Six Personality-Based Reasons Why Donald Trump Can’t Change

Posted on December 2, 2016 by Nate Regier / 5 comments
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This article was originally posted in August of 2015 and has been the most-viewed article in the history of my blog. Since we are in election season now, I thought I’d freshen it up, add some new resources, and repost for those who are interested in better understanding the enigma that is Donald Trump.

The Donald is a wildly successful real-estate mogul and entrepreneur. He has an uncanny ability to capture the public’s interest. In many ways I admire his ability to continually find new ways to expand his empire. Despite his credentials as a businessman, he is unfit to be president, and the reasons for this are unlikely to change.

High Conflict Personality

Tump has many characteristics of a high conflict personality (HCP). HCPs were initially labeled and described by Bill Eddy in his book, High Conflict Personalities in Legal Disputes. HCPs are characterized by lifelong patterns of attention-seeking, blaming others for any negative events, emotional volatility, willingness to take advantage of others for personal gain, a pattern of turning the tables on others when confronted, and lack of concern regarding their self-sabotaging behaviors.

HCPs tend to escalate conflict, alienate potential collaborators, and believe they are completely justified in their behavior. In today’s complex and volatile international climate, an HCP’s reckless and self-serving behavior is dangerous. Using the lens of HCP, we can evaluate leaders for their fitness to be stewards of our most precious assets and relationships. Here are five more characteristics that illuminate the high conflict personality.

Drama and limelight trump the truth

Trump prides himself on his directness and willingness to tell it like it is when nobody else will. However, he craves the limelight so much that he’s willing to bend the truth or simply fabricate his own version of reality to create a buzz. He’s gone so far with issues like immigration and political correctness that even the most conservative members of his own party have distanced themselves. His confabulations are an embarrassment to his supporters, and ammunition for his opponents. HCPs defy logic in their willingness to make up excuses even when they are exposed. If he were President, Trump’s preference for attention over reality would very quickly erode his credibility with the people he needs most.

Self-justification trumps effectiveness

Even when confronted about his outrageous and untrue claims about important issues or other political candidates, Trump chooses to justify, turn the tables, and make excuses rather than own up, apologize, and change his behavior. It’s one thing to take a stand. But when one takes a position in such a way that it polarizes and insults rather than stimulating meaningful dialogue, it does nothing to serve our country. When supporters pull away, HCPs interpret it as a sign of the other party’s deficit rather than seeing the reality that nobody wants to be associated with their drama.

Oversimplification instead of understanding

Trump is no different from any popular media figure in that he is gifted at soundbites and catch-phrases. However, when pushed to demonstrate any real understanding of major issues he usually comes up short. It’s one thing to have an opposing and well thought out view on an issue. It’s simply irresponsible to consistently make rash statements without understanding. This won’t get Trump very far with Congress.

Life is not a game with people as pawns

Trump promises to talk tough, show Mexico, China, Japan, Iran and anyone else who’s boss. He vows to win the contest and shoot straight with anyone getting in America’s way, just like he did on The Apprentice. Unfortunately, life is not a game. Leadership and diplomacy require courage and boundaries. They also require transparency, collaboration and respect. Leaders know that trust is the foundation for long-term success. Game-players see every relationship as a win-lose scenario to be manipulated and worry less about trust, more about covering their bases and having an exit strategy.

Low emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence involves awareness of, and ability to manage one’s emotions, and use this information to generate positive interactions. It’s difficult to determine whether Trump’s behavior reflects calculated execution, an impulsive lack of control, or a chaotic mix of the two. The longer we watch, the more we see that this is a consistent, unchanging character pattern. What is clear is that while he may be direct and claim to tell the truth, Trump lacks transparency and empathy, and leaves many wondering about his real motives. These behaviors don’t inspire trust, especially in matters of international importance.

When will the Trump bubble burst?  Hard to say. Since the Republican convention it seems things are going downhill pretty fast for him. Will he recover, or will be fall short? If he does lose the election or get ousted by his party, I predict he will have a compelling story about why it’s everyone else’s fault and the rest of us are the real losers. He is already planting seeds for a rigged election which is a sign that he’s working on his exit strategy to save face and avoid responsibility. If he does change, it’s likely to be a temporary strategy with unclear motives. That’s how HCPs roll and it’s unlikely to change.

Recently, behavioral analysts have started wondering if Trump suffers from a character or personality disorder. High Conflict Personality is not an officially recognized disorder, but it does overlap considerably with other documented disorders such as Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Do you live or work with a high conflict personality?

If you’re stuck with an HCP, don’t lose hope. There are resources available and strategies that will help keep you sane while minimizing the drama. Here are two great resources.

Trump Bubbles: The Dramatic Rise and Fall of High Conflict Politician

Understanding Trump

Copyright 2016, Next Element Consulting, LLC

CWC + Discussion GuideGet our latest book Conflict Without Casualties: A Field Guide for Leading With Compassionate Accountability. This book is the foundation for our Leading Out of Drama program, a comprehensive system for building cultures of compassionate accountability.

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Photo of Werner
Posted on August 14, 2015

Nate, you hit the nail on its head!

btw: the ‘your website’ doesn’t accept!

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West seegmiller
Posted on August 16, 2015

Prof Reiger
I enjoyed your class several years ago at Pepperdine and have followed your posts with interest. I recently bought your new book on drama. You are a keen intellect. I appreciate this post. It sums up my feelings on Mr Trump and is dead on.

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Nate Regier
Posted on August 16, 2015

Many thanks, Mr. Seegmiller. I am looking forward to teaching the Psychology of Conflict Communication course again this Fall.

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Bill Eddy
Posted on August 17, 2015

Nate, What a great application of High Conflict Personality (HCP) dynamics to a Presidential Candidate! I recently reviewed a great book on Narcissism (The Narcissist You Know, by Joseph Burgo), which included a few revealing pages on The Donald. His harsh upbringing, the death of his more sensitive brother and the vicious public humiliation of those who have worked for him make it clear that he is not someone I ever want to be around – or have as President. HCPs have more narrow patterns of behavior, so they are more predictable – and I think the world is starting to see this with Trump. While many people see these dynamics already, it’s sad that others will be seduced for quite a while. But usually within 6-9 months, the dysfunction of HCP behavior clearly overtakes the charm and attention-getting so that almost everyone will see though him (but never all). Thank goodness for the 16-month election cycle in this case! Best wishes, Bill Eddy (Co-author of It’s All Your Fault at Work!)

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Sue Ann
Posted on August 22, 2015

A great post. This breaks it down real well. I wondered what it was that irritated me.

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Photo of Marcelino
Posted on August 25, 2015

Great article. Spot on in my opinion. Unfortunately, as it’s often the case, I’m afraid that ignorance and apathy will win in the end. Some people just want something different, the first (fill in the blank), the loudest sales-man, etc. and that isn’t always the best. I hope to see a real race, not another circus with all its drama.

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