Thursday, May 8, 2008

Beware of High Conflict Politicians

As the election season heats up, politician behavior becomes a major concern. Over the past 15 years, I have been an attorney and mediator (with a background as a therapist) dealing with “high conflict” disputes, such as divorces, workplace conflicts, neighbor disputes, business partnership breakups, personal injury lawsuits, etc. I have learned “The Issue’s not the issue” in these high conflict disputes. If you solve one problem, another will just take its place and the high conflict person (HCP) will just keep fighting, blaming, thinking only of him or herself, and contributing more to the problem than to the solution.

I’m seeing this same personality pattern in politics these days. For example, the District Attorney near Duke University loudly accused three students of raping a young woman from the neighborhood in a high profile case and blamed Duke for tolerating this behavior among its athletes. He was extremely blaming, loud—and wrong! He ignored the forensic evidence that showed it could not have been the students, and lost his license to practice law because of his extremely unethical (high conflict) behavior.

In New York, a high conflict governor just stepped down after it was revealed that he was a client in a prostitution ring. He might have escaped the loss of his office, except that he had alienated far too many people with his previous behavior as the Attorney General of the state. And, of course, we have a President who has earned himself the lowest approval ratings in modern history while focusing on everyone else’s behavior.

Surprisingly, the characteristics of high conflict people are there for all to see well before they crash and burn. The pattern I have repeatedly observed in divorce, workplace, business, legal and other disputes is that the high conflict person tends to be rigid and uncompromising, repeats failed strategies, is unable to accept and heal loss, makes everything personal, has emotions that dominate his or her thinking, is unable to reflect on his or her own behavior, avoids responsibility for the problem or solution, and is preoccupied with blaming others.

I see examples of this pattern in politics in my hometown of San Diego, where we are heading into elections with two races that involve particularly high conflict, blaming behavior.

I hope when you vote this year, that you consider this pattern of high conflict politicians and refuse to give them power—before they crash and burn, at our expense. We need political leaders who can work with others for the public good, rather than working against everyone else. The question isn’t: Who do you blame? It’s: What do we do now?

No comments: