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Dealing with High Conflict Behaviors

With many challenges all around us, here is an overall strategy and one approach / tactic to navigating difficult behaviors. These ideas come from the High Conflict Institute (HCI) in San Diego co-founded by Bill Eddy and Megan Hunter

First, the HCI notes that with high conflict behaviors “the issue is not the issue” and; instead, the behaviors are the result of a complicated brain operating system that is different. Thus, standard approaches do not work. In terms of responding to “high conflict” behaviors, the HCI explains that when confronted with the highly emotional aspects of high conflict behaviors people will often immediately react and follow flight or fight instincts.

Instead, HCI encourages people to be “Assertive.” This means being reasonable by seeking information, striving to be objective and trying to detach from the moment. In this manner the conflict behaviors can be diverted and the person calmed.  Once calm there is the opportunity for more constructive engagement.

Second, in terms of a specific approach or tactic, the HCI describes the “EAR” (Empathy Attention Respect) method used to calm down a high conflict situation. The idea is to communicate empathy in order to work through the emotion, to then garner Attention, and both together lead to a feeling of Respect. Once respect is present, there is an opportunity to engage on the issue.

Empathy is about identifying and acknowledging the other person’s feeling state so that the person has a sense that you “understand” how they are feeling. According to HCI, you do this by using calming words and phrases along with a confident yet calm tone of voice and by making eye contact in a non-threatening body posture.

You might say (from HCI): How can I help you / I respect your efforts / I’ll pay attention / I’ll listen / Let’s figure this out / Tell me more / Oh, okay, I get what you’re saying / I understand this can be frustrating / Let’s see what we can do to solve

Hope these ideas help you navigate high conflict behaviors and if you want some help – Go Ombuds !