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Business Insight: High-conflict people blame others

Published September 9, 2013 10:48 am

Personalities are borderline narcissistic, histrionic, antisocial.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Bill Eddy, author of "It's All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything," says that if you haven't been someone's target of blame, you will be soon.

What types of people consistently blame others?

People with high-conflict personalities (HCP) blame others when things don't go well for them. From my experience, the personality pattern seems to be the same regardless of the kind of conflict or who else is involved. A high-conflict personality is someone who is rigid and uncompromising; unable to accept or heal from a loss; and their negative emotions dominate their thinking. They are also unable to reflect on their own behavior; have difficulty empathizing with others; are preoccupied with blaming others; and they avoid any responsibility for the problem or the solution. I divide these personalities into borderline, narcissistic, histrionic and antisocial. Most people are not aware that they have one of these personality traits because it's a part of who they are.

How can we manage these personalities?

The first thing that most people feel like doing when blamed or attacked is to attack back or defend. While this might get a reasonable person to stop and assess the situation, it escalates the HCP's emotions and defensiveness. Instead, we have to connect with them using our EAR — empathy, attention and respect. It calms them down, getting them into logical left-brain thinking instead of being stuck in emotional right-brain thinking. Next, analyze realistic options by making a list, then check it for your own high-conflict thinking, and then decide which options to utilize. Finally, you need to set limits or boundaries on their behavior because of their genuine inability to do that for themselves. Setting limits simply means establishing rules and providing logical consequences when rules are violated.

Other tips for managing blame-gamers?

Most people have a difficult time responding to HCPs because they often use personal attacks in their communication, whether it be email, letters, Facebook, rumors or in person, which puts us on edge and puts us in "react" mode instead of "respond." The most important thing to remember is it's not about you. I developed a method for responding to HCPs. It's called BIFF — brief, informative, friendly and firm. BIFF responses help you manage the relationship and communication with the HCP because it provides structure and eliminates useless and endless back-and-forth.

Brief • Your response should be no more than two to five sentences in most cases. You may be tempted to respond to every accusation. Instead, keep it brief.

Informative • Give a sentence or two of straight, useful information on the subject being discussed. If there isn't a real subject or issue, give some related helpful information to shift the discussion to an objective subject, rather than opinions about each other.

Friendly • This is often the hardest part, but very important. You can start out by saying something like: "Thank you for telling me your opinion on this subject." You can end it with a friendly comment, such as "I hope you have a nice weekend."

Firm • You want to let the other person know that this is really all you are going to say on the subject.

Giving a BIFF response will give you relief, potentially ending a high-conflict discussion and maybe even solve a problem. Bill Eddy, author