A few years ago, I had a colleague, Jane, who was always arguing in meetings, blaming others, and complaining about co-workers.
I found her really difficult to work with. I realized later that she was a high-conflict person.
Are you struggling to get along with someone, too? If so, you could also be dealing with a high-conflict person.
But how can you tell?
Well, if you notice these 7 behaviors, then you know you’re dealing with a high-conflict person.
1) They blame others
According to Bill Eddy, a well-known American author, therapist, and mediator recognized for his expertise in high-conflict personalities, “High Conflict People stand out, because of the intensity of their blame for others ..they focus on attacking and blaming someone else and find fault with everything that person does.”
Look, we’ve all been in arguments in our lives. And in those moments, it’s normal to blame the other person or think it is their fault.
Just because someone blames you for something, it doesn’t automatically mean they are a high-conflict person.
What we are really looking out for here is how often they are blaming others.
Do you notice a pattern with this person? Is everything always someone else’s fault?
If so, you could be dealing with a high-conflict person.
2) They don’t compromise
Is there anything more frustrating than having to compromise when you think you are right?
No; it’s hard to do but sometimes it’s the only way to settle an argument.
However, high-conflict people tend to escalate conflicts, rather than resolve them. They don’t really want to sort it out quickly. And so there is no real desire to compromise.
Again, it is normal for people to hang tough on things that are very important to them. But generally, most people recognize the need to compromise from time to time.
If you notice that a person in your life is never willing to compromise on anything, then you’re probably dealing with a high-conflict person.
3) They pick fights
My old college friend, Sarah, seemed to love conflict.
She constantly picked fights with people and argued with them at every opportunity, even when there was no need.
I remember one particular night, we were trying to get into a new bar that had just opened. It was jam-packed and the bouncer said “Sorry ladies, we’re full right now. Come back in an hour.”
My instant reaction was to suggest we grab a drink next door and try again later. But not Sarah.
She jumped at the chance to argue with the bouncer, calling him names and demanding he let us in right away.
The result? We were not allowed in that night, or any other night for the next month. And all because she just had to argue with him.
Do you have a Sarah in your life?
They constantly look for opportunities to argue and fight with people. And they are more interested in winning the argument than anything else.
This is typical behavior for a high-conflict person.
4) They hold grudges
According to a recent Forbes article, “Nearly 70% of Americans think holding a grudge is bad for your health” which means most of us know that it is better to let go of drama.
Yet some high-conflict people “can carry grudges for years”.
The thing is, we already know our high-conflict friends tend to blame others and play the victim. They don’t think that they are ever in the wrong.
The conflict is someone else’s fault. And they have been hurt. So they are fully justified to hold that grudge in their minds.
Extreme behavior like this over something that wasn’t all that serious in the first place is another clear indicator that you are dealing with a high-conflict person.
5) They find it hard to accept feedback
Let’s be honest, nobody loves getting feedback, right? It can be a bit of a buzzkill when you thought you were doing great.
However, most of us can see it for what it is – an opportunity to make a change and do better. And overall that is a good thing for everyone involved.
As outlined by Bill Eddy, author of It’s All Your Fault At Work, high-conflict people “have a very difficult time receiving feedback”.
Since they take an all-or-nothing approach, “feedback — no matter how nicely you try to give it — will trigger deep resentments,” warns Eddy in 4 Biggest Mistakes With High-Conflict Personalities.
If you notice that someone in your life struggles to take feedback and is personally offended by it, then you’re most likely dealing with a high-conflict person.
6) They play the victim
Have you ever noticed how some people always seem to be the victim in every story they tell you?
Here’s the deal: high-conflict people don’t take responsibility for anything. Nothing is ever their fault. Things happen to them. And it’s always because of someone or something else.
Remember my colleague Jane?
It took me a while to realize that she was a high-conflict person because whenever she shared any issues about others with me, it was always someone else’s fault. And I believed her. That was until she started disagreeing with me and telling everyone it was my fault.
Anyway, if someone in your life always seems to be the victim in every story they tell you, there’s a good chance that you’re dealing with a high-conflict person.
7) They focus on the problem (not the solution)
We all know how it feels to make a suggestion, only for another person to shoot it down without offering any solutions of their own, right?
This is exactly what my old coworker Jane would do!
I remember I was trying to schedule a meeting with 6 senior people, a scheduling nightmare. Finally, I found a time that worked for everyone.
Jane quipped, “That is a national holiday where I live so we can’t do it that day”.
As you can see, she was completely focused on the problem and didn’t even think to suggest a different day.
This is a common trait in high-conflict people. Instead of seeing a problem and trying to find a way around it, they stay focused on the problem. It makes it very hard to be around them.
Does this sound like someone you know?
The bottom line
The thing is: we will all display these behaviors at some point in our lives. Does that mean we are all high-conflict people?
No, and here’s the kicker: we are not talking about a one-off or someone having a bad day.
A high-conflict person will display many, if not all, of these behaviors, consistently and regularly.
So if you’ve noticed someone in your life who’s always arguing, blaming others, and holding grudges, chances are you’re dealing with a high-conflict person.