Positively Midlife Podcast

Dealing with Conflict and High Conflict People

January 11, 2023 Season 2 Episode 2
Positively Midlife Podcast
Dealing with Conflict and High Conflict People
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Have you ever been the target of an intense confrontation and then didn’t know how to best respond?  In this week's podcast Tish and Ellen take a look at conflict and how to effectively deal with High Conflict People.  Tish shares a recent encounter with a High Conflict Person via a group text and how the BIFF method of dealing with conflict by Bill Eddy changed her and Ellen's perspectives on dealing with conflict forever.

Things we talked about in this episode: Seasonal Effective Disorder, light therapy, Bomb Cyclones, camping lanterns,  High Conflict People,  Bill Eddy, and conflict resolution.

Obsessions:
Tish:  Light Therapy Lamp
Ellen:  Goal Zero rechargeable lantern


Bill Eddy's  BIFF books:
BIFF book
BIFF at work
BIFF for co-parenting
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Tish Woods:

Ellen, have you ever been the target of an intense confrontation, and then didn't quite know how to handle it best or how to respond correctly?

Ellen Gustafson:

You know, I have and I have not done a great job at handling it. Especially in the moment Tish, I've, I've always just frozen.

Tish Woods:

I recently had one of these confrontations that occurred over a group text, okay, it's over a group text message. And well, I decided the best response was to say nothing. My attitude kind of was, well, that was pretty nasty and a personal attack. And I'm not going to dignify it with a response.

Ellen Gustafson:

You know, we talked about it a little bit, I remember this. And of course, I agreed that not responding, not escalating publicly, was the right move for you.

Tish Woods:

You know, I made this assumption that the other people on this text message, that they would not believe what was being said about me. But you know, what, sadly, that was not the case. My silence got taken as more of an admission of guilt, that I was somehow wrong in all of this. And and here's the thing, this wasn't the first time that that my silence was taken the wrong way. And this led me to kind of this new realization that I needed to seek out a better way to handle these type of conflicts.

Ellen Gustafson:

You know, I agree. And there does need to be something better than, say, a counter attack, and something more fulfilling and productive than just silence. So I know we're going to get to a really exciting methodology to handle this. But before we do that, you know, I want to hear about what do you got for me, Tish, this week for your obsession.

Tish Woods:

My obsession this week, has to do with this time of year being wintertime, I'm one of these people that's extremely light sensitive, okay. And during the fall to winter, my energy level starts to decrease. The less sunlight there is, the lower my energy level is right. So I have to be really careful about it. Well, and I've heard about these for a long time. They're called light box. There's a light box therapy that you use. And I've heard about it for years, and I never really pulled the trigger to do it. And I thought, That's it. I gotta try this. If nothing else, let me just give it a try. Yeah, so I've gotten this lightbox therapy. And I've made it part of my morning routine that before I ever get out of bed in the morning, that I turn this light on, and you hold it like almost like it's coming down. It's close to you. But it's almost like it's coming from the sky type thing. And I sit in front of it for 30 minutes. Wow. And I have to tell you, and I've been doing this probably religiously for the last three weeks. And it has really made an incredibly positive impact on me. Now, I'm no Energizer Bunny running around like, I've got so much energy. It's not that it's almost like I finished my first cup of coffee. And I haven't touched my coffee. So it it all of a sudden, instead of dragging myself out of bed. I'm like yeah, I'm ready for the day. So this is really made an impact for me. So anybody who is that all light sensitive, and finds this time of year they refer to to seasonal depression or whatever. Yeah. For me, it's just low energy. I don't like having low energy. So lightbox therapy is the thing I'm going to put a link on it is inexpensive. And I'm telling you this is something that you need to try if you're one of these people like I am that's affected by the light.

Ellen Gustafson:

Now as I've always thought they were big and bulky, but it sounds like yours is pretty easy to to handle.

Tish Woods:

I hold it in my hand. I actually hold it in my hand. And then I've also added to my routine that I read while I'm sitting in front of it. So I'm not just sitting there, but I actually read while I do this, but it and it has a timer on it. So when the 30 minutes is done, yeah. goes off. So lightbox therapy. That's my obsession. Ellen, what about you? What's your obsession this week?

Ellen Gustafson:

Well, I think you've heard but maybe others haven't that we had a huge storm here in Northern California. I called a bomb cyclone. And I was lucky enough to have my, my rechargeable lantern. It's this little lantern called the gold zero. And I'm going to tell you a little story. We had one in our house, and you plug it in, like with a USB cord. And whenever we've had a power outage or a storm, my kids would fight over this one lantern because it's so good. It's so bright. And it has these little legs and you can even charge your phone in the lantern too. And so

Tish Woods:

we're not talking little kids. We're talking grown teenagers. Yeah,

Ellen Gustafson:

yeah, man, children, adult children would fight over this, right. And so for Christmas, I got everyone one of these and got mine back. And one of my kids keeps his in the car. And another one has him in the dorm room because he's had a power outage there too, but super handy. And they have some red flashing lights on them too. So that could be used in the car kind of in an in an emergency. But this these have come in so handy. And they're unbelievable. So I did them kind of a stocking stuffers, but anyone can use them. And you can take them camping to the beach, right? A million uses. It doesn't have to be when a bomb cyclone hits.

Tish Woods:

Hopefully you don't have another one of those. Yes, I know. It's been crazy, crazy bad weather. But what a great practical gift, which is almost kind of fun, too. Because I know you have one son Will who loves to go to the beach with his friends. And they go, you know when it's you know when he's going to need a lantern out there. So

Ellen Gustafson:

Most definitely.

Tish Woods:

So let's dive on into this. So I was telling you, I had this conflict. And so I happened to be speaking a couple days later to one of our Trinity tribe, Danielle. And Danielle is an executive coach and a divorce coach, and much of her time is spent helping people deal with conflict. And as I shared my story with Danielle, she suggested that I read this book called Biff, quick responses to high conflict people, their personal attacks, hostile emails, and social media meltdowns by Bill Eddy. And you know what, I ordered this book before I was even off the phone with her. Because I thought this is a skill that I need to learn. So I jumped right on it. Yeah,

Ellen Gustafson:

and this is something I have been working on through all aspects of my life to at work at home. And so once you told me about it, I knew I needed to learn this skill too. And we said, let's do a podcast about this because we can't be the only mid lifers that need to know these skills, either. So everyone in our tribe can learn better ways to handle these conflicts. And what makes these high, high conflicts different for me at midlife, I want to have tools to deal with these type of things. Tish? I think you do too.

Tish Woods:

Absolutely. And I think it's a great question to ask, you know, why are these type of conflicts different than most right? So what I've learned is, these confrontations many times are brought on by what they refer to as high conflict people. And these can be very intense and intimidating. And these situations, oh my gosh, they can so quickly escalate and have this real negative impact on your reputation, and on your relationship with other people. And added to that the increased use of social media and text groups. These attacks can get very public and involve a lot of people at one time.

Ellen Gustafson:

Yeah, I mean, I think that's something different than maybe 10 or 20 years ago. So today we're going to look at one theory of conflict resolution, as you mentioned before, called the Biff from author Bill Eddy, and he is a conflict resolution specialist. And his Biff book shows quick responses to many situations for us that involve these high conflict people. And Biff stands for brief, informative, friendly and firm.

Tish Woods:

Exactly. So, Bill shows us this great methodology on how to handle these situations. He helps us to focus on resolution, not escalation and not avoidance.

Ellen Gustafson:

I love that you said that word avoidance because that has been my it in the past,

Tish Woods:

it's been mine. It's been mine. Yeah. So

Ellen Gustafson:

yeah, I've been an avoider, Tish. And but when the situation involves an HCP, what we learned by reading this book and talking to Danielle, who is a conflict resolution specialist, avoiding it just doesn't work.

Tish Woods:

Yeah, we find these high conflict situations in all aspects of our life, we're going to find them at work in community groups that were involved in family interactions, you see it in politics, you even see it with friend groups. So now, we deal with conflict, often, but when we are confronted with one of these HCPs, or high conflict, people, they are just so much more intense, and include an aspect of a personal attack on us.

Ellen Gustafson:

Ouch, we know the personal attack aspects makes these a literal minefield to deal with. And these HCPs are high conflict, people have a repeated pattern of aggressive behavior that increases the conflict, rather than reducing and resolving it, right?

Tish Woods:

That's exactly the point, right? It's this. It's this aggressive behavior that we really don't know what to do with. So how do you know when you're dealing with a high conflict person is when you see four different patterns of behavior, okay? So if you see these four patterns, then you know, you have an HCP on your hands. It's this all or nothing type of thinking that they have. They have unmanaged emotions, they have extreme behaviors. And they are absolutely preoccupied with blaming.

Ellen Gustafson:

Wow I think though, most of those makes sense. But I think we may need to explain what the author means by unmanaged emotions.

Tish Woods:

So the author explains that with these unmanaged emotions, they are exaggerated. They're exaggerated fear, anger, sadness. And these would be exhibited way out of proportion for the actual event that's happening.

Ellen Gustafson:

Okay, that makes sense. But let's go over what makes dealing with an HCP different.

Tish Woods:

I think to understand why they are so different. To deal with that, we need to look at three trends that you're going to see in these HCPs. Okay, the first one is they have a lack of self awareness, they will not see how they have contributed to these conflicts, and they will approach it with this. It's everyone else's fault mentality. And it's also really important to know that the author notes that the HCP are often brought up with this sense of entitlement, and exaggerated self esteem.

Ellen Gustafson:

I think we all know some people just like this. Well, the second trend is a lack of self change. I think this one's important too, because the HCP will make absolutely no effort to change their behavior, or to solve the problem. And all of their energy focuses on shifting the blame and defending their own actions.

Tish Woods:

Yes. And now the third part, and the author calls this Blamespeak, so Blamespeak, is this high conflict blaming. And while this phenomenon has been around for a long time, and each of us has not been you know, I'm sure we've all succumb to it now and again, where we've acted badly and we've lashed out, you know, in self defense so we've done our we've always done our own blame speak. But what the author tells us is you will no notice with these high conflict people that they use blamed speak a lot.

Ellen Gustafson:

It's one of their go toos. And, you know, the increased use of putting these kinds of conflicts out on social media, radio, TVs, movies, the internet, and as you said, a group text string HCP They have a built in audience at the ready. And this really feeds them it feeds the intensity and their need to show everyone that they are right.

Tish Woods:

Yes, Blamespeak, you know, it would be considered really childish behavior, childish responses to conflict. But unfortunately, we're seeing Blamespeak from some of the most powerful awful people in our society. So Blamespeak is this cheap, easy way to get a lot of attention.

Ellen Gustafson:

Yeah, we're all seeing that out there. But when these conflicts or the Blamespeak happens, really the question becomes how do we respond?

Tish Woods:

Okay, so this is where I have struggled in the past, in how do I best respond. And again, I tend to not want to respond at all, which is probably is, which is a great way to deal with it, if it was a private conflict, that it only involved you and the other person. But when these conflicts go so public, and then what I realized when I do not respond this, this gives this message. Well, first of all, it's very unsatisfying for me not to respond. But it also nothing's ever getting resolved. That's the other big problem with me, there is no resolution, it just either fades away or intensifies.

Ellen Gustafson:

Yeah. And you know, you and I talked about a situation like this that I had several years ago. And I it still bugs me, because there was no resolution to it. Right. But, you know, after reading this book, I can now see how not responding would be taken as consent. And others who are included in the conflict may also see like in your situation, your lack of response as admission, and what the HCP is saying is true. So they don't do not take the silence as avoiding conflict. They don't take it as that. So saying nothing is not an option, returning blame speak is not an option. And this is exactly where the Biff part of the methodology comes in that I love.

Tish Woods:

Yeah, Bill, Eddie came up with this structured response for us to use. Our response should be brief, informative, friendly, that's the tough part, and firm. And let me just say, it sounds like a very simple idea, right? Well, it's going to take a lot of practice to be able to use it effectively.

Ellen Gustafson:

Well, Bill also suggests that we respond quickly. But before we respond, we should have someone read and help us edit. So this is a Biff body, that can suggest edits. He also goes on to caution us to avoid admonishing giving advice or apologizing in your response to,

Tish Woods:

I like to refer to that as avoiding the three A's. And this, this part can also be quite difficult in monitoring, admonishing a high conflict person or offering them your advice, this will only escalate the conflict. Also, the high conflict person will see any apology as an admission that you believe that you were wrong, and they were right. So avoiding those three A's are going to be key.

Ellen Gustafson:

They are key. But in addition, your response should be in the same format. And to the same people as the attack came in this is really interesting to me, because I think a lot of us would want to just go back to the person. Right? That kind of is seems intuitive, but not right. So if the communication was via social media, then you need to respond via social media, in the same way, if it was in a group text, then respond in a group text to everyone. So I think why shouldn't we ignore them? Take the time road, right? Tish, we were always taught take the high road, that in the past would always be my way of dealing with it.

Tish Woods:

And it was mine as well. So like, for years, that's the way I would respond is to not respond because, you know, I, you know, I don't like conflict. But what surprised me, and I think hurt me most was how many people just believed what the high conflict person was saying without ever even questioning it. And this led me to seek an understanding as to why why was that the case? And would it be a better and what would be a better solution in the future?

Ellen Gustafson:

You know, Bill, Eddy, talks about how HCPs often aggressively recruit negative advocates, kind of the Mean Girls, right or boys who knows but these are people who will all So advocate for the HCPs point of view, as things escalate. Without such support the HCP feels they could lose. So they're really aggressive about getting everybody on their side. But we need to keep in mind that these negative advocates are usually usually like emotionally hooked into the conflict. And really, most of the time not fully informed.

Tish Woods:

Yes. So providing information is the whole purpose of the response. Your goal using a Biff is to inform the negative advocates and to mediate the escalation. Your goal is not to convince a high conflict person, because you know, to be honest, that's not really a realistic goal. But the best thing is to focus, have them focus more on the best future outcomes.

Ellen Gustafson:

That does make sense. But it's still hard to, for me to believe that other people are so easily sucked in as these negative advocates when they're uninformed.

Tish Woods:

Absolutely, and it kind of happens to them unknowingly. So they did a lot of brain research that showed that both positive and negative emotions are both very contagious. So the more intense the emotion, the more contagious, and this will have this ripple effect through a group, and it'll go faster than any logical thought will go through. So they're on this wave of emotion, this wave of intense emotion, and logic does left behind, and it's going to catch up later, but if left behind, and the high conflict person can provide this intense environment to create this ripple, and so it is best response is using this Biff.

Ellen Gustafson:

So our responsive shouldn't be emotional, especially to the group. Correct? I think we need to remember that the negative advocates are those ones that are emotionally hooked and uninformed. The Biff response will give the factual information that those folks may not be aware of. So this is where you're saying they catch up?

Tish Woods:

Yes, this is where they're going to catch up.

Ellen Gustafson:

So if these HCPs have such difficult personalities, what else can you do?

Tish Woods:

Okay, so we've talked about the strategy number one, which is the Biff and, and then I guess you need to decide depending on who this person is, like I said, these, these relationships could be at work, and there is no getting away from them. So it's just learning how to deal with them. But we do have to when they're in our friends groups, in our in our in our circles, we have to kind of make a decision if we want to end this relationship. And he does caution us that they're not going to let us go easily. So losing the friendship really isn't the the outcome that a high conflict person wants, they want the they want the conflict. So Bill Eddy suggests that if you do want to end this relationship with this person, that you should back away slowly so they don't notice you leave it out the door.

Ellen Gustafson:

I like that I have an image of that. I know right for you. Right. Some of these people could be family as well. And so it's really about how to deal with them effectively. I have to say, Tish, I devoured this book. It's not that long. It's super engaging, like you pick it up and you want to get to the end. And Bill, Eddy has Biff books for work, like you said, and for co parenting, which I think could come in so handy as somebody who's co parented not so well and well in the past. So he also has a book about divorcing a narcissist. And I feel like so many women are in that situation. How would you say an HCP is different than a narcissist?

Tish Woods:

You know, narcissists is one of those key words you hear everyone's throwing around right now. And he does caution you that only healthcare professionals can diagnose a true personality disorder, and a narcissist is a true clinical personality disorder. But what we do know is that a high conflict person will appear to have traits associated with personality disorders. In this is included because they have a lack of self awareness, and their lack of ability to change. So you're going to see similar traits to narcissist and other personality disorders in your high conflict person. Well, we have all encountered these high conflict people and let's face it, there's no escaping them. In fact, with the increase of social media, I just know that these interactions will probably only increase. Yeah. And the next time that I am faced with one of these scenarios, I now feel like I have this, this effective weapon in my toolbox. And I think the only thing missing is my Biff buddy. That's going to review my responses before they go out. Ellen would you be my BIFF buddy.

Ellen Gustafson:

Know your best buddy, Tish. If you'll be mine,

Tish Woods:

I will,

Ellen Gustafson:

I will. You know, I love that we're now aware of this person, you know, this HCP I think awareness is such a great step. And we have a methodology. I'd love us to report back in on a later podcast if we've had any of these encounters, too. And how we've done I think it could be really, really interesting. So we encourage everybody to read this book, and learn these valuable skills. We'll put a link in our show notes. And please subscribe to our podcast. Follow us on social media. And there's a link in our show notes to give us a review wherever you listen and get your podcast content. Till next time mid lifers bye next time

(Cont.) Dealing with Conflict and High Conflict People