Faculty of Law

Monash University

Postgraduate - Unit

This unit entry is for students who completed this unit in 2014 only. For students planning to study the unit, please refer to the unit indexes in the the current edition of the Handbook. If you have any queries contact the managing faculty for your course or area of study.

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6 points, SCA Band 3, 0.125 EFTSL

Refer to the specific census and withdrawal dates for the semester(s) in which this unit is offered, or view unit timetables.

FacultyFaculty of Law
OfferedCity (Melbourne) Trimester 3 2014 (On-campus split block of classes)


Quota applies

Postgraduate programs are based on a model of small group teaching and therefore class sizes need to be restricted.


This course focuses on managing personalities in conflict resolution, particularly resolving disputes involving "high-conflict" personalities. The course will help students and practicing professionals recognize personality styles, choose appropriate intervention techniques, and maintain ethical principles while dealing with difficult people professionally and personally.
The first half of the course will focus on understanding the dynamics of personality in conflict, especially the impact of "high-conflict" personalities in legal and workplace disputes. Research will be examined which indicates that people with personality disorders are increasing in society at large, as well as in legal disputes in particular. Five personality disorders will be specifically analysed in terms of their mental health issues, but also their high-conflict dynamics: borderline, narcissistic, paranoid, antisocial and histrionic. Attention will be paid to patterns of these personality disorders which unconsciously tend toward all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, extreme behaviour and a preoccupation with blaming others. The pattern of their "targets of blame" will be addressed, which tends to include the people closest to them and people in authority. This pattern tends to lead them into conflicts which escalate into workplace and legal disputes - either as plaintiffs bringing suit over misplaced blame for events in their lives (e.g. false allegations and frivolous lawsuits), or as defendants due to interpersonal misconduct that harms others and needs to be controlled (e.g. domestic violence and restraining orders). The phenomenon will be examined of "negative advocates" who often join them in their high-conflict disputes, including family members, friends and some unwary professionals, who add to the confusion and intensity of the conflict.
The second half of this course addresses how to manage individual clients, two or more parties in disputes, and systems involving many high-conflict parties. Methods will be taught and practiced in role-play exercises, including client counselling, coaching potentially high-conflict employees, coaching potentially high-conflict parties in separation and divorce, mediating high-conflict legal disputes, mediating workplace conflicts (when appropriate), managing high-conflict complainants with government agencies, and system-wide interventions to reduce high-conflict behaviour in organizations. Innovative methods will include "New Ways for Families" - a method in use in 6 family court jurisdictions in the United States and Canada; "New Ways for Work" - a new method for workplace coaching of potentially high-conflict employees; "The Exchange" - a new method of workplace conflict resolution being applied in government and healthcare organizations in the United States; and "HCI Pattern Analysis" - a new computer method of tracking and presenting high-conflict behaviour patterns in administrative and court hearings
Many of the most effective methods for managing high-conflict people are counter-intuitive, so that practice and discussion are necessary to implement these methods, especially when under stress. However, the course will teach methods of recognizing potential high-conflict behaviour patterns and ways to possibly prevent situations from escalating. This course will emphasize lecture, group discussion and role-play exercises to assist students and professionals in ethically managing their responses to high-conflict people with confidence and many useful strategies.


At the end of this course students will be able to:

  1. identify "high-conflict" personality disorders and their common conflict dynamics;
  2. understand the frequent cognitive distortions and preoccupation with blaming behaviour of high-conflict personalities;
  3. understand and apply as appropriate brain research theory to calming high-conflict emotions and behaviour;
  4. understand and apply methods for handling high-conflict personalities in legal and workplace disputes;
  5. understand and manage "negative advocates" common in these high-conflict disputes;
  6. manage collaborative relationships among professionals in high-conflict cases;
  7. understand and apply skills for managing high conflict mediation of disputes;
  8. understand methods for coaching individual clients to deal with high conflict situations;
  9. understand and apply methods for intervening in workplace disputes involving high conflict personalities; and
  10. understand a pattern analysis of high conflict behaviour in court and other types of hearings.


One reflective journal that incorporates research, set tasks and daily reflection,
(3,750 words): 50%
One research assignment (3,750 words): 50%

Chief examiner(s)

Workload requirements

Students enrolled in this unit will be provided with 24 contact hours of seminars per semester whether intensive, semi-intensive, or semester-long offering. Students will be expected to complete a reading set for class, and to undertake additional research and reading applicable to a 6 credit point unit.