Aug 10

4 strategies to manage high conflict personalities at work

People with ‘high conflict personalities’ exist in many associations.  In this post, guest blogger, Sarah Somerset from Worklogic, shares four key strategies to help you best manage high conflict personalities at work.

Do you work with someone who:

  • Aggressively blames others when problems occur?
  • Abuses people and makes unreasonable demands?
  • Lies or exaggerates to get attention?
  • Shows no empathy for the feelings of others?
  • Takes feedback as a personal insult?

If so, then it is likely that you are dealing with a ‘High Conflict Personality’ (HCP), who is the source of constant problems and angst for those around them, who is extremely difficult to manage and who can ultimately represent a high cost and risk to your business.

Recognising High Conflict Personalities

In many cases, it is likely that a HCP has one of four separate types of personality disorder described in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-IV-TR:

1. Narcissistic: pre-occupied with self, contemptuous of others, superior

2. Histrionic:  attention-seeking, dramatic, prone to exaggeration

3. Antisocial:  deceptive, manipulative, dominating, aggressive, irritable

4. Borderline:  mood swings, unstable relationships, difficulty controlling anger

All such HCPs are driven by unconscious emotional fears, are mostly unaware of their high conflict behaviour and cannot change or adapt. Dealing with such people can therefore be extremely frustrating, enraging and/or exhausting, but it is important to remember that most HCPs demonstrate a range of predictable behaviours, and you can influence them for the better.

Four strategies to manage high conflict personalities

The most effective method of managing a HCP is to break the cycle of high conflict thinking. This can be achieved in the following ways:

1. Avoid escalation of conflict

Pay full attention and respect to the HCP’s concerns, and show empathy where you can – even if this means doing the opposite of what you feel, this is a critical step in reducing the HCP’s fear response and reducing their defensiveness. Note however that, while engaging in this conversation, it is important to avoid believing, agreeing or volunteering to fix things, to remain at arms’ length and to limit the time spent in discussions.

2. Respond early to misinformation and angry communications

Provide a brief, informative, balanced but firm response to the HCP, using the same medium that they have used. If misinformation has been sent to third parties, provide accurate information to them and to anyone else caught up in the conflict.

3. Set limits on behaviour

Respond to aggressively defensive behaviour assertively but respectfully, in order to allow the HCP to save face and to reduce the conflict – even if your instinctive response is retaliation or avoidance. Focus on external reasons for requiring better behaviour (eg laws and policies) and explain consequences for non-compliance. Also, set clear boundaries for future contact.

4. Choose how and when to respond

Make sure that you address issues with the HCP after thought, and not as an immediate emotional response. Don’t try to ‘out-conflict’ a HCP (eg. by jumping to conclusions or reacting emotionally), and be ready to disengage at any time. It can also be helpful to change the subject, and to focus on the future.

Hopefully, with these tips in mind, you are able to make the most of a difficult situation, and modify the worst aspects of your HCP’s behaviour.

About Our Guest Blogger

Sarah Somerset is a Consultant at Worklogic, a FineHaus recommended provider.  She has significant experience in legal, consulting and human resource management. Worklogic can help membership associations resolve conflict at work and build a positive culture.