Mitt Romney gave a speech on Thursday, trying to expose Trump as a “phony, a fraud” and to inform people about all of his illogical qualities. The other candidates are also trying to do this. This is a step in the right direction, but the mistake they make is to emotionally and sarcastically attack Trump rather than to empathize with his followers. In fact, suggesting that they are “suckers” may actually push them further into his hands. This enables him to form a deeper emotional “us versus them” connection, which can be powerfully resistant to new information, if it comes from “them.” Trump is highly effective at claiming he is treated unfairly and gets his followers to join him in this, as they are already primed for resentments. He just points out the enemies.
Ironically, the other Republican candidates have adopted a similar approach to Trump in terms of emotionally attacking him, swearing and making personal insults. Those who follow the theory and methods we teach with the High Conflict Institute, know that you can’t win by playing the same game.
Instead, you have to show empathy, attention and respect (EAR) for his followers, and you have to show empathy, attention and respect for him. He doesn’t care, but the people who are watching care how you treat him – believe it or not. You can be emotional, but your emotions have to be positive. I know it seems like the last thing you want to do, but we have found that this approach works with high-conflict people in the workplace, in angry divorces and other legal disputes.
You can also be informative. People need to know that he is not as smart as he says, not as successful as he says and his plans are totally unrealistic. (Why do you think he has to keep saying these things?) You can point out the problems of his history and behavior, but you have to do it in a way that’s brief, informative, friendly and firm (BIFF). Just straight information, not sarcastic or judgmental. So long as you don’t attack him, his followers may just listen.
And there is hope! Remember just a few years ago when the news had another emotionally-intense colorful politician on TV and radio all the time – who was widely popular, but lacking in any of the qualities needed to be President. Few people take that person seriously anymore (although Trump does).
We need to recognize this pattern of media-fed emotional politics and how to deal with it – before it’s too late. It can happen here.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, mediator and the President of the High Conflict Institute based in San Diego, CA. He is the co-author of Splitting America (Unhooked Books, 2012) with Donald Saposnek, Ph.D. and author of It’s All Your Fault: 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything (HCI Press, 2008) High Conflict Institute provides training for managing high-conflict personalities in the workplace, legal disputes, healthcare and education. For more information: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.