Paste your Google Webmaster Tools verification code here

How to Deal with High Conflict People like a Champ

How to Deal with High Conflict People like a Champ

One of the most mentally challenging expeditions I ever led was with a client who had a high conflict and disruptive personality. I didn’t experience any of the usual things that make wilderness expeditions extra challenging. No one was physically injured, the weather was not grim, and we had plenty of food. What made it so difficult on me was the mental anguish myself and the rest of the team went through dealing with one client.

Shawn Strattn High conflict and disruptive personalities usually are two different traits displayed by people. These challenging people typically display one or the other but not usually both. Unfortunately, this particular client displayed both. I highlight this story in my book TEAMS ON THE EDGE. (Receive a free copy of the eBook here)

Below I will highlight the specific traits of these personalities and some courses of action you can take to manage them.

Dramatic Traits Associated With High Conflict Behavior Include:

  • Blaming others
  • All or nothing behavior
  • Not self-aware
  • Explosive emotion
  • Intense focus on imagined slights
  • Passive aggressive behavior
  • Anti-social behavior
Shawn Stratton

© Bart

Course of Action:

  • Listen, Maintain Consistency and Objectivity
  • Create Structure
  • Reframe
  • Create Consequences: Seek to engender shared responsibility for problem solving

When the person approaches you with aggressive language and tone about a conflict, I recommend you use the BIFF (Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm) technique Bill Eddy, president of the High Conflict Institute developed, in response. The initial conversation in any conflict is critical if the situation is to be resolved successfully. To see the BIFF technique, which can also be used in an email, demonstrated check out this short video.

Dealing with Disruptive Behavior

Disruptive behavior is an enduring pattern of conduct that disturbs the work environment.

A pattern of disruptive behavior includes:

·      Inappropriate Communication

  • Name calling
  • Shaming others
  • Uncontrolled anger
  • Public displays
  • Threatening retribution or violence
  • Gossiping false information to defame others

·      Unethical Practice

·      Harassment

  • Sexual
  • Personal
  • Discriminatory
Shawn Stratton

© Viewminder

If you are dealing with a person with disruptive behavior patterns, here are some courses of action to consider:

  • System in Place to Manage: See if your organization has a system in place to deal with this type of behavior.
  • Refer To Applicable Code of Conduct: Typically, in a policies and procedure type manual.
  • Enlist Support: From a supervisor, ombudsman, a coach, or a trusted friend.
  • Follow A Consistent Process – Begin with non-disciplinary dispute resolution
  • Review And Investigate
  • Determine Cause Of Behavior
  • Take Action

Always remember each side has rights and responsibilities and the conflict is usually not about you. Most of the time, something is going on in the person’s life that is causing them to feel angry, hurt, afraid, scared, or experience low self-esteem.

In the case of my client, we followed the system the organization I was working for had in place to deal with this type of behavior. To resolve the situation, I started with engaging in BIFF conversations, which calmed the behavior temporarily.

As the unacceptable action kept returning in subsequent days I followed up with verbal and later written warnings, stating the baseline acceptable behavior needed to stay a part of the expedition team and potential consequences. Finally, after several weeks of little change in the extremely disruptive behavior, the client was removed from the expedition and sent home.

Even though I was threatened multiple times, I knew the conflict was not about me. In conversation with the client, I learned of his troubled past and many personal issues he had been dealing with much of his life. In the end, it was clear this person was not a good fit for this expedition team.

People with high conflict personalities and disruptive behavior can have a detrimental effect on a team and sometimes and as a last resort, they must be removed for the team to reach its full potential.

Action: Find out if your organization has a system in place for dealing with people with disruptive behaviours and if there is a neutral person you can contact to discuss these issues. Oh and check out the BIFF video.

Until next week… Embrace the Adventure!


Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, Ironman competitor, and expedition guide.

Click here to learn more about how Shawn can help your organization.


Bill Eddy, LCSW, ESQ. High Conflict People, Janis Publications, 2006.