George Kohlrieser on Fear and Loathing in Politics

Just as in hostage situations, George Kohlrieser says politicians need to build bonds and understand what the other side truly wants to overcome their partisan divides.
  • Transcript


Question: How are politicians ideological hostages?

Kohlrieser: There are a lot of hostages there in Washington D.C. without a gun to their head. They are hostage to party ideology, they are hostage to political forces all kinds of things that do not allow them to truly focus on where we need to go. And, of course, that confusion stimulates confusion in the American people. I myself as I read and look at this I say, “Where is the truth here? Where do we need to go?” And leadership means somehow bringing people together, and it’s a very sad state when we cannot get a clear vision where people see that where going to go. Now, what we do know is negative does work, fear does work. The brain is oriented, it’s an early warning system, and it’s natural to look for danger, for pain. But if you don’t control it, you then get taken hostage to that fear and we have so many opportunities here to feel that fear and get pulled into the worst of what can happen. Now, what we have to do, and I’ve heard some people talked about this, how do we turn this into the best option, the opportunities? And that means you have to have people who stand up and have the courage to lead and guide. And the sad story is it appears that now there is a lot of partisan bickering and pulling into camps as opposed to building bonds. You see the other part of what makes really effective leadership is that you have to build collaborative relationships and that’s not what I see happening. It’s a lack of vision, lack of good clear cooperation, and being a secure base where you’re building trust, what we have now coming out of Washington is a lot of fear and I hope they understand that not only are they fearful but the American people are fearful and people around the world.

Question: How can politicians resolve their partisan conflicts?

Kohlrieser: Probably get out of the media spotlight long enough that they could sit down and have some good heart-to-heart dialog. Conflicts can be resolved; however, you have to come back to what the common goals are, where are the common goals and then start building a bond. Here’s what happens in a hostage negotiation. It’s a very simple process in one way with the complexity of emotion that involves a lot of risks, a lot of danger. But good trained hostage negotiators are able to build a bond, build a relationship with a hostage taker, and these people are not your most lovable people. They are not the kind of people you want to invite home for dinner. But through that relationship, you are able to help them see a benefit to giving up their hostages, giving up their weapons, come out knowing they’re probably going to go to prison. You’re in effect selling pain in a way for a greater benefit. And what is fascinating is that 95% of hostage situations are resolved through hostage negotiation techniques, 95%. Now, leaders don’t come near to that. They don’t come near to that level of effectiveness and my personal mission is to help leaders find that personal power, not for their own interest, but for common goals, common interest to be able to sell pain, drive the change process because in effect, we really are talking about how do leaders deal with change and uncertainty because we live now in times of change and uncertainty, and this is where leaders have to stand up and build these fundamental relationships, be a secure base, what we would call, where you build trust, and when you have that, you then shutdown the brain, the mind’s eyes tendency to activate this early warning system to see pain and danger. When you’re around a secure base, you tend to then not be looking for the danger because you feel protected. The problem is we do not feel protected. We’re driven by too much fear and the sense that there’s too much danger out there. It is there. It is there but you can’t focus on it because then you’re taken hostage.