High Conflict Personalities and the Financial Neutral, Part 1



Nancy A Hetrick

High Conflict Personalities or HCPs, are defined by the High Conflict Institute and Bill Eddy as “people that pick a Target of Blame and assault that person verbally, physically, financially, etc. High Conflict People promote high conflict divorces, lawsuits, and complaints against co-workers, neighbors, friends and family. They sue professionals, gather negative advocates, cost employers lots of time and money. High Conflict People convince everyone that it’s all your fault!”

If you’re not ready for these people when they show up in your office, it’s highly likely that not only will the case not settle but the HCP will ultimately blame you for the outcome. There are four basic characteristics of HCPs:

1.       Preoccupation with blaming others

2.       All or nothing thinking

3.       Unmanaged emotions

4.       Extreme Behaviors

These behaviors are so habitual that the HCP is in denial of their own behaviors. While those characteristics seem daunting, it’s not impossible to work with these people for favorable outcomes.

Logical, problem solving happens in the left brain so we can learn skills that will help our clients shift.”

Bill Eddy has written numerous books about working with these individuals successfully and his books are required reading for those in our field! I would suggest starting with “So, What’s Your Proposal, Shifting High-Conflict People from Blaming to Problem-Solving in 30 Seconds”. In this book, Mr. Eddy teaches a powerful but simple approach to help these individuals shift from stress to problem solving.

The four basic characteristics of HCPs result from their brain tendency to be locked in the right brain where “defensive reacting” happens or the amygdala or “reptilian brain” where fight, flight, or freeze happens.  Logical, problem solving happens in the left brain so we can learn skills that will help our clients shift.

“When an HCP starts to display the common traits that can derail negotiations, a simple response can get everything back on track.”

There is a treasure trove of resources and skills in his books but let me just share one simple one that I have found to be the most powerful. When an HCP starts to display the common traits that can derail negotiations, a simple response can get everything back on track. Simply ask, “So what would you propose?” This has a natural effect of calming them and getting them thinking in terms of problem solving. At first, the HCP will try to avoid answering to avoid responsibility and be able to focus on blaming others. Don’t let that dissuade you. Keep coming back to it. “So what would you suggest?” or “I’m interested in your thoughts about what we should do here.”

It helps to set up the ground rules for proposals up front. The rules are that one person will make a proposal. The other person gets to ask clarifying questions and then answer yes, no, or I’ll think about it. If the answer is no, then it’s their turn to make a different proposal instead.

High Conflict Personalities can turn ugly very quickly and these are the folks that will blame you and take to the internet to rant about how you did them wrong. Do yourself a favor and arm yourself with skills BEFORE they show up in your office. See the resources at: http://www.highconflictinstitute.com/bookstores

Next week in Part 2 we’ll explore what you need to do for yourself to avoid getting sucked in to the drama.  And for more advanced training on HCPs and acting as a financial neutral, consider enrolling in Velocity through the Divorce Financial Planner Training Center.


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