Rate the Candidates with the High-Conflict Politician Scorecard

October 4, 2012

By Bill Eddy and Don Saposnek

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.


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


About Bill Eddy
William A. (“Bill”) Eddy, L.C.S.W., J.D. is a family law attorney, therapist and mediator, with over thirty years’ experience working with children and families.  He is the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California.  He is also the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speakers, trainers and consultants on the subject of managing high-conflict people in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare and education.  He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law and he teaches Psychology of Conflict at the Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law.  He is the author of several books, including:

Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder

BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns

It’s All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything

For more information about Bill Eddy, please visit: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.

About Don Saposnek
Donald T. Saposnek, Ph.D. is a clinical-child psychologist, child custody mediator and family therapist in private practice for over 40 years, and is a national and international trainer of mediation and child development.  For the past 35 years, he has been teaching on the psychology faculty at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and is Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution.  He is the author of the classic book, Mediating Child Custody Disputes and has published extensively in the professional literature on child custody and child psychology.  He serves on the editorial boards of the Family Court Review and Conflict Resolution Quarterly journals and is the editor of the international Academy of Professional Family Mediators’ The Professional Family Mediator.  As director of Family Mediation Service of Santa Cruz, he managed the family court services for 17 years and has mediated nearly 5,000 child custody disputes in both the public and private sectors since 1977.  For more information about Don Saposnek, please visit: www.mediate.com/dsaposnek

Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. and Don Saposnek, PhD, co-authored Splitting America.


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