Does the conflict only occur in a certain context?
- Are there any exceptions to the above questions?
Consider your answers to these questions. Is there an obvious pattern? There is almost always a pattern, if you take the time to think about it or track it. I once had a client whose adult stepdaughter would almost always start fights through text messages. Trying to be the mature one, my client would always respond to her stepdaughter as quickly as she could. But that wasn’t working, and the conflict only continued.
One day, my client received a text and simply responded, “We’re in the car; I’ll respond when we’re home.” When she got home, then she and her husband discussed how they wanted to respond. With a well-thought-out message, they would email a response without an escalation resulting by their daughter. Moving forward, she chose not to fight with her stepdaughter via text message. If there seemed to be a misunderstanding, then they would talk over the phone. The conflict finally fizzled out.
Arm Yourself With A Plan
Lastly, create a plan to conquer your reactions. Start with a go-to self-soothing exercise for yourself. This could be going for a walk, reading a book, or practicing deep breathing. Give yourself time to catch your breath and create a response in advance.
Then, memorize a few empathetic responses for your high conflict individuals. No, I’m not talking about saying, “I’m sorry”. This doesn’t usually help with high conflict people anyway. I would suggest that you say something like, “I hate it that you are upset about this” or “I can see that this is upsetting for you”. If negative feedback continues the cycle, then empathy can go a long way. No one likes to be told to calm down, ever. If that’s a common go-to phrase for when someone is showcasing their BAD behavior, do yourself a favor and drop it from your toolbox.
Despite how you may feel about the situation, their feelings are still real. So validate them by telling them you understand they are upset and want to help them find a solution or you can see that they are upset and respect their feelings.
Additionally, if your high conflict person feels left out or isolated, it may be easier to show respect by contacting them regularly but for a short period of time. A simple 5-minute phone call once a week can work wonders with in-laws, adult children, or anyone that you want to have a relationship with but struggle. You will have to experiment with what works and what doesn’t. If you can see it as an experiment, it will be easier to find out what works. Once you find out, it usually will always work.
3. Promote Your Well Being
Are you wondering, “Jayna, why is everything about changes I can make? The high conflict person is the one who needs change!”
You are exactly right. But these changes are about improving your life. Forcing another person to change is impossible. However, you can make changes that will make things easier for you.
So for your sake and theirs, learn how to focus on what you can do instead of focusing on what they should do. Imagine you have two brains, your thinking brain, and your feeling brain. Your thinking brain only works when the feeling brain is calm. When the feeling brain escalates, the thinking brain shuts down. Now, let your thinking brain communicate with your feeling brain. When in the midst of conflict, remind yourself:
“Everything is just fine.”
“I can do this.”
“I can manage this issue.”
Keep your window of tolerance in mind. You should have the ability to feel and think at the same time. If you’ve crossed that threshold, it’s time for a self-care break to get you back to yourself.
Ready To Take Action And Take Your Life Back?
Congratulations on taking the first step towards a brighter future. Even considering taking steps to de-escalate conflict means you are moving in the right direction.
As a licensed provider for New Ways for Families,I have studied and practiced proven techniques for dealing with high conflict people. You can find peace – even with the person who you begrudgingly have to deal with, anywhere. The Bridge Across specializes in helping people struggling with high conflict people in their lives. A happy and loving family/healthy workplace is possible, and many clients see real results after just one session. If you are ready to move forward in your personal and work life, schedule a free consultation today.