Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Monday, September 12th, 2022
High Conflict Institute
University of San Diego
Case Western Reserve
YEARS IN PRACTICE
Lawyer, 31 years
Varies. Straus Faculty
Family Law, Divorce, Civil
When I became an attorney after a dozen years as a therapist, I realized that the “high conflict” personalities in court had the same mental health issues I worked with as a therapist but were undiagnosed and unrecognized… so I began writing and teaching about them to legal professionals.
During our time as practitioners, we will often come across people who rub us the wrong way, usually because they refuse to participate in the conciliation process or because they disagree with everything we say. In some cases, there are underlying psychological and medical diagnoses that inform us of the reasoning behind their resistance to our ideas or advice. However, as lawyers and legal experts, few of us have the expertise to truly identify, understand, and productively accommodate these personalities.
However, Bill Eddy, a trained lawyer, mediator, and social worker has researched and created a theory around this very situation. Mr. Eddy calls this type of personality a “high conflict personality,” with predictable dynamics that are related to the mental health diagnostic category of personality disorders. He has spent a large part of this life understanding and developing ways to approach even the most conflict-ridden situations and high conflict personalities to find resolutions in the toughest of places.
Mr. Eddy earned a degree in psychology from Case Western Reserve University before earning a Master of Social Work from San Diego State University. After earning his degree in social work, Mr. Eddy became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for twelve years, providing therapy to children, adults, couples, and families in both inpatient and outpatient settings. After these twelve years of practice, Mr. Eddy earned his J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law. Immediately after law school, he began a solo practice in family law and mediation for fifteen years as a Certified Family Law Specialist. He then served as the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego for the next fifteen years. By combining his psychology background and legal experience, Mr. Eddy was able to create a practice that catered to both the legal needs of families but also cared deeply for their emotional and mental wellbeing. Through this practice, he worked on approximately 500 family law cases as an attorney and handled approximately 1500 divorce mediations and 100 civil mediations.
As a family law practitioner, Mr. Eddy began to notice the pattern of people resistant to settlement or agreement, continually pushing for more conflict and distress. During this time, he began to develop the high conflict personality theory. This theory not only names these challenging behaviors, but it examines the underlying causes of these behaviors. Taking this theory into his practice, he became skilled at handling cases involving high conflict situations and people, making him a highly desirable lawyer and mediator. By continuing to practice and implement strategies for deescalating conflict and achieving results, he developed a curriculum that would build the foundation of the teachings and strategies for the High Conflict Institute, which he co-founded in 2008 to provide education for professionals on managing high conflict disputes.
As Co-Founder of the High Conflict Institute, Mr. Eddy’s primary focus now is consultation on high conflict situations and cases, and training lawyers, judges, mediators, managers, human resource professionals, businesspersons, healthcare administrators, college administrators, homeowners’ association managers, ombudspersons, law enforcement, therapists, and others in dealing with high conflict personalities. He has spoken in over 35 states and 13 countries.
In addition to teaching at the Institute, Mr. Eddy is on the faculty of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law. He is also a conjoint associate professor with the University of Newcastle Law School in Australia. He hopes that his knowledge, research, and skills-based training will help the next generation of lawyers and practitioners be more informed and better practitioners than those before when facing high conflict situations. He has authored and coauthored twenty books and manuals on high conflict personalities. Some of his books include:
- Calming Upset People with EAR
- 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life
- High Conflict People in Legal Disputes
- Managing High Conflict People in Court
- It’s All YOUR Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything
- BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns
- Why We Elect Narcissists and Sociopaths and How We Can Stop
- So, What’s Your Proposal?
- Don’t Alienate the Kids
- The Future of Family Court
- Managing High Conflict People in Court
In 2021, Mr. Eddy received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, and the SCMA Star Award for Excellence & Innovation in Family Mediation from the Southern California Mediation Association. He hosts a popular blog on Psychology Today called “5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life,” with over 5 million views, where he shares insights, advice, and addresses questions about the ways high conflict personalities can affect our work and how to manage these obstacles.
Mr. Eddy has devoted his life to helping those who are struggling with constant escalation and resistance to identify, address, and overcome the high conflict behavior of people in their lives and move forward with the best interests of all in mind.
What made you want to become a social worker? Lawyer? Mediator?
I started working with children and families as a social worker right out of college. Eventually, I became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker doing child and family therapy. In the evenings, I became a volunteer mediator with our community mediation center in San Diego, which became the National Conflict Resolution Center. I realized I loved mediation and wanted to do it full-time, but there weren’t many jobs in it at the time. I realized that lawyers were getting paid to do this new approach, so I went to law school and then planned on practicing family law for a couple years to give me a better background on doing family mediation (divorce, custody, support, etc.). But I ended up representing clients in family court for fifteen years, before going exclusively into a mediation practice. My therapist and family law backgrounds were excellent preparation for mediating the high conflict cases, which fascinated me the most.
What sparked your interest in high conflict personalities?
When I started my Family Law and Mediation practice, after a dozen years as a therapist, I realized that the “high conflict” personalities in court had the same mental health issues I worked with as a therapist but were undiagnosed and unrecognized. Many of them had personality disorders or traits of these disorders, which meant that they were easily stuck in all-or-nothing thinking, frequently had unmanaged emotions, occasionally engaged in extreme behaviors, and were preoccupied with blaming others—because people with personality disorders can’t see their own part in problems. But legal professionals were unfamiliar with these disorders, so I began writing and teaching about them to legal professionals.
How much did your prior experience in a clinical setting help influence your legal career?
It has helped me immensely, as I was able to use many of the skills I learned as a therapist to calm my upset clients and to understand how to deal with the opposing party in court cases. In my mediation cases, my experience with couples and family therapy gave me many tools to help parties communicate enough to reach agreements.
What’s the biggest tip you have for people who work in high-conflict settings or with high-conflict people often?
Don’t take their negative comments personally! It’s not about you, it’s about their lack of problem-solving skills. Keep the focus on looking for solutions; no need to defend yourself. It’s not about you!
How would you describe your mediation style?
My style goes with the method I developed over the past dozen years or so, called New Ways for Mediation, which focuses on new skills (ways) for the clients which helps engage them in problem solving rather than blaming. This method is very directive about the structure of the process (step-by-step, always a task for the clients to do, and keeping them on task) and very non-directive about the outcome (based on their proposals and analyzing their proposals). So, it’s not evaluative, not really transformative (although it shares some very client-centered characteristics), and not interest-based negotiations (although we may identify interests later in the process if necessary).
What is your biggest accomplishment professionally?
I would say developing our High Conflict Institute’s “New Ways” methods and training professionals to implement them. This includes my New Ways for Mediation® method, which I believe will revolutionize work with the increasing number of high conflict clients that mediators will face over the coming years. This also includes my New Ways for Families® method, which teaches potentially high conflict parents a new set of skills for managing their family conflicts after a separation or divorce; and my New Ways for Work™ coaching method, which teaches potentially high conflict employees and managers a new set of conflict resolution skills.
What are you most proud of outside of work?
Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with my wife several years ago.
What are things that you like to do for fun?
Traveling around the world, hiking, cross-country skiing, listening to music.
Who has been the most influential person in your career?
My parents will have to share this one: my mother gave me my social work skills and my scientist father gave me my analytical skills—so I became a social scientist of sorts because of both of them, analyzing interpersonal conflicts in great depth.
What value does mediation add to disputes that you do not find in traditional litigation?
It gives the opportunity for disputants to learn steps and skills to use in solving their current problem and future problems. Litigation mostly just teaches them how to fight, although occasionally that’s necessary.
How has mediation changed since your career began? How has that affected your work?
I first stumbled onto mediation in the 1970s and did my first divorce mediation in 1979, when it was very new and undefined and relatively unstructured, on the periphery of legal disputes. It was often considered unethical by lawyers, and it didn’t attract clients with high conflict personalities. However, as mediation grew and became established in most areas of law as a form of ADR, it has often become required for everyone to try mediation, which has brought in many high conflict clients. In addition, most lawyers now understand mediation and are usually helpful in resolving their clients’ disputes in mediation. In many ways, the field became a perfect blend of my interests.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
Gaining credibility for myself and for the mediation process: First with professionals and then with high conflict clients. Essentially learning to not take other people’s hostile comments personally.
What do you hope people will know you for?
That I loved people and loved developing methods to help them resolve their conflicts.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I have now retired from mediation after forty years, but when I was mediating the favorite part of my job was seeing angry couples leave a mediation session in a calmer mood with agreements that would help them get along better in parenting their children. Knowing that I made a difference in their lives and their children’s lives has been extremely rewarding. Nowadays, my favorite part of my job of consulting and training is knowing that my clients have a new understanding of high conflict behavior, new skills to successfully manage disputes, and a new sense of confidence that they can truly help their clients in these situations.
To get in touch with Mr. Eddy and for more information, please visit: High Conflict Institute
Please see the corresponding press release.