Controversial politicians are nothing new in American politics, but the recent election of Donald Trump proved just how influential high-conflict politicians can be on the public. However, many people wonder what makes these high-conflict individuals so appealing, and how they manage to argue their way into powerful positions. We talk to two experts about how high-conflict politicians become so successful.
Bill Eddy, president of the High Conflict Institute and author of Trump Bubbles: The Dramatic Rise and Fall of High-Conflict Politicians, explains that a high-conflict person (HCP) is an individual that exhibits a repetitive narrow pattern of behavior, an all-or-nothing attitude, and intense emotions that easily distract them from being focused on problem solving. Many of their patterns of behavior become predictable, but Eddy states high-conflict individuals must first do something damaging before people realize. Yet, these high-conflict people still tend to attract an audience. He explains that high-conflict people are appealing in times of turmoil because they are able to make situations look simple. Furthermore, Eddy explains two other influencing factors in their success: the system of communication between a high-conflict person and the public, and that individuals ability to manipulate this system. Through understanding these different factors, high-conflict people are capable of gaining a following that allows them to become successful.
Another way that high-conflict people are able to appeal to a large audience and increase their opportunity for success is through emotion. Lauren A. Wright, PhD, political scientist and author of On Behalf of the President: Presidential Spouses and White House Communications Strategy Today, explains that studies have shown that being able to observe a person’s facial expressions, rather than just hearing the person speak, can influence people to be more inclined toward that person. Because of this, television and other visual media play a very important role in the public’s perception of a person.
How does this provide an advantage to politicians? This unconscious absorption of expression allows high-conflict politicians to easily spread their anger to their followers, while also establishing a loving relationship with them even though they have never met. However, when handling situations with a high-conflict person, Eddy explains that it is important to use E.A.R. statements. These statements rely on empathy, attention, and respect which can calm someone with a high-conflict personality because it shows them that you are aware that they are working hard and that you appreciate the work that they have done.
- Bill Eddy, president of the High Conflict Institute and author of Trump Bubbles: The Dramatic Rise and Fall of High-Conflict Politicians
- Laura A. Wright, PhD; political scientist and author of On Behalf of the President: Presidential Spouses and White House Communications Strategy Today
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