Rate the Candidates!

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. and Don Saposnek, Ph.D

You can use our High-Conflict Politician Scorecard to see how the candidates compare on our 8-item scale related to high-conflict behavior in politics – or anywhere. People with a pattern of high-conflict behavior tend to repeat that behavior over and over again, despite the problems it causes for others and themselves. We are seeing more of this behavior in society in general, including among many of today’s politicians. Some of them are getting thrown out of office, while others make very bad decisions for our cities, states and nation. What most people don’t realize is that there are warning signs of this pattern of high-conflict behavior. So, we have developed a High-Conflict Politician Scorecard to help you look for these warning signs before you vote for a high-conflict politician – in any city, state or national election. The upcoming Presidential debates will give you a concentrated opportunity to assess the candidates for these risk factors (Of course, you can use this system for evaluating someone you’re dating, considering working with, or being friends with, too!).

Here are the 8 factors to consider, which can be equally present in some Democrats, some Republicans and even some Independents:

Personal Attacks

When it is a pattern of behavior, high-conflict people tend to be preoccupied with blaming others, while lacking any awareness of their own behaviors. Their common language is to blame, blame, blame, rather than to propose solutions and take responsibility for their own mistakes over time and to learn from them. This pattern also exists in some divorces (known as “high-conflict” divorces), in some workplaces, some neighborhoods, and even in some intact families.

Crisis Emotions

High-conflict people often speak in a dramatic, crisis tone of voice, as though the world would end if you didn’t do as they say. These crisis emotions can be contagious and leave you feeling upset, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with them. Constant exposure to such crisis emotions tends to reduce our ability to think critically about problems and, instead, makes us react with fear and/or anger. Surprisingly, exposure to these crisis emotions often means that you will agree with the high-conflict person and begin to doubt yourself and your own judgment.

All-or-nothing solutions

It is very common for high-conflict people to simply split the world into “all-good” people and “all-bad” people. This makes it easy to blame others while ignoring their own behavior. Their solutions are extreme: eliminate the other person, eliminate other people’s carefully-developed solutions, eliminate historically-established principles. When combined with crisis emotions and personal attacks, these extreme solutions can temporarily be appealing, even though not very realistic.

Self-absorbed           

This is one of the key characteristics of excessively narcissistic people, of which we are seeing more in today’s society. These narcissists have a hard time seeing other people’s point of view, other people’s pain and other people’s needs. They are so used to being self-absorbed that they don’t recognize this and wind up regularly disregarding other people around them.

Lacks empathy

This is another key characteristic of excessively narcissistic people, and a concerning factor in group leaders, whether they are politicians, supervisors or community representatives. This characteristic is often not obvious, unless you look for it, because such narcissists tend to use words which sound empathic, but their actions don’t match. You often have a gut feeling of being uncared for. As we mention in our book, Splitting America, children in high-conflict divorce get the feeling that one or both parents hate each other more than they love their children. It’s the same for voters in a high-conflict election.

Misjudges others

This is another characteristic of excessively narcissistic leaders. Since they are so self-absorbed and see things in all-or-nothing terms, they tend to misjudge others as either overly threatening or overly friendly. Both of these tendencies in decision-makers can result in big mistakes being made, but are common in today’s political leaders, who may ignore serious threats or start wars unnecessarily. Successful leaders are able to think more rationally and in a more refined way, and will consider the details of a messy situation rather than misjudge others and generate overly simplistic, all-or-nothing solutions.

Sees self as big hero

This is perhaps the most obvious characteristic of excessively narcissistic people – an extreme arrogance and belief that no one else can work the wonders that they can. A common expression with such people is that they are “a legend in their own mind.” This is a common observation of some candidates who show up in primary elections, but lack the refinement, skills and humility to make it into the general elections.

Doesn’t play well with others

This is one of the most serious problems in politics, as well as in the workplace. Effective leaders generally are not narcissistic. However, the most attention-getting and self-promoting leaders often are narcissists who get into positions of authority before people realize how incompetent they really are. That’s why it’s so important to recognize these patterns and to look beneath the surface before electing leaders–whether as mayor, senator or president.

Try using the attached High-Conflict Politician Scorecard and see whether it helps you in rating your candidates for this year’s election.

As we have explained in our book, Splitting America, high-conflict politicians have won elections and then turned into huge mistakes – either getting thrown out of office for their misdeeds or making high-conflict decisions that have cost our nation dearly. In order to help you notice the warning signs, we have come up with a short checklist to consider for potential candidates:

On-going Traits

Regular Pattern of Behavior

None         Mild              Moderate              Often              Very Often

Personal Attacks?

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Crisis Emotions?

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

All-or-nothing solutions?

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Self-absorbed?

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Lacks empathy?

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Misjudges others?

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Sees self as big hero?

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Doesn’t play well with others?

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

TOTAL SCORE = __________

This “scorecard” is proposed as a guide for comparing candidates, and not a research-based formula. To a great extent, high-conflict behavior is in the eye of the beholder. There is no cut-off or clear line between “reasonable” people and “high-conflict” people. It is possible that some elections are between two candidates who both score high or both score low on this list, while other elections may present more clear-cut situations, with one low and one high. Simply thinking about these behaviors should help you become less vulnerable to attack ads and other manipulations by high-conflict politicians in federal, state and local elections.

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.