Main How People Tick: A Guide to Over 50 Types of Difficult People and How to Handle Them
How People Tick: A Guide to Over 50 Types of Difficult People and How to Handle ThemMike Leibling
This book sure helped me deal with the difficult people in my life. Highly recommend it!
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2nd edition HOW PEOPLE TICK A guide to over 50 types of difficult people and how to handle them MIKELEIBLING HOW PEOPLE TICK HOW PEOPLE TICK A guide to over 50 types of difficult people and how to handle them 2nd edition MIKE LEIBLING London and Philadelphia Publisher’s note Every possible effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in this book is accurate at the time of going to press, and the publishers and author cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, however caused. No responsibility for loss or damage occasioned to any person acting, or refraining from action, as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by the editor, the publisher or the author. First published in Great Britain and the United States in 2005 by Kogan Page Limited Reprinted in 2005, 2006, 2007 Second edition 2009 Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with the terms and licences issued by the CLA. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside these terms should be sent to the publishers at the undermentioned addresses: 120 Pentonville Road London N1 9JN United Kingdom www.koganpage.com 525 South 4th Street, #241 Philadelphia PA 19147 USA © Mike Leibling, 2005, 2009 The right of Mike Leibling to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. ISBN 978 0 7494 5459 3 British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Leibling, Mike. How people tick : a guide to over 50 types of difficult people and how to handle them / Mike Leibling. -- 2nd ed. p. cm. ISBN 978-0-7494-5459-3 1. Interpersonal conflict. 2. Conflict management. I. Title. BF637.I48L55 2009 158.2--dc22 2008054358 Typeset by Jean Cussons Typesetting, Diss, Norfolk Printed and bound in India by Replika Press Pvt Ltd Contents About the author x Preface to the second edition xi Introduction 1 1. Angry people who may also be Aggressive, Antagonistic, Argumentative, Confrontational, Destructive, Explosive, Hostile, Intimidating, Threatening, Vicious or even Violent 2 2. Anxious people who may also be Catastrophizers, Dejected, Miserable, Pessimists, Sad, Scared, Terrified, Timid, Unhappy or Worriers 9 3. Apologetic people who may feel so apologetic so often about so many things that they and others feel they’re a ‘Sorry’ Person 11 4. Biased people who may also be seen as Bigots, Closed-minded, Prejudiced, Rigid, Unfair or Making Sweeping Assumptions or Generalizations 15 5. Blamers who may Blame Other People or Blame Circumstances, or just Not Take Responsibility for their own actions 19 6. Boring people who may also be Burblers, Digressers, Ramblers, Tedious, Unfocused or Wafflers 22 vi ■ Contents 7. Bullies who may also be Aggressive, Belittling, Bombastic, Bossy, Dictatorial, Haranguing, Harassing, Intimidating, Oppressive, Pressurizing, Railroading, Threatening or plain Unkind or quite possibly all of these at once 26 8. Change-resistant people who may also be Conservative, Inflexible, Risk-averse, Unadventurous, Unimaginative or indeed just Calm and Patient 32 9. Charmers who may also be Attractive, Charismatic, Seductive, Slick, Slimy or Smarmy or quite possibly all of these together 36 10. Cold people who may also be seen as Thick-skinned, Unaffectionate, Unemotional, Unempathetic, Uninvolved or possibly even Insensitive or Brutal 39 11. Competitive people 42 12. Confused people who may also be Unsettled 45 13. Difficult people who may be plain Contrary, Disagreeable or Disharmonious 49 14. Disobedient people 52 15. Disrespectful people who may also be Belittlers, Dismissive, Flippant, Humiliators, Insensitive, Politically Incorrect and/or Put-Downers 57 16. Dumpers who may mistakenly believe they are Delegators 62 17. Embarrassed people who may also Belittle Themselves and/or their Achievements, or be Excessively Modest or Quiet, Reluctant to Accept Praise/Compliments, Scared to Speak Up, Self-deprecating, Self-effacing, Shy 65 18. Forgetful people who may also be prone to Losing Things 68 19. Gossipy people who may also be Cliquey and Rumour-mongers 73 Contents ■ vii 20. Hostile people who may also appear to be Alienating, Antagonistic, Argumentative, Confrontational, Disaffected, Disloyal, Disrespectful, Grudging, Obstructive, Resentful, Ridiculing, Rude, Sarcastic, Snide, Sulky, Trouble-makers, Uncooperative, Undermining, Unforgiving, Unfriendly, Vengeful or Vindictive 78 21. Impatient people who may also be Complainers, Intolerant and Unreasonable 84 22. Impetuous, impulsive people 88 23. Indecisive people who generally Find It Hard to Make Decisions 91 24. Insecure people who may also be Fragile, Intraverted, Loners, Needing Constant Reassurance, Over-sensitive, Shy, Thin-skinned, Timid, Unconfident, Victim-like, with Low Confidence, Low Self-esteem, Low Self-worth 98 25. Insincere people who may also be seen as Deceivers, Liars, Manipulators, Tricksters, Two-faced, Untrustworthy 105 26. Last-minuters who leave things until the very last moment 108 27. Late people who may also consistently Miss Deadlines or be Unpunctual or Unreliable 112 28. Loners who may also Keep Themselves to Themselves and not be Obvious Team Players 115 29. Messy people who may also be Disorganized or Untidy 118 30. Moody people who may also seem Temperamental, Unpredictable and/or Unreliable 122 31. Must-have-the-last-word people who may also be Hangers-on and The Last to Leave 125 viii ■ Contents 32. Negative people who may also be But-ters, Dampeners, Pessimists or Wet Blankets 129 33. Nit-picky people who may tend to Find Faults 131 34. Patronizing people who may also be Arrogant, Belittling, Insensitive, Pompous, Self-important, Smug, Snobbish, Thick-skinned, Unobservant or all of these at once 134 35. Phobic people who may be Fearful, Frightened, Scared or Terrified of, say, presenting in public 138 36. Plodders who may also be Infuriatingly Slow, Tedious and Tortoises (vs Hares) 143 37. Princesses and princes who may aso be Daydreamers, Deluded, Precious, Preeners, Spoiled or probably all of these rolled into one 146 38. Repeaters, ie people who Keep Repeating Themselves 149 39. Scatter-gun thinkers who may also be Unfocused (actually Multi-focused) and Unpredictable and may Flit from Idea to Idea 153 40. Selfish people who may also be Inconsiderate, Self-centred, Self-obsessed 156 41. Show-offs who are Attention-seeking, Cocky, Extreme Extraverts and Full of Themselves 159 42. Stressed people who may also be Anxious, Fretful, Pressured, Tense and/or Worried 163 43. Unassertive people who may also seem too Compliant, Malleable, Subservient or Weak 167 44. Unenthusiastic people who may also be low on Ambition, ‘Drive’, Excitement, Inspiration, Motivation, Optimism or Passion 170 45. Unfulfilled people who may also be considered Failures, Inadequate, Sad, Underachievers or Unsatisfied 175 Contents ■ ix 46. Unmotivated people who may Do the Minimum, 181 Need Telling Every Single Thing to Do, and also be Clock-watchers, Demotivated, Disengaged, Uninterested, Incurious, Lethargic, Reluctant, Slow, Timeservers, Uninvolvable or Unwilling 47. Unrealistic people who may be Overpromising Others and Kidding Themselves 188 48. Untrusting people who may also be Cautious, Cynical, Hard to Convince, Sceptical or Suspicious 191 49. U-turners who may also be Backtrackers or Mind-changers 196 50. Workaholics 200 51. Yes people who appear to Agree with Everything and have No Real Opinions of Their Own 204 About the author Mike Leibling is a coach (with individuals) and trainer and facilitator (with groups and teams and boards) in the area of How to Get On With People You Don’t Get On With (!). He worked for nearly 20 years as a strategist with Saatchi & Saatchi, ultimately as International Strategic Planning Director. He had many clients, large and small, private, public and third sectors, and was increasingly called upon to spend his time doing training and coaching and mentoring. Then in 1995 he founded Strategy Strategy™ to help people and organizations to move on in ‘difficult’ situations or, preferably, to spot them coming and so avoid them in the first place. Preface to the second edition This book is for everyone who finds people fascinating, bewildering or infuriating, and yet still wants to understand them, work with them and live with them. Thanks to everyone for their feedback on the first edition – which ranged from ‘My most difficult client has turned into a pussycat’ to ‘You've obviously met my mother-in-law as she’s got a whole chapter to herself!’ The most common feedback, however, was ‘Why haven’t you written a chapter on X?’ And so, dear readers, we now have even more difficult people that we can handle, right here at our fingertips: ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ Disrespectful people Gossipy people Must-Have-The-Last-Word people Plodders Princesses(and princes U-turners Thank you all. Mike Leibling@StrategyStrategy.com www.StrategyStrategy.com (pages 57−61) (pages 78−77) (pages 125−128) (pages 143−145) (pages 146−148) (pages 196−199) Introduction This book is about understanding patterns of behaviour that annoy us and how we can change them. We often talk about difficult people, labelling an entire person as ‘difficult’ when in truth it may just be one aspect of their behaviour that we have found challenging. That’s why this book explores exactly how people ‘do’ difficult, instead of ‘are’ difficult. I dislike ideas such as stress management, because what is much more productive is stress avoidance. If we simply invest a little time in preventing a situation going wrong, we don’t have to pick up the pieces afterwards. But, over the years, I’ve noticed how people create stress by winding each other up time and time again, usually without wanting to, and with uncomfortable results. And I’ve also recognized that surprisingly common patterns of behaviour occur time and time again with people who naturally have very different individual backgrounds. That’s why I’ve written this book, because it’s much easier – and more effective – to identify and deal with behavioural patterns, rather than having to handle each difficult event, time and time again. So please dip in and enjoy these tried and tested tips for handling ‘difficult’ people in ‘difficult’ situations, based on a real understanding of their behaviour. 1 Angry people who may also be Aggressive, Antagonistic, Argumentative, Confrontational, Destructive, Explosive, Hostile, Intimidating, Threatening, Vicious or even Violent What ticks us off All of us feel angry at times, but people ‘do’ angry in different ways. Sometimes anger is directed very precisely at us, or at what we’ve said or done. At other times it seems as though it has nothing to do with us, and we’re receiving the full force of what might have been meant for someone else. It can also come in three temperatures: hot, cold and neutral. How it can happen Anger is felt by everyone. It’s a chemical thing, with all sorts of exciting chemicals being triggered off – to aid our survival. When people explode with anger, they are responding externally in the same way as the chemicals are reacting internally – ie wildly! But – and this might be hard to believe at first – anger only lasts about 20 seconds maximum. The chemicals, after 20 seconds or so, start to subside. So how come some people seem angry for hours or days or for ever? That’s because they follow Angry people ■ 3 the chemicals with thoughts. Typically, they start thinking of what the consequences might have been. Or they remember other people and occasions that have ‘made them feel like this’. Or, very commonly, they start plotting revenge! And – not surprisingly – all these thought patterns start producing their own chemicals, and the vicious (= angry) circle goes round and round all by itself. Sometimes anger is directed appropriately at us, for what we said or did, whether or not we meant to. At other times it can seem directed at us, or indeed at the whole world, for no apparent reason. It’s almost as though the person has no internal compartments for containing it, and it has spread within him or her, and comes whooshing out at any opportunity. (Or, with some people, it seems like every opportunity.) Let’s now examine the different temperatures. Hot anger happens almost instantly, often without warning, and can be really threatening. Some people seem literally to explode, and come over as physically threatening and in-yourface. As they are so incensed, they can seem wildly out of control. They often get really personal with their insults, and it’s sometimes hard to hear what they are actually saying through their heated activity. Cold anger is very, very calculated. The chemicals have subsided, and in the ensuing calm, the brain plots its next steps: what it is going to do, and how it can make itself felt. It can, therefore, be genuinely chilling. The message is clear. Every single word is clear. And the intention to have the message heard is chillingly clear and deliberate, in a controlled, almost clinically cutting way. And – unlike hot anger, which is pretty instantaneous – cold anger can sometimes be plotted and prepared and lie dormant for a very, very long time indeed. ‘Inactions speak louder than words’ I have a friend who always expresses her feelings and thoughts out loud, all the time. Her boss was the opposite – he sulked in 4 ■ How people tick silence. One day we were chatting about how she’d never been able to persuade her boss that she was upset, no matter how much she expressed her feelings. I suggested to her that instead of emoting her way (ie loudly), she tried emoting her boss’s way (ie coolly). The next evening she rang me, excitedly of course. ‘It worked brilliantly. My boss asked me first thing if I’d had a good weekend. Instead of telling him all about my problems, as I used to do (to which my boss used to say automatically “Good”), I just sort of grunted and mumbled “OK”, avoiding eye contact. Five minutes later he came back with a silly query – obviously made up. I just grunted a short answer back. Another five minutes later he rushed back shouting, “What on earth is wrong – I’ve never seen you like this before?” It worked: I got through by using his language (cool), not mine (hot).’ Neutral anger may sound like a contradiction in terms; how can ‘anger’ come over as ‘neutral’? Surely it needs energy – either searingly hot, or deliberately held back and cold? Well, neutral anger is also calculated, but it states the obvious so that the message is simple and clear – rather than reinforced with hot dramatics, or chilling effect. People from the United States can be especially brilliant at this, and can ‘do’ angry in a very neutral way, eg by saying calmly and factually ‘What you did made me feel very, very angry.’ (And then they leave a potentially endless pause, having said and done all that they chose to do, thus handing the baton over to the other person to accept the responsibility to respond.) ✓ TIP Tips for handling angry people Hot anger can seem to consume the person who’s ‘doing’ it, and there’s usually little point in saying anything until there’s Angry people ■ 5 less heat. A key tip is not to take it personally, as you’ll be so mortified inside that you’ll withdraw into yourself and the person will think you’re ignoring them! So, the main things that a hot-anger person needs are: ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ not to be ignored, as they’d feel they’re not getting through to you, and so they’d have to increase their signals; not to be patronized, such as being told to Calm Down; it doesn’t work when you’re Angered Up! not to be outdone; if you start telling them how angry or upset you are about their approach, or anything else, it denies them their agenda and voice; to be noticed; good eye contact is important, but soften your gaze and don’t stare! to be acknowledged as ‘angry’ on a personal level, then to have some help to move the situation forward, on an impersonal ‘what exactly needs to happen next’ level. A good way of acknowledging someone who is angry is to respect their position by saying, for instance, ‘You’re right.’ And then leave a jolly good long pause in place for them to consider this. If they don’t hear you (and ‘being’ angry seems to divert all the energy away from the ears), simply repeat it: ‘You’re right.’ And whenever I’ve said this, it has pretty much always taken the wind out of their sails. Or, as one client said, ‘It really took my sails out of the wind, thank you.’ When I asked how, he said that he knew he was right, and now that I knew he was right, he couldn’t ‘do’ angry any more. Is this being untrue to myself, saying that the other person is right? Not at all – because I truly believe that they are right to feel whatever they feel. (I am not, however, saying that I would feel the same if I were in their shoes.) 6 ■ How people tick ‘No, Mr Nicholls’ I was working in a shoe shop in Brighton, between leaving school and starting college. One Saturday, the tallest and secondangriest man I have ever seen came thundering into the shop, pulled me outside and pointed to the window display. ‘I want that pair of shoes for my wife.’ I assumed that the woman a few steps behind him was the wife in question and a quick glance at her feet suggested that the shoes in the window would be much too small. I explained that we put the smallest shoes in the window display, so we could fit more in. I explained that his wife’s feet were not the same size as the shoes in question. I explained that the window dresser was not in attendance (yes, I think I actually used that phrase!) until Tuesday – and none of this worked. He pretty soon turned into the first-angriest man I’d ever seen. Eventually he stormed out of the shop, dragging a rather pale wife but leaving behind a stream of colourful language. The manager, Mr Nicholls, came up to me, and in his kindly way hit the nail on the head when he gently said ‘Well, Mr Leibling, I don’t think you could have handled that much worse, could you?’ He was absolutely right. I had tried everything except the tips above! ✓ TIP Count to 10 Cold and neutral anger are highly effective in practice because they are the considered responses to a situation and internal chemical reactions that have already cooled down – so there’s no external ‘situation’ to cool down to begin with. (The old suggestions of counting slowly to 10 before responding, or ‘holding your tongue’ or ‘biting your lip’, come to mind here.) Angry people ■ 7 ‘Out of the mouths’ I remember being out for dinner with friends. Their three-year-old (who had previously been banished to his room for a minor misdemeanour) came slowly down the stairs. He calmly stopped halfway, paused, and then looked from parent to parent. He quietly said ‘You make me very unhappy’ and then, oh so slowly, turned back upstairs again – leaving the three of us with enormous lumps in our throats. The principles, however, are exactly the same as for hot anger. For example, with the three-year-old child in the case study we might say something like ‘You’re right.’ (Pause) ‘I’m sorry I made you unhappy.’ (Pause) ‘Come here and tell me what you want me to do.’ (Pause) ‘And we’ll have a big cuddle while I’m listening.’ This: ■ ■ ■ acknowledges the person and their feelings; acknowledges your own position; makes it clear that you intend putting things right, by listening to their thoughts; ■ moves the situation forward by putting the event into the past tense, where it belongs; even though the child said, ‘you make me very unhappy’, we contain the event in the past tense. ✓ TIP Tips for handling angry people Full stops After you’ve said what you need to say, shut up! (The full stop prevents you drivelling on and undoing your case or diluting the effect. It also allows the other person space to take on board the implications of what you’ve just said.) 8 ■ How people tick Rise to the occasion If the other person is standing and you’re sitting, stand up slowly and respectfully, eye to eye (that is, I to I). Speak up If they’ve been loud and you’ve been quiet, speak just a little more loudly than before, and see how this gets you noticed. Be precise It can be useful to ask the other person, coldly or neutrally, what exactly they are angry about and what exactly they need from you. Maybe you could do this at the time that they’re ‘doing’ angry, or maybe sometime later – especially if they’ve already stomped off! – in a note or phone call. 2 Anxious people who may also be Catastrophizers, Dejected, Miserable, Pessimists, Sad, Scared, Terrified, Timid, Unhappy or Worriers What ticks us off Some people just seem to be born worriers. They are always concerned about what might go wrong, and they can sometimes seem to obsess about it, rather than be able to get over it quickly. It’s not exactly uplifting to be around someone who’s doing this. And, for them, it’s often very, very debilitating. How it can happen People often ‘worry’ because when a situation comes to mind, they have a single big picture in their mind of what has gone wrong in the past or what might go wrong in the future. This ‘in-your-face’ mental picture is too real, too compelling and too big for them to see beyond, or to be able to consider alternatives. Sometimes it’s because they hear or think something, rather than see something (eg a voice saying, ‘this’ll never work because…’), and this can also seem so definitive that it’s hard to imagine otherwise. 10 ■ How people tick (At times, the person might have several pictures or thoughts in mind, but these are often different facets of the same worstcase scenario.) ✓ TIP Tips for handling anxious people The key is to help the person to see their picture, or hear their thought, as just one possibility rather than as an inevitability. For example, you might ask: ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ‘What exactly are you concerned about?’ to acknowledge their state of mind, and body. Allow plenty of time for them to feel comfortable to answer. ‘What needs to happen to stop that (worse-case scenario) happening?’ ‘What are all the possible hurdles/barriers/problems you can foresee?’ (And keep asking this until they run dry. This may generate alternative pictures or thoughts, to dilute the effect of their ‘worrying’ one, and begin to open their mind to other possibilities – albeit ‘negative’ ones for the time being. But they are all useful possibilities for you to consider, in any case.) ‘In your opinion, what exactly needs to happen to help this to work, then?’ ‘How probable do you consider each of these possibilities to be – given our current situation, not past situations?’ (This can help them to step back and assess the likelihood of the event happening, rather than simply to be overwhelmed by the very thought of it.) ‘So, what exactly could go right?’ (Be prepared to allow them time to think about this, or to get back to you, as this might not be their normal ‘positive’ pattern of thought.) 3 Apologetic people who may feel so apologetic so often about so many things that they and others feel they’re a ‘Sorry’ Person What ticks us off The best apology I ever heard was from a boss of mine. Someone had made a mistake that had cost our client dearly. He looked the client in the eye and said ‘I’ve got three things to say to you.’ (Pause) The client stopped looking mightily embarrassed and turned to meet his gaze. ‘Firstly, I’m sorry.’ (Pause) ‘We didn’t mess this up deliberately.’ (Pause) ‘It was our mistake.’ (Pause) ‘Secondly, we will pay for any out-of-pocket expenses that this has cost your organization.’ (Pause) ‘We don’t expect you to pay for our mistakes.’ (Pause) ‘And thirdly, I’m sure this has been a huge embarrassment for you personally.’ (Short pause) ‘Who do I need to speak to, to tell them that this was 100 per cent our fault? Sure, it was your responsibility to get us to do what your organization needs, but in this case you had done absolutely everything correctly, and I need your boss, or your boss’s boss, to know that.’ (Pause) The client let out the breath she had been holding all through this, and gratefully said just ‘Thank you.’ Some people do the opposite of this. They don’t just apologize, put the issue to bed and move on; they go on and on, and make matters worse. 12 ■ How people tick How it can happen When someone doesn’t just apologize, but goes on and on, and makes matters worse, not only do other people have to cope with whatever is the subject of the apology, but they also can feel that they should be looking after the apologizer, who is getting themselves into a Sorry State! And they can see themselves having to help the apologizer to put themselves back together emotionally. Let’s examine the strategies that people use to apologize ineffectively, which combine together to form the Sorry Cycle: 1. They don’t talk simply about the event they are apologizing for, but avoid the issue with external excuses (eg ‘I’d been made to work late and was tired’; ‘the post was late’; ‘other people made mistakes’), while often internally they are taking it very personally (eg ‘I am stupid’; ‘I shouldn’t have done that’; ‘I really should have foreseen that this might have gone wrong’) or they are literally believing – in extreme cases – that they are a ‘sorry’ person. And as they are reminding themselves of all of this internally, at the same time as apologizing externally, they are making themselves feel worse, and embarrassing everyone else, which of course makes them feel worse. 2. They focus on what went wrong, rather than on what needs to happen now, which of course makes them feel worse still. 3. And they can end up not knowing what to say next, and so fill the embarrassed silence with tears or a rapid exit, which makes them feel even worse still. ✓ TIP Tips for handling apologetic people Get them off the Sorry Cycle If someone is over-apologizing to you, get them off the Sorry Apologetic people ■ 13 Cycle by interrupting it. After they’ve said they’re sorry, change the subject, eg ‘Let me stop you there – I accept your apology, thanks. Now let’s talk about damage limitation/next steps/the next item on the agenda.’ Be honest A good tip for dealing with an overly apologetic person is to make succinct statements that cover: ■ ■ ■ the situation; the other person’s situation; your own situation. Then change the subject. For example, I remember a colleague saying to a co-worker, ‘I’m sorry you’re upset by this. That was not my intention. But my decision is still the same. For the good of the whole company. Any questions before we move on?’ and the coworker just said simply ‘Er, no. Thank you.’ (Each short point had been made. Each was accepted in turn. The matter was put to bed.) Always change the subject immediately afterwards If you leave a silence, then the other person may feel obliged to fill it. And they may be too emotional, lost in thought, or surprised that the apology is done and dusted so soon. Try, for example, ‘So what do we need to do now?’ or ‘Thank you. Now the next item on the agenda, please?’ or ‘Let’s meet for a drink later?’ When receiving an apology ■ Look the person in the eye. (Otherwise, how can they deliver it effectively if no one is there to receive it?) ■ Focus on future action, eg ‘What needs to happen next?’ ‘What have you learnt that will be useful in future?’ (After all, you are dealing with this at a behavioural level, not at a personal level, aren’t you?) 14 ■ How people tick ■ Look the person in the eye again – check that they are OK, and address any needs they have (eg to take a short break to regain their composure or dignity after not receiving the expected humiliating dressing-down that would have achieved nothing anyway!). 4 Biased people who may also be seen as Bigots, Closed-minded, Prejudiced, Rigid, Unfair or Making Sweeping Assumptions or Generalizations What ticks us off Sometimes people make sweeping assumptions based on generalizations: ■ ■ ■ ‘All foreigners are stupid.’ ‘She’s always ill.’ ‘He’ll never agree to this.’ And it’s very hard to budge people with these biased attitudes. (Whoops, another sweeping generalization! See how easy they are to make and to have?) How it can happen Convincer strategy Often, the person has a ‘convincer strategy’ of One. That is to say, they only need an event to happen One time before they feel convinced. This means that they love or hate something (a proposal? a restaurant? a person?) on the basis of only one example. For example, I myself have a convincer strategy of 16 ■ How people tick One, so if someone has a cold the first time I meet them, I’m constantly thereafter tempted to enquire solicitously about their health! ‘No foreign food’ Many years ago I took an elderly friend to see his wife in hospital. Afterwards I asked if he’d like to go and get something to eat. ‘Yes please, anything will do’, he said. As we passed various places I asked him, ‘Indian?’, then ‘Chinese?’, then ‘Italian?’, then ‘French?’ and so on, until he helped me a little by explaining that he didn’t like ‘foreign’ food. As we, eventually, were eating scrambled eggs on toast, he explained to me why he didn’t like ‘foreign food’. He had tried it once (he said) when he was involved in the evacuation of British soldiers from Dunkirk, and hadn’t liked it at all, so had never eaten it in the 40 or so years since then. Here’s a clear ‘convincer strategy’ of One, where on one traumatic occasion during the Second World War, a lifetime’s pattern was established. I’m staying where I am Some people’s biases and prejudices come from taking only one perspective on a situation: their own. This can lead to what might seem very unfair decisions, because there are two other perspectives that they typically ignore: the other person’s perspective, and an objective view of the overall situation. They will tend to impose their map of the world on other people, albeit with the other person’s interests at heart on occasions. For example, if their own hands are cold, they may well ask ‘Aren’t your hands cold?’ or ‘Don’t you have any gloves?’ Biased people ■ 17 ✓ TIP Tips for handling biased people If someone makes a sweeping generalization such as ‘foreigners are stupid’, they are almost certainly convinced that it’s true. They might – if they are challenged – reply with something like ‘Well, I met a foreigner once who couldn’t understand a word of English’ (which is a generalization born both from 1) a convincer strategy of One; and 2) from only their own perspective: ie if someone didn’t understand me, they are obviously stupid!). So, you could: ■ invite them to think a little below the surface by asking, very gently, ‘Because…?’; ■ challenge the generalization, gently, reflecting their words back as a gentle question, eg ‘All foreigners are stupid?’ or ‘She’s always ill?’ or ‘He’ll never agree to this?’ They might then reply with something like: ■ ‘Well, I met a foreigner once who couldn’t understand a word of English.’ ■ ‘Well, she’s been off sick a couple of times recently.’ ■ ‘Well, he might agree, but I’ve never been able to persuade him yet.’ Then you could ask about the number of events this is based upon: ■ ■ ‘How many foreigners are you basing this on?’ ‘How many times has she been ill, and over what period of time?’ ■ ‘How many times has he disagreed with something like this, out of a total of how many?’ Broaden the context (ie widen out the experience base they are drawing upon), eg: 18 ■ How people tick ■ ‘Do you think that “foreign” doctors, scientists, teachers and nurses are more stupid than others?’ ■ ‘What examples can you think of, of when she was in good health?’ ■ ‘Have you never seen him agree with anything?’ The ‘magic question’ I’m very fond of the ‘magic question’, as it opens up the situation hypothetically, not challengingly: ‘What would have to happen for you to reconsider this opinion?’ (Or you might feel brave enough to personalize it, and ask about ‘your’ opinion instead of ‘this’ opinion.) A useful follow-up to whatever they reply – and you might want to give them time to consider it – could then be ‘And would you be willing to give that a try?’ and/or ‘What help/ support/resources would you need to do that?’ Changing places If a decision/generalization/assumption is made unfairly, and you can see that the other person has made this only from their own perspective and has not taken all factors into account, you might get them to broaden their view not by challenging them aggressively, but by saying something like ‘I can see, from your point of view, why Z seems fair, but – putting yourself in my shoes – could you also take X and Y into consideration, so that I can feel comfortable with it too?’ And then, after a pause while this sinks in, but before they have a chance to object, offer a solution that works for both of you, eg ‘How about I do A, which will achieve the X and Y that I need, and the Z that you asked for as well?’ 5 Blamers who may Blame Other People or Blame Circumstances, or just Not Take Responsibility for their own actions What ticks us off ‘It wasn’t me. It was them. Honest. They messed it up. I did warn them, but would they listen to me?’ And on and on they go. This might sound familiar? Another pattern is just a curt ‘It wasn’t me.’ And both are normally accompanied by abnormal eye contact (eg overintense, shifting or none at all), and an abnormal tone of voice (eg clipped, desperate or tight). We can often sense a tightness and even panic in the person who is denying responsibility – whether they are going on at length about it or just flatly denying it. So, we have to deal with their panic and avoidance, as well as the situation! How it can happen Often this blaming happens because the person finds it hard to accept responsibility for what they’ve done or to apologize for the effects of what they’ve done. Maybe they take personally what they did wrong, as a reflection of who they are (eg instead of stopping at ‘I got that wrong’, they automatically add 20 ■ How people tick something like ‘… so it proves I am stupid, again’). Maybe they’ve suffered punishments in the past for making mistakes, and are avoiding the possibility of punishment again? Maybe they’ve been told that it’s a sign of weakness to apologize or accept responsibility? Whatever the reasons or the causes, their blaming seems almost like an automatic reaction. ✓ TIP Tips for handling blamers Culture shift Whatever organization we’re dealing with – a team, a business, a hospital, a school, a family – the key is to establish a safe culture of responsibility-without-blame. This is easy so long as we focus on future activities and leave people’s identities (ie who they are) and feelings out of the equation. (This might puzzle or even shock people who’ve been used to blame and punishment, so be prepared if they need a bit of time for it to sink in.) We hear a lot about establishing a ’blame-free’ culture, but how can it be done? Here are some tried and tested ways: ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ Break the pattern of protestation by interrupting them if necessary. Stop them ‘doing’ blaming, however they do it. Focus on the future, and what needs to happen. Try ‘Forget what has happened; what exactly needs to be achieved?’ You may need to give them time to come back to you on this, but when you have the outcomes clearly agreed, you can then ask them, or agree with them, how exactly the outcomes could be achieved, and by whom, by when, and with what resources and support. Learn by reflecting: ensure that each person involved thinks about what they’ll do differently as a result of what they’ve learnt from this episode. Some people will benefit from doing this one-to-one. Some teams or groups will benefit Blamers ■ 21 from doing it together. Or a combination of the two might work. (Not only does this reflection enhance the overall learning of the individuals and the team, but also it demonstrates that punishment is not necessarily the best way to function.) ‘Blaming everyone else’ We were running a big workshop called ’How to Handle Situations You Can’t Handle’ and at the start we asked the group what they wanted from the day. Various of the 100-plus group stood up and explained why they were there, and then one man shot up to his feet, banged the table and exploded ’I’m sick and tired of my situation! I hate my job. I hate the people I work with. I want to do something about it!’ Stunned silence ensued. Anyway, at the end of the day we asked if anyone had anything they wanted to say to the group, and our friend drifted to his feet, and dreamily explained ’I said this morning that I wanted to change my situation, but I haven’t achieved that, and it doesn’t really matter any more…’ and you could have heard a pin drop as we waited expectantly for what he was going to say next. He continued, ’I’ve realized today that I can’t change my situation, but that if I change in my situation, then (long pause) my situation has changed…!’ – and he sat dreamily back onto his seat. His enormous realization about taking responsibility caused a massive shift in his attitude. Gone was his hostility towards the world. And he had the tools to change – not his ’self’, but his behaviours. 6 Boring people who may also be Burblers, Digressers, Ramblers, Tedious, Unfocused or Wafflers What ticks us off Do they get straight to the point? Do they interest you with their conversation? Do you look forward to meeting with them? Do you heck – you get a sinking feeling even thinking about them! Off they go again, talking and talking but not really saying anything, while the rest of us are twiddling our thumbs, wondering when, or if, they are ever going to get to The Point, as they, sort of, if you know what I mean, go on and on – oh, and, by the way, popping off on little detours from time to time, and then, very often, stopping and asking something like ‘Sorry, what was I saying?’! This all wastes time, energy and attention. It labels people as ‘boring’ whose expertise might be undervalued. (In one company I worked with, a colleague was labelled ‘the company anaesthetist’. When I asked why, I was told that whenever they opened their mouth, other people fell asleep!) How it can happen There are several possible strategies they use: ■ Some people just need to think aloud, and until they hear Boring people ■ 23 ■ ■ ■ ■ what they have to say, they don’t really know what they think. (This can be wearing for the rest of us!) Others simply have not clarified ‘inside’ what they want to communicate ‘outside’. (Hence the old wives’ tale ‘Engage brain before opening mouth.’) They don’t really know what they are trying to say – through a lack of pre-planning – and so they do the thinking whilst in the meeting. It’s pressured for them, and pointless for the rest of the people. Others are ‘detail’ people rather than ‘big picture’ people, and they keep on giving details until they run out. And others may consider themselves to be ‘creative’, giving endless possibilities at every opportunity. Eye contact is often with the ceiling or floor, rather than with the people in the room, as they are thinking aloud and unready to talk to people. (This makes it somewhat impossible for them to see that they are boring people, and to change their course of action.) Sometimes, however, their eye contact is intense, as they realize they are talking aloud and try to over-compensate. At other times, if they realize that they are boring others, they intensify whatever they are doing and make matters worse, for example by speeding up (making what they say boring and unintelligible) or by getting louder (making it boring and embarrassing) or by over-justifying their case (making it boring and repetitive) or by giving too much detail (making it boring and confusing). ✓ TIP Tips for handling boring people What all of these varieties of boring people have in common is that those responsible are not noticing the effect they are having on others until it’s too late. And frequently at the same time, they are saying to themselves something like ‘What on earth am I talking about?! Where on earth am I going with this?! Will someone help me, PLEASE!’ 24 ■ How people tick Bored, bored, bored If you are being bored, say so, nicely. Take ownership of feeling bored, rather than blaming the other person. For example: ‘I need to stop you as I’m feeling confused with too much detail.’ Or ‘Can I remind you that we agreed to your proposal a few minutes ago? You can stop now.’ Or ‘I need to take a break – I’m feeling overloaded and can’t concentrate.’ The first step is to look them in the eye and stop them (ie rescue them) firmly but gently. Using their name followed by a pause is often effective and simple, eg ‘Mike.’ (Pause to get Mike’s attention…) The next step is to rescue them kindly by 1) recognizing the situation; and 2) pointing the way forward. For example: ‘Mike.’ (Pause) ‘I’m not clear where you’re going with this yet.’ (Pause, while Mike gratefully stops!) ‘Could we give you a few minutes to think further on the precise points you want to make, and come back to you?’ (Note the clear offer/instruction to come up with ‘precise points’ to help Mike to focus.) You might also give them a more precise brief, eg ‘We only need a headline recommendation from you, in no more than 30 seconds’, or ‘Let’s leave the details until later and just hear your key points, please’ or, simply and honestly, ‘I’m not sure we’ve time to do this justice. How about you e-mail us the bullet points after the meeting, for us to consider next time?’ Be clear and say what you want them to do next, eg ‘Please can you just give us your recommendation? We’ll take on trust your thinking, and we’ll ask any questions if we have them’ or ‘I need to know in a nutshell…’ or ‘After a break, let’s come back to this and spend just five minutes more.’ But the best strategy is to avoid being bored in the first place. Nowadays I always specify in advance – to financial advisers, presenters, salespeople, etc – what I need. For example: ‘Can you please give me the big picture/bottom line first, in only one sentence, and then I can ask you any questions this raises for me?’ or ‘My brain can’t take in details unless it knows what to do with them. So can you please start with your final conclusions and recommendations?’ Boring people ■ 25 Agendas I tend to ask people to tell me in advance of a meeting how long they need for each item on the agenda, to find out what time each item needs to start and finish, and therefore to find out how long the meeting ‘needs’ to be. This enables us to negotiate in advance the level of detail that 1) they need to give; and 2) we need to suffer – sorry, hear. In this way, expectations are clearly agreed in advance, and any items that might take an excessive time can be avoided – eg by asking for a briefing paper in advance. And, again, I will always negotiate the level of detail that is needed in a paper, to avoid the same situation occurring in writing. And, importantly for me, I will avoid those parts of the meeting where I don’t need to be there, and ask for those parts I want to be at to be clustered together so I: ■ ■ don’t need to keep popping in and out; don’t get bored by being there when I don’t need to be there. ‘Me too’ A story I heard from a counsellor/therapist – which drew gasps of astonishment from his audience initially – illustrates the benefits of getting the boredom out in the open, so it can be dealt with. He was working with a client and just couldn’t keep his eyes open. Eventually, after fidgeting, walking back and forth, sipping his water, going for a ‘comfort break’ – none of which had resuscitated his interest – he said to his client ‘I feel so bored and unable to concentrate: is it just me, or are you feeling it too?’ The client looked both astonished and relieved. ‘Yes, yes, I do, and thank you so much for mentioning it because I’ve noticed that I have this effect on people but because no one’s ever felt able to mention it to me, I’ve never felt comfortable to mention it myself and...’ Our counsellor/therapist friend interrupted him and suggested that they both take a break and then come back to consider what to do next. Stating the obvious often hits the nail, very precisely, on the head! 7 Bullies who may also be Aggressive, Belittling, Bombastic, Bossy, Dictatorial, Haranguing, Harassing, Intimidating, Oppressive, Pressurizing, Railroading, Threatening or plain Unkind or quite possibly all of these at once What ticks us off In a nutshell, what annoys us, to put it mildly, is feeling bullied. And however ‘grown up’ we may be, we can feel belittled, marginalized, ignored, insignificant – the list goes on and on – at quite a profound personal level. And the hurt goes on and on, too. I bet we can all remember the person who bullied us, whether physically or mentally, recently or long, long ago, and still feel resentful, and revengeful. How it can happen We’re not talking here about the teasing between friends that is pleasurable, inoffensive and acceptable to both parties. We’re talking about behaviour that crosses the line and is, for at least one party, unpleasant, offensive and unacceptable. This can be verbal, physical and/or emotional bullying. The major motivation for most bullies is that they can only feel ‘big’ (or ‘significant’ or ‘alive’ or ‘real’) when they make Bullies ■ 27 others feel ‘small’. And – though this is no excuse – the bully is very often being bullied themself, or has been, so this is the only way they know to gain some self-esteem for themself. How do they do this? There are many ways: ■ ■ ■ Being physically violent. Threatening to be physically violent. Playing ‘mind-games’ that make the victim feel ‘small’, eg threatening to make the victim suffer status-wise – for example: ‘You wouldn’t want (the boss) to think that you weren’t up to the job, would you?’ ■ Making things personal – for example, instead of saying something like ‘You didn’t present that very confidently, did you? How might you do it differently next time?’ they might say ‘Yet again you’ve proved to everyone that you’re a really pathetic presenter.’ ✓ TIP Tips for handling bullies You must (and this is one of only a handful of times I use the word ‘must’) talk with at least one other person about what’s been happening to you. It doesn’t matter who it is, so long as you can trust them, and it may be better if they have nothing to do with the specific situation. You need at least one person who is not connected with the situation but who is there for you. After all, the only thing worse than feeling bullied is to feel bullied and alone. What you think of me is not who I am As a vital form of self-protection, remember that whoever or whatever they say you ‘are’ or ‘aren’t’ (however violently they may say it), this is: ■ ■ only their opinion; based on what you did or said; 28 ■ How people tick ■ ■ not on who you are as a person; and you can easily change what you say or do, if you want to. ‘Cathy’s screen’ I knew someone who, whenever she was feeling bullied, had her thick glass screen rise out of the floor between her and the bully. She explained that she could see and hear them perfectly, but that all of their ‘stuff’ just stayed on their side of the screen and didn’t ‘get to her’. That way, she could listen and respond calmly, without feeling whatever they were trying to get her to feel. Having taught this idea to many people, I’ve been impressed by the varieties of screen that people have adopted: ■ ■ ■ ■ one that curves up over the head, because we get a lot of ‘stuff’ dumped on us from above; a 360-degree screen, because ‘people tend to try stabbing you in the back around here’; a Berlin Wall-like thick one, ‘to keep me feeling safe no matter what’s thrown at me’; one with built-in volume and size and colour controls so ‘I can turn down whatever’s overpowering, and feel comfortable and in control’. Whatever works, works! This is an easy, cheap and fun form of self-protection. Focus on the future Ask something practical (not personal) like ‘So how exactly do you think I might do it differently next time?’ and notice that this: ■ asks for their opinion, thus showing them that you’ve heard them; ■ stays firmly on what you might do or say, rather than anything ‘personal’; Bullies ■ 29 ■ gets them to look constructively to the future, not destructively to the past; ■ gives you some genuinely useful pointers – not to follow slavishly, but to consider. Then – and this might seem a bit odd – thank them for their suggestions and tell them that you’ll consider them (because there might well be some useful ideas in there). This keeps them talking, but on your terms, not theirs. It shows that you’re not scared of them and are willing to talk as an equal (and it may have been a long, long time since someone’s done that with them, or shown them how to do it). Continue a dialogue with them Over time, give them some feedback on their suggestions and add in some of your own. This will show your respect for their suggestions (if not for their previous behaviours!) and give every bully what they crave: being noticed and acknowledged and, in these scenarios, feeling genuinely useful. Not here, you don’t! Another approach is to follow, clearly, a legal or disciplinary route with the aid of your line manager and/or union or professional body. (You may also involve your line manager’s line manager if your line manager has been causing the problem.) Most countries now have anti-bullying procedures and/or legislation for the protection of people in the workplace. We can all expect to be allowed to do our job without fear of being bullied, threatened or harassed. Unfortunately, however, someone who follows these paths might be branded a ‘whistleblower’ or ‘sneak’ or simply unable to look after themself, and so these more formal routes should be considered very carefully before being followed. There is, however, strength in numbers, and if your union or professional body representative – or even your co-workers – are willing to work with you, a joint approach to the bully can 30 ■ How people tick work wonders. Not to threaten the bully, because that can easily escalate out of control, but to discuss – at a calm moment – how their behaviour has been causing upset, and how exactly they might behave differently. They might even be offered some form of coaching to help them. What/how A specific way of feeling subtly bullied or railroaded into doing something is for the person who is briefing you to tell you not only what to do, but how you ‘should’ do it – for example: ‘By Friday lunchtime I need a report on X, so you’ll need to ring these people, visit those people and do a spreadsheet in order to get the results.’ Well, there might be other ways of doing it that are easier or quicker for you. But it’s easy to feel railroaded into ‘having’ to do it the way that you’ve been told to, instead of finding your own way of doing it. (This may not be the most overt form of bullying, but it can leave someone feeling very belittled when they have to keep going back to ask for guidance on how exactly they are supposed to carry out the task.) ‘What? How?’ I remember a young colleague coming trembling out of his boss’s office. ‘He’s told me to do X, Y and Z by Tuesday at 3 pm and I don’t know how to!’ I pointed out that – from what I’d heard – he’d only been told to do X, but the Y and Z were how the boss would have done it himself. I suggested that the young trembler think about how he himself could achieve X, and then check back with his boss. He thought about it, went to see the boss and said ‘I just want to check with you before I start that what you want is X by Tuesday at 3 pm? You suggested I do it by doing Y and Z, which I don’t know how to do. Is it OK to do A and B instead, which will give you the same result?’ And after a short pause for thought, the boss simply said ‘Of course.’ Bullies ■ 31 Unless there is a specific procedure that has to be followed – for safety purposes, say – most people don’t care how something is done. Sticks and stones It is said that ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.’ All I can say to this is ‘Rubbish!’ Verbal bullying, belittling, appearance bullying – whatever it’s called – can be taken very personally and very painfully. To respond in a positive way, remember that the insult might have been meant personally, but you can choose not to take it that way. For example, a response that ‘fogs’ the bully’s intention might be ‘And your point is…?’ or ‘And so you’re asking me… what, exactly?’ 8 Change-resistant people who may also be Conservative, Inflexible, Riskaverse, Unadventurous, Unimaginative or indeed just Calm and Patient What ticks us off Some people look terrified even at the inkling that change may be about to happen. Indeed, even just the word ‘change’ can cause real panic in people. They can close right down, worrying about the very worst that might happen. And as change continues to happen more and more, resistance to change needs to be managed. How it can happen Those people who think negatively of change are unlikely to think of pay rises, birthday presents or other positive changes. The word ‘change’ seems for them to carry connotations of ‘… for the worse’. And so they can close down and refuse even to consider the possibilities, because they are too preoccupied ‘doing’ terrified, inside, and mentally reliving whatever disasters have happened in the past, and – they imagine – might well happen again. Change-resistant people ■ 33 ‘Off the beaten path’ I was chatting to a taxi driver about a recent bus strike in London, and asked how it had affected his business. I had expected him to be pleased about the increase in numbers of people using his taxi instead of a bus, but no! ‘I hate bus strikes’, he said. ‘I get no end of complaints from people when I take them on the shortest route to avoid all the extra traffic caused by people using their cars instead of buses. They get really anxious and want me to stay exactly on the roads that their bus normally takes!’ Certainly, a small level of anxiety about change or taking risks or the unknown is very normal, as it raises our level of adrenaline to be able cope with it. This ‘anxiety’ is, I repeat, very normal. But for some people it has become a genuine phobia where, at the mere thought of change, they have horribly vivid images of what could go wrong or what has gone wrong in the past. The idea manages them, and they are unable to manage ‘it’. And indeed for many people, the longer they are even mildly anxious about the unknown, the more likely they are to develop a phobia. After all, they will have a longer time to imagine what might happen (ie turn out ‘for the worst’ for them). ✓ TIP Tips for handling change-resistant people Change-resistant, risk-averse people are not being bloodyminded just to obstruct progress. Well, actually they are! They are literally reminding themselves of past events where they have been bloodied – metaphorically, at least. 34 ■ How people tick Change is… As a revealing exercise, you might like to try this on other people, or even on yourself – just complete these four sentences instinctively with the first things that pop into your head: ■ ■ ■ ■ Change is… Change isn’t… If only Change were more… If only Change were less… People who fear change might come up with something that reflects really deep fears, like: ■ ■ ■ ■ Change is scary… Change isn’t safe… If only Change were more infrequent… If only Change were less unsettling… Respect Start by respecting their anxiety or phobia – for example: ‘I understand you may have had some horrible experiences of bad changes in the past, sometimes dressed up in the guise of “opportunities” or “improvements”, but I’d like you to put those past events to one side and consider all the possibilities – negative and positive – about how it might be if we were to…?’ Ask for problems Maybe you could dive straight into the deep end, beyond their generalized ‘Change is scary’ into ‘So what, exactly, would be scary about that – point by point, please? We need to think about and address all aspects, don’t we?’ And then you might ask ‘And what could we do to make the situation less scary?’ Perhaps you could do this with small groups of people, to stimulate ideas and depersonalize it somewhat for the individuals, compared to a one-on-one environment. Change-resistant people ■ 35 Check the baby Sometimes, just sometimes, they might be right! Change, with the best intentions in the world, might just be for the sake of it, and it’s too easy to throw out the baby with the bathwater. (A very successful Canadian beer once advertised with the slogan ‘Tired of the same old beer? Nope. Nor are we.’) 9 Charmers who may also be Attractive, Charismatic, Seductive, Slick, Slimy or Smarmy or quite possibly all of these together What ticks us off There’s nothing wrong with genuine charm (ie how something is done, with politeness, warmth, consideration for others), but some people habitually and hollowly charm their way into and out of any situation. They leave others to pick up the pieces and may feign surprise at the mess or hurt they have left behind, or may even be genuinely surprised, so automatic is their behaviour. How it can happen Charm and charisma often develop in people whom other people find ‘attractive’. And the people who are attracted to them, for whatever reason, are therefore motivated to want to ‘get to know’ them. So, have you ever noticed how ‘attractive’ people rarely start a true conversation, or need to? That’s because they are used to people who find them attractive initiating the conversations. And, in turn, that’s largely why ‘attractive’ people can become accustomed to being able to say and do almost anything, and get away with it! (The more Charmers ■ 37 astute ones are well aware of the power this brings, and are conscious of the potential to misuse this power. The others just enjoy the attention and even adulation that they receive, irrespective of the consequences, which they are barely aware of in any case – because they’re being admired by their next admirer!) Back to charmers – do they never initiate true conversations, you might be asking? Well, not really. They might have conversation starters, such as ‘Tell me about yourself’ or ‘What can we do for you?’, but these are designed to draw out the other person’s agenda, which they can then fit in with. And that’s why they can develop a habit of saying whatever they think the other person might find the most charming. They might then promise them the earth, to keep the attraction going, even if it’s not theirs to give. Or – in organizations – they might over-promise what the organization cannot deliver. Challenge them on this – for example: ‘Mike, how on earth could you promise that we would do X?’ and you might get an innocent ‘But I thought that’s what they wanted.’ And you know the irritating thing – they are probably right! Years of charming has left them with good instincts for what other people would like, or at least would like to hear. Many CEOs, politicians and entrepreneurs are utterly brilliant at being charming. In fact, that’s their main skill, and there’s nothing wrong with that so long as they have a team to deal with the detail. Think of Prince Charming. Charming is all he was required to do, and by all accounts he did it brilliantly. (What is less well known is that in the palace there were others to take care of the business.) ✓ TIP Tips for handling charmers Cinderella’s fella Consider again Prince Charming; he is a good example of a 38 ■ How people tick charmer, and was most definitely not brought up as Prince Team Player. Being charming has become an embedded part of who charmers consider they, deep down, are. So, the following are very unlikely to work: ■ ■ ■ ■ getting them to be a team player; asking them to consider consequences in advance; requesting that they consult before committing; suggesting that they themselves deliver what they have promised. Play to the charmer’s strength – finding out what other people really want by charming it out of them. Wind them up and point them in the direction of the new, or the unfathomable. Get them to soothe someone who’s upset or disillusioned or disenchanted. What you might find hard, but with practice it will happen (possibly over a jolly drink rather than by asking directly), is to get them to tell you what they’ve discovered! (They are used to other people making the running, not stopping to analyse and explain what’s going on.) So, accept the fact that they may leave people charmed, and that you might have to go along and apologize for their overpromise, but they will have bought you all a lot of goodwill in the meantime. (And yes, you’re right – some people will see through this in a trice, and may well give you marks for trying, but will not fall for the charm or be won over. But since this situation was unfathomable to begin with, you’ve lost nothing in any case, have you?) 10 Cold people who may also be seen as Thick-skinned, Unaffectionate, Unemotional, Unempathetic, Uninvolved or possibly even Insensitive or Brutal What ticks us off People who radiate coldness are often referred to as ‘fridges’. That’s how they ‘are’. They typically don’t want to get involved, or even can’t risk or face getting involved, with other people. To be honest, they are the last people we would go to if we had a personal problem; they’d maybe just stare at us in blank amazement, or scuttle off to some hurriedly remembered appointment. In any case, they probably choose careers where dealing with people is low on the agenda – and might well feel more comfortable dealing with numbers or machines. We don’t particularly, therefore, welcome them into our teams, or hearts. They may be described functionally as useful or hard-working, but they are rarely thought of or talked about emotionally or affectionately. How it can happen There are many reasons why this may happen: having been hurt in the past, not wanting to blur the boundaries between 40 ■ How people tick work and outside, fear of over-involvement, being wary of identifying with the problem. But how it happens is much simpler. Second person Empathy, warmth and affection emerge when people are good at putting themselves in others’ shoes and imagining what things are like for the other (ie second) person. They might say things like ‘From the way you describe it, that must have hurt you’ or ‘By the smile on your face, you are obviously feeling very proud.’ (Some people can overdo this, however, and crowd into the other person’s shoes, saying things like ‘I know just how you feel.’) These people don’t normally ‘do’ cold, unless they are flung out of the other person’s shoes, perhaps for having been too emotionally crowding, and then they might withdraw as a reaction. First person Some people are very aware of themselves (ie first person) and what’s going on in their own shoes, eg ‘I’m angry’, ‘I’m confused’, ‘I need to speak my mind’. They are rarely seen as cold, even though people might be a little wary of getting involved with them. Sure, they know what they like, and where they stand, but that might leave little room for other people to relate to them. Third person Some people just want the facts in a situation – for example: ‘Forget about what I feel, just show me the facts, please’ or ‘I’m not interested that you believe in this – where is the evidence?’ This ‘third person’ position can be interpreted as ‘coldness’, because the response comes from no one’s shoes; it comes from a detached observer position, looking objectively at the shoe shop, so to speak. Cold people ■ 41 Sometimes the person might deliberately load on the coldness as a barrier, but a matter-of-fact tone of voice can easily be interpreted as cold or clinical in itself. ✓ TIP Tips for handling cold people Forcing a ‘cold’ person to get more involved, or to give a personal opinion, might well be frustrating (for both of you) and fruitless. (The saying that comes to mind is ‘Never try to teach a pig to fly – you won’t succeed, it’ll be really hard work, and you’ll really annoy the pig’.) They might in any case find it hard to know what they do ‘feel’ in their own shoes, preferring to think ‘about’ the situation, rather than go ‘into’ it. This is not to say that they don’t have feelings – but they might well have chosen not to allow themselves to ‘feel’. And this choice demands a lot of energy and willpower (won’t-power?) to maintain their position, façade or front – whatever they have chosen. And maintain it they will, at all costs, because if it were to crumble and they were to ‘go to pieces’ because of unmanageable feelings, they often fear that it might not be possible to pick up all the pieces. (Of course, they might surprise you with huge resources of empathy and warmth on a personal matter, but if that happens and these floodgates of theirs are unleashed, be prepared to help with their embarrassment and confusion at this unleashing and loss of ‘face’.) When in Rome… So, in a nutshell, speak their language. They’ve clearly shown how they prefer to communicate, so do what they do. If you want their opinion, ask for their ‘analysis’. If you want to know how they feel about something, ask about the ‘pros and cons’. If you want to get them involved, ask them to be available as and when their input may be needed. You get the picture? 11 Competitive people What ticks us off Competitive people always have to be the winner, at the front of the line, or have the last word, the best results, the biggest desk – or at least they need to be seen to be the winner. This can be pretty tiring for other people if they try to keep up with them – and it’s pretty exhausting for them too, as they put their everything into winning. How it can happen These people are not just show-offs who crave attention, since they genuinely love the chase, race, battle and challenge. In fact, they need it and thrive on it. (This reminds me of a car bumper sticker I once saw saying ‘Whoever Dies with the Most Designer Clothes Wins.’ Some people seem absolutely compelled or driven to win at everything.) ✓ TIP Tips for handling competitive people There may be many reasons why they feel and behave like this, but whatever the reasons, these people are reasonably easy to handle. Competitive people ■ 43 Here’s a challenge for you! If these people need the thrill of the chase, it’s easy to give it to them, or to give them that impression. They’ll love even relatively everyday tasks packed in a shiny wrapping – for example: ■ ■ ‘I’m not sure if you’ll be able to crack this one, but…’ ‘Do you think that X would be better at doing this than you, or will you accept the challenge?’ ■ ‘I’ve no idea whether this is possible, but…’ ■ ‘I’m not sure if this can be done in time, but would you have a go?’ ■ ‘I’ve no one else to turn to/rely on for this.’ And the winner is… (Part 1) Praise them. Be precise about what they’ve achieved against all the odds. If they prefer to be praised publicly, ensure that you do it in the way that best pleases them. If they prefer to be praised privately (as many people do), I’d be very, very surprised! And the winner is… (Part 2) Praise everyone. It’s only fair, and who doesn’t like it? And ensure that you make a modest mention of those you praise in private to Our Competitive Friends, so that they don’t get to feel complacent and are energized by the sense of competition. League tables It’s perfectly possible to have Our Competitive Friends motivated by all sorts of performance charts on a weekly or monthly, or even daily or hourly, basis, so long as other people don’t feel left out or left behind. You might confide the results only to those who are energized by them, and not bother those who aren’t bothered. 44 ■ How people tick You might also confide to those who aren’t bothered, why exactly you’re doing this, as you hope to motivate each person in the way they prefer to be motivated, rather than in a uniform way. 12 Confused people who may also be Unsettled What ticks us off If someone is confused, their feelings of being unsettled can unsettle others. They look unsettled. They can’t concentrate. And they often feel they shouldn’t be confused, which only adds to their confusion. How it can happen It can feel very unsettling for someone to ‘be’ confused. Inside, their head may be swirling. Their ears and eyes may be open but they may not really hear or see. They may feel less solid and secure than usual. Or their chest may feel tight and panicky as they desperately need to be able to breathe freely again. In extreme cases they might even ‘go to pieces’. Some people even feel that ‘being confused’ is like ‘being stupid’, whereas in fact confusion is an essential step in most learning processes. (It could also be thought of as ‘playing with ideas’ when we’re deliberately playing with thought fragments.) All this is very natural. Confusion is like having jigsaw puzzle pieces without the big picture, or like having the ingredients without a recipe – it’s not clear what we are supposed to 46 ■ How people tick do with them. Or worse still, when we have a lot ‘on our mind’ it can be like having the ingredients to several recipes, without the recipes! Without a pattern, we can play with the pieces this way and that, time and time again, with little hope of resolution. Confusion is sometimes not having all the pieces. Sometimes it’s being unsure whether or not there are pieces missing. And at other times it’s sensing that the pieces you were sure of have been disturbed or rearranged. In all cases we can get uptight because we are confused, or we can let the pieces just ‘be’ there, until resolution happens. New or changed information Sometimes we ‘become’ confused when someone says or does something that seems out of character or unexpected (ie from a different ‘pattern’). How can we accommodate this new information in a pattern that now suddenly seems outdated? An extreme example might be when someone does something negative and surprises us with the information that even though they pretended to be our friend, they never really liked us. It’s left to us to re-examine history and to make sense of the events from the ‘friend’ pattern, in the context of this new ‘pretending to be a friend’ pattern. Collecting information At the beginning of a project we may have a sense of what we want to achieve, but have no idea of how we might achieve it. So, we are playing with lots of potential patterns, one after another, or at the same time. Again these can get confused, with each other. Conflicting information Often we might have two pieces of information that do not easily coexist in the same pattern, eg ‘I need you (a work Confused people ■ 47 colleague) to draft a Dear John letter to my girlfriend/boyfriend for me’ (ie a Personal Pattern within a Work Pattern). ✓ TIP Tips for handling confused people As complex and confusing as confusion itself feels, it’s simple to exit from it. Here are some tried and tested questions. What exactly are you confused about? This question generally helps to pin down the issue because, to answer it, the person has to search through all the pieces they are playing with, to identify, by elimination, the precise problem areas. What exactly do you need? This is a simple question that will often receive something like ‘I don’t know’ as an initial answer. Give the person time to think about this, because if the answer had been an easy one, they would have sorted out the situation for themselves. Other variations on this are ‘What exactly are you missing?’ or ‘What exactly would solve this for you?’ (But you’d probably not be helping by asking ‘What can I do?’, because the issue is ‘what needs to be done’, rather than who could do it. That can come later.) 48 ■ How people tick ‘Clearly getting less confused’ The story comes to mind of someone who was asked a question and then started thinking aloud, at length. The questioner got impatient with the lack of an immediate precise answer, and said so. The ‘thinker aloud’ replied ‘I’m still confused, so how do I know what I think, until I hear what I have to say?’! A lot of people are like this. They produce ideas through their mouth in order to edit them through their ears. This is quite an efficient process, so long as they warn people, eg by saying ‘Let me think…’ or ‘I just need to think aloud on this…’ or ‘I’m going to think aloud, so you can carry on with what you’re doing as I don’t need you to participate in this!’ 13 Difficult people who may be plain Contrary, Disagreeable or Disharmonious What ticks us off Some people ‘are’ just difficult, we hear. It’s not just one aspect of their behaviour, it’s ‘them’ as a person. If I said black was black, they’d say it was white. If I said this book was a book, they’d disagree. And it’s common for this contrariness to be mutual – as the saying goes, ‘When you think you’re dealing with an idiot, so do they!’ How it can happen Physiologically, when this pattern exists between two people, or between one person in a group and the rest of the group, our body language involuntarily shows us to be tensing up in preparation for whatever battle is to come, and so the other person sees us tensed up for battle. A self-fulfilling prophecy. (Try it on for size: think of someone you’ve had problems with and say to yourself ‘This is going to be difficult, again.’ You can feel your shoulders sagging, your energy dropping and your spirits drooping, can’t you?) Shared values, however, can lead to harmony (for example, we can still be very good friends even with someone whose 50 ■ How people tick behavioural likes and dislikes are very different from our own, as we can ‘agree to differ’). Dissimilar values, though, can generally lead to severe disharmony because of battles of ‘realities’ (eg ‘Well, I need X!’, ‘Well, I need Y!’ or ‘Well, I believe X!’, ‘Well, I believe Y!’). And fundamentally there is often an obstructive belief that is based on past experiences, much like ‘This is going to be difficult, again’ or ‘This person is difficult’ – which dooms past events to repeat themselves, especially if we’ve been thinking of them: ■ in the future or present tense rather than in the past tense, eg ‘they are never interested in what I have to say’ versus ‘they have never been interested in what I’ve had to say’; and/or ■ as the whole person or situation being ‘difficult’ (rather than one aspect of their behaviour having been difficult as against ‘them’ being difficult as a person), and this perpetuates the situation, eg ‘they are difficult’ or ‘they’ll never be able to do this’. ✓ TIP Tips for handling difficult people Stay neutral Rather than dismiss the whole person or situation as inevitably continuing to be ‘difficult’, contain the behaviour (not the person) in the past tense, not the future or present tense, in order to leave room for a different course of action. For example, instead of saying to yourself ‘They’ll never be able to do this’, try something like ‘They’ve never been able to do this…’ and maybe add ‘… so I’d better find out what’s been stopping them, and what needs to happen differently.’ Difficult people ■ 51 Sharing clashing values Clashing values can have profound effects. One person may ‘need’ something that’s very contradictory to what another person needs. Nothing can ever shift either side, whatever is tried. (Notice the awful use of future and present tenses, dooming this situation to perpetual ‘failure’!) So let’s rephrase it – ‘Nothing has ever shifted either side, whatever has been tried’ – thereby leaving the field wide open to try new things. And maybe try this simple three-step negotiation process: 1. What exactly do you need, in this situation? (And keep eliciting ‘What else?’) 2. What exactly do I need, in this situation? (Ditto.) 3. How exactly could we get what we both need, so that neither of us feels compromised, and we get a truly comprehensive solution? 14 Disobedient people What ticks us off How many times do I have to tell them! Why can’t they listen?! Why can’t they do as they’re told?! They tell you one thing and then go off and do another! And so on – it can be exasperating and exhausting and, above all, bewildering! Why can’t people just do as they’re asked to do?! (And this applies just as much to people who do more than they’re asked to do, as well as less, or nothing.) How it can happen No negatives please The first pattern that ensures that things turn out exactly as we don’t want them to is to tell people what we don’t want. Think about it. How can you guarantee that children will run in school corridors, or that a person will worry about something? Easy. Tell them ‘Don’t run in the corridors’ or ‘Don’t worry.’ Try it for yourself. Don’t think of a pink elephant whistling. Don’t think of a lovely sandy beach under a deep blue sky. The way that ‘Don’t...’ works is to freeze the thought processes, similarly to ‘Stop...’ or ‘I don’t want you to...’ or one of the many other forms of thought stoppers. And what does the brain do once stopped? Nothing. It simply obeys the Disobedient people ■ 53 instruction. It’s the same as if you shout ‘Don’t!!!’ at someone who’s doing something; they freeze, wondering what they are supposed not to do or to stop doing. What happens next is that the brain gratefully seizes on whatever it is given next, so that it can start doing something again, but doing what? That’s easy: ‘... run in the corridors’ or ‘... worry’ or ‘... think of a pink elephant whistling’ or ‘... think of a lovely sandy beach under a deep blue sky’. I thought you said... Another pattern is that some people take on too much responsibility because they regard information as instructions, whereas others take too little responsibility as they regard instructions purely as information. Hearing information as instructions These people are eager to please, and to go the extra mile – even if not asked or not required to do so. Have you ever asked someone something simple, such as ‘Can you find out train times to Smalltown on Friday morning?’ only to find that they later hand you a ticket?! And when you point out that you were just wondering about the journey times, they’ll be adamant that you asked them to fix the journey for you? Or have you ever made a simple observation, eg ‘This room looks a little grubby’, only to find that they are convinced you told them to clean it or redecorate it? Hearing instructions as information The opposite pattern is where you think you have told someone explicitly what you need, and by when. You have checked that they understand how to go about it, but not only do they miss the deadline, they seem oblivious to whatever they had agreed to, eg ‘I thought we were just chatting about it – you didn’t tell me to do anything. Honestly, I’d have remembered!’ And they truly believe this! It can seem as though they are just drifting around, never actually coming down to earth. 54 ■ How people tick ✓ TIP Tips for handling disobedient people There are a few ways to ensure that we get what we want. Don’t don’t(!) Going completely against the way that the ‘don’t’ pattern works, tell people clearly what to do, not what not to do. In this way you’ll be planting the thought of what you want, rather than of what you don’t want. ‘Why do people fear dentists?’ I remember giving a workshop on this language pattern to a group of dentists. They use it a lot. Instead of saying things like ‘This drilling will be quick’ or ‘This will be a little uncomfortable’ or ‘Think of nice things’, they might be using language like ‘This drilling won’t take long’ or ‘This won’t hurt much’ or ‘Don’t be scared’ (my italics). And, as we have seen, it plants in the patient’s mind exactly the opposite of their intention. Information as instructions However precisely you say that you only want the train times, there is a risk that the person will over-deliver, as this overresponse is often hard-wired (ie unchangeable) in them. So, use the pattern to break the pattern. Talk calmly with the person, during a calm moment, about their pattern of over-delivery. Let them know that their attitude is fabulous. (Do people still use that word, meaning literally the stuff of legend? I do, because that is precisely what this attitude is. Priceless.) Calmly inform them that no matter what they’ve been told by other people, in 21st-century organizations no one needs to be anxious to over-please, just to please enough. And, calmly, reassure them that it is perfectly safe for them to do this. And to trust you Disobedient people ■ 55 when you tell them this. And to check with other colleagues if they are in any doubt. And always, to reassure themselves, to check back with the order-giver: ‘So, you only want train times? Not tickets?’ In this way, their instincts are respected and preserved. Their initiative is encouraged (because sometimes we might have forgotten that we needed train tickets too!). And the pattern is quietly modified, as they’ll want to over-please you by adopting this new pattern. Instructions as information However much you precisely spell out what exactly you are wanting, there is still a tendency for the person to block out the instruction to do what you’ve asked. So, if spelling it out patiently has not worked, it’s time to use the tried and tested opposite: a big, impatient bang or two. It is useful, not to mention legally essential, to record the incidents in writing, for a formal performance appraisal. Compile a sheet that details all their successes, and then the categories of performance where you are looking for improvement. In each category, have three specific examples of nonperformance or failure to achieve. Then you can fairly discuss with the person what exactly they need to be able to achieve in order to improve their performance to clearly specified standards within a specific time period. This will go relatively smoothly, as the person will probably take this in as information, not instructions! And, of course, there will have been an area of discussion en route where they dispute that they failed on the specifics, and argue that maybe they weren’t briefed clearly. (And this may be true; perhaps their manager hadn’t had the time or ability to brief them effectively.) Crucially – and this is Big Bang time – you need to discuss what exactly will happen if they do not meet the performance criteria agreed. Ask them for suggestions, because it’s time that they switch from not having taken responsibility for their own actions, to taking responsibility. You may also ask them to come back to you later, having thought about it. 56 ■ How people tick And – Big Bang Two – you could ask them what the whole pattern on the paper adds up to, in their opinion, and what, if they were you, they would do about it. Again, they may be rather stunned, having to think about it in this way, and may need time to think about it and allow it to sink in. Whatever the outcomes, these two bangs should begin a process whereby they start seeing things differently and should enable them to realize what they need to do differently. And, naturally, some people may be devastated at seeing the reality of their actions or inactions in black and white like this, and may need considerable support, not to get back on track – because they were on the ‘wrong’ track – but to find new ways of working. After all, they may have upset a lot of people who will need to give them a second (at least) chance. 15 Disrespectful people who may also be Belittlers, Dismissive, Flippant, Humiliators, Insensitive, Politically Incorrect and/or Put-Downers What ticks us off They make light of situations and shrug off their mistakes and responsibilities as if they don't matter. They disregard us and our opinions, and those of people close to us. It feels so belittling – how dare they! How it can happen They never seem to take anything seriously enough. Some demonstrate this with a gesture, like a dismissive wave of the hand, turning their back on us, or answering their phone while we’re talking to them. Others throw out comments like ‘Don’t be stupid!’ or ‘Your friend is an [insult]!’ OK, some people deliberately put others down in order to try to make themselves appear superior (see chapter on Bullies). But many people disrespect others unwittingly as they genuinely fail to understand the seriousness of the situation. 58 ■ How people tick We could speculate forever about how this might have come about. Some people might have been brought up not to ‘worry their little head’ about weighty matters. Others might have been told that ‘it’s nice to be able to lighten the mood with a joke to cheer people up’ or ‘don’t take things too seriously’ or ‘don’t take things to heart’. But what they all have in common is that they make us feel disrespected, don’t they? Wrong! Contrary to popular opinion, no one can make us feel anything. So when we hear people saying ‘he made me so angry’ or ‘she really annoys me’ or in this case ‘they really made me feel small/belittled/ humiliated/insignificant’ – no, they didn’t. We did that to ourselves. Not deliberately of course. No one deliberately wants to make themself feel like a victim, do they? But feeling disrespected can really ‘make’ us feel (ie we can make ourselves feel) trapped. Shakespeare’s Hamlet summed it up succinctly ‘… there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.’ ‘… thinking makes it so’ Two Buddhist monks were crossing the river when they spotted a woman who had been swept downstream towards them. The older monk caught her in his arms and carried her safely to the river bank where they continued on their journey. After a few days the younger monk said to the older one ‘I can’t keep quiet on this any longer! We’re Buddhist monks. You know we're not allowed to touch women. And you touched that woman!’ The older monk replied quietly ‘Yes, I did. In fact I not only touched her, but I carried her. And I not only carried her, but I carried her for five whole minutes. But you’ve been carrying her for five whole days.’ It is said that being unrealistic is ‘doing or saying the same thing but expecting a different result’ so it’s clearly unrealistic for us to try to deal with disrespectful behaviour by expecting Disrespectful people ■ 59 them to magically change without clear direction and role modelling, It’s down to us to communicate more clearly. ✓ TIP Tips for handling disrespectful people Don’t take it personally Remember the Buddhist monks? It’s down to us how we interpret things and how we carry those interpretations around with us. We can always remind ourselves that it was just a gesture or a comment, not an insult about who we are. We can then focus on ‘so what exactly were they asking or saying?’ and ‘so what exactly am I going to do next?’ or we could even do what many people do, and ‘put it behind us’. Putting it behind us Some people literally put bad things behind them, instead of having them constantly ‘in their face’ or ‘weighing on their mind’. They imagine sweeping them over their left shoulder (which seems the more effective shoulder for most people) with their right hand, and the bad things seem to fade away as they do it. They can still be used for learning from (eg asking how exactly did that ‘make’ me feel so bad?) without the negative feelings that were there when it was ‘in their face’ or ‘on their mind’. In my shoes Since many people show disrespect unwittingly, we might try offering them some gentle guidance, eg ‘Pat, if you were to put yourself in my shoes [and then maybe pause a little for this strange concept to sink in!] how do you think I felt when we were in the middle of our meeting and you turned your back on me to have a phone conversation with not so much as an ‘excuse me’?’ 60 ■ How people tick Then allow time for Pat to consider this and if the silence becomes too long change the subject, eg ‘Anyway, I’ve said my piece, thanks. See you later!’ Remember who did it to you first It’s worth thinking a little not just about what ‘presses our button’ but who first pressed it. For example, some of us react angrily if someone turns their back on us, or waves us away with the back of their hand across our eyes. They remind us of someone who really upset us, even though they are a different person in a different place and time. We need to realize this. Point out the pattern I’m a great believer in not trying to deal with a situation while it's actually happening. I find it much more effective (and calm) to point to a series of similar situations in a calm moment between situations. Why? Because there's enough to deal with when in a situation, let alone trying to deal with the pattern at the same time. So I might explain that I was concerned that their responses had not been – in my opinion – appropriate. I’d quote examples (three is a good number to indicate the pattern without getting heavy handed). I’d explain that I took full responsibility myself for not being clear enough about the gravity of the situation, and about the precise type of responses that I should have asked for. I’d apologize for my lack of precision and clarity. And then I’d promise to be clearer in future, pause, and then change the subject to avoid a heavy silence hanging between us, waiting to be filled. And as well as carefully choosing the time for this conversation, I’d carefully choose the place. Having it face to face across my desk, or standing over them while they’re seated at theirs is much less effective for me than a chat in a more relaxed environment where the person can feel more open to consider what's being discussed. Disrespectful people ■ 61 Political correctness Some words and phrases that were inoffensive when we were growing up might be considered offensive and disrespectful nowadays, and unless we know about them, we can unwittingly cause offence. The truth is that however sensitive we might try to be, we cannot know everyone’s ‘buttons’ that will cause them to feel disrespected. It may be sensible, therefore, eg in new situations or teams, to pass around a piece of paper for people to write down the words they feel are truly offensive to them, and for everyone to have a copy of this. After all, unless we actively find out, how else can we know other than by painful trial and error? And it is vital – if we unwittingly disrespect someone – to apologize effectively. Short sentences, then a change of subject. For example, ‘I’m sorry that what I said upset you. That was absolutely not my intention. I apologize unreservedly. Now, moving on to…’ Of course there might be some people who can’t accept such a simple and truthful apology, and who want to make more of it. In truth, we can never know exactly what sort of apology might satisfy someone else – a hug? a written note? who knows? And so the answer is to ask them. 'What more do you want from me, then, by way of apology? Please let me know?' Then we can pause for them to think and if they can’t think of anything we can simply change the subject, eg 'Let me know later if you like. Meanwhile, is everyone OK if we move on to…?’ 16 Dumpers who may mistakenly believe they are Delegators What ticks us off Everyone agrees that delegating is an essential part of managing and leading. But too often the delegatee feels dumped upon. And more often than not, the delegator feels – usually quite rightly! – that it would be quicker to do it themselves than to delegate. How it can happen It’s a real Catch-22. If there’s enough time for us to do a task, we’ll tend to do it ourselves. Because we can. And because it’s easier, quicker and safer to keep control of it. If there is not enough time for us to do a task, we tend to end up ‘dumping’ on someone else, whether or not we dress it up and call it ‘delegating’ or even an ‘opportunity’ or a ‘challenge’. Why? Because there is simply not enough time to ‘delegate’ the task properly. We end up by frustrating everyone involved! And another thing. Sometimes, frustratingly, the person who is delegating will cause great confusion by telling someone not only what to do, but how to do it – all jumbled up together. So, delegation is much admired, applauded and encouraged, but it is less often done effectively. Dumpers ■ 63 ✓ TIP Tips for handling dumpers The key to delegating is to understand that – because of the dumping and doing-it-yourself tendencies referred to above – it only really works when we delegate a type of task, not an individual task. And delegating a type of task means that the delegatee can handle a whole category of tasks, not just the one. And in this way, they have been trained. And developed. Because they can genuinely deputize for the delegator, long term. This means taking time to delegate properly – not when there’s an urgent task to be done! When being dumped on Here’s a simple, effective delegation model. Hand it to the dumper. 1. Plan who to delegate to, how long it will take to delegate (ie coach, teach, train) properly, and when and where and how it would be best to do it. 2. Explain exactly what is needed (not how to do it, yet), in what form, for what purpose, and when. 3. Invite delegatee/deputy to respond, after thinking, by confirming what the brief is. 4. Clarify the brief, if necessary, eg: – ‘What you correctly understood is…’ – ‘What you added in, that I did not specify, is…’ – ‘What you left out is…’ Repeat 2 and 3 if necessary. 5. Invite delegatee to consider: – how they might achieve this; – what resources/training they’ll need; – what support/supervision they want; – what authority they’ll need; – who else needs to be informed that they have this authority. 64 ■ How people tick 6. Negotiate on the reassurances that you both want, that the project is going to be on track. 7. And on completion discuss: – feedback; – feedforward; and – learnings for each of you – on the specific project and category. 17 Embarrassed people who may also Belittle Themselves and/or their Achievements, or be Excessively Modest or Quiet, Reluctant to Accept Praise/Compliments, Scared to Speak Up, Self-deprecating, Self-effacing, Shy What ticks us off It’s infuriating, if not ridiculous, when we praise or congratulate someone for what they’ve done, and they blushingly say ‘It was nothing’ or they point out the mistakes they’d made that we hadn’t noticed! ‘Just say yes’ A few years ago a client from the United States congratulated me on some work I had done, and as I was going through the routine of ‘Oh, it wasn’t so difficult, and I was in the area anyway, and blah blah blah…’ he exploded at me. ‘You Brits!!! When someone pays you a compliment why do you have to be so defensive? Why can’t you just say “thank you” instead of going on and on belittling yourself, and your achievement, and our opinion of you? It’s as though you’re telling us that our opinion of you is wrong!’ And he threw lots of other examples my way: if we’re told we have a nice tie, we’ll explain that we got it in a sale, or it has a loose thread – and so on! 66 ■ How people tick How it can happen Often, people can feel embarrassed if ‘they’ are paid a compliment. (Not their behaviour, but them as a person.) For example (and there’s usually an audibly gushing exclamation mark attached): ■ ■ ■ ‘You are clever!’ ‘What a good child you’ve been!’ ‘What a great presenter you are!’ However flattering this may be, it’s absolutely useless as praise, because the person doesn’t have a clue as to what exactly they said or did that was appreciated. What else to do in this situation but blush and mumble? Also, many people simply do not know how to respond to genuine praise (and maybe it’s also because praise is relatively uncommon, especially in ‘blame’ cultures?). They feel embarrassed by the silence that follows a compliment, and they need to fill the silence, and keep on filling it, not knowing how or when to stop. ✓ TIP Tips for handling embarrassed people Get it straight If they’ve become embarrassed because the praise has been gushing but unspecific, point this out to them and encourage them to get clarification so that they know what exactly to keep doing! For example: ■ ‘You said “You are clever!”, and I’d love to know what exactly I did or said, please?’ ■ ‘When you said “What a good child you’ve been!”, what exactly did you mean, please?’ Embarrassed people ■ 67 ■ ‘When you told me “What a great presenter you are!”, what specifically did you have in mind, please?’ (And, of course, you always give specific and behavioural praise, to avoid the problem in the first place, don’t you?!) Thank you After you know what you’ve been praised for, just say ‘thank you’ or ‘thank you very much’ and then change the subject. For example: ■ ■ ‘Thank you. Now the next item on the agenda is…’; or ‘Thank you very much – you presented very clearly yourself! Now shall we move on to… ’ Why change the subject? To avoid that embarrassed silence. 18 Forgetful people who may also be prone to Losing Things What ticks us off Some people are ‘always’ losing things, or forgetting things. Keys? Deadlines? Birthdays? And while the effect of some of these can be relatively trivial, others can be enormous (eg forgetting your passport, or your boss’s requests). And it can be very, very annoying for colleagues and friends. How it can happen Some people don’t remember (or, more accurately, reremember) things simply because they were not significant at the time, or because they were not alerted to the fact that they ‘should’ need to re-member them sometime in the future. For example, if I asked you exactly how much small change you had exactly 35 days ago, you probably wouldn’t have a clue, and why should you? But if I asked you to count the money you have on you today, you’d be better organized to reremember it at some time in the future. Other people take time to remember things (‘It’s on the tip of my tongue!’) and know that they know the information, but don’t have it immediately ‘to hand’. Forgetful people ■ 69 ✓ TIP Tips for handling forgetful people Look left Most people think of their past memories on their left-hand side and their future plans on their right. So, if you’re trying to help someone remember something, encourage them to ‘look’ out for the image, or ‘listen’ again for it, to their left. Call first, then re-call Encourage forgetful people to take a mental snapshot. If you don’t have a piece of information in the first place, then it’s impossible to recall it! Keys are a good example. If you put them down wherever you happen to put them down, where can you look for them? Only where you’ve put them (and therefore found them) in the past. Not where you put them (and haven’t yet found them!) today. So, if the person’s keys don’t have their own place, suggest that they take a mental snapshot of them as, and immediately after, they put them down. And to make it easier, ask them to think something like ‘Keys thrown into left shoe by front door’. Or, to make it even easier still, ask them to say it aloud so they can re-remember hearing themselves saying it, and remember thinking it, and remember seeing it in their mental snapshot. ‘Over the shoulder’ I often used to ‘lose’ my car in car parks. A friend of mine, however, was like a homing pigeon – arriving directly at his car first time, every time. So I watched how he did it. The trick was that a few steps after leaving his car in the first place, he’d look over his left (note, left!) shoulder and take a quick mental snapshot of it. And he’d do the same again at every turn of our walk. So, to find it he just had to re-call these images in reverse order. Simple when you know how, and reassuring that those of us who 70 ■ How people tick had not been doing this didn’t have anything wrong with us. We weren’t genetically incapable of finding our car; we just hadn’t learnt how to find it. Everything in its place Back to those keys, if they could only find them! A simple strategy is to allocate a place for everything. Without that place, there can be much fruitless searching, without a map. Encourage forgetful people to adopt the following additional strategies Re-minding ourselves The more often we re-mind ourselves, the easier it is to re-call the information, because the best way of remembering something is to re-visit it several times to help it ‘stick’. For example, if I asked you to think of your favourite or worst teacher, you could probably re-call their face and/or name and/or voice quite easily, even if you hadn’t thought of them for quite some time. Because you saw them, initially at least, frequently. In this way, we can give ourselves an excellent chance of recalling something we’ve just done if we re-visit it briefly the next day, again a week later, and maybe a month after that – for shorter times each time. 3D or 5D memories? If we take a mental snapshot (1) of where we threw (2) our keys, and say it (3) out loud at