Brent Miller’s dog-and-pony show takes twelve minutes. When the lights are back up, Brent confidently asks if there are any questions.  This is his big mistake.


Ronda Simpson breaks the ice. “That was good, Brent. I at least understand your data better than I did in January.”


Brent smiles and says, “Given your twenty years as a manager, Ronda, I will take that as a compliment.”


Harold Stiner, Production manager, jumps in, “I know you have only been with us for a year, Brent. There are a few things you seem to be still struggling with. You want $150,000 to – what did you call it? – place two machines. Production keeps getting pushed to cut costs, and your boys in R&D want a hundred here and a hundred there.”


More interrupting than responding to Harold, Brent asks, “How much can we handle for this test installation?”


Harold imperceptibly tenses as he responds, “As far as I’m concerned, R&D wants to push up the cost unnecessarily. This will get the price up so high we may get stuck with the lot of them.”


Ronda smiles at Harold as he handles the new kid on the block and is quick to join sides against Brent. Ronda looks at Brent and fixes him with her famous stare. She delivers her equally famous admonition as if to one of her subordinates. “It may be back to the drawing board, Brent.”


Do you recognize the warriors in the conference room or does this sound like business as usual? Are the players productive and oriented to the goals of their company or are they pursuing their own agendas?


There are warriors at work.


Warriors are overly aggressive, insensitive, rigid, and have an unusual need to control people and situations. Understanding these characteristics is the key to effective counter play. Never giving an inch over anything, never letting anyone take advantage of them, and trying to take charge of everything are the essence of their play.


Next, warriors create a negative and emotionally charged environment for their game. Stepping on the feelings of others and being harsh and abrasive keep others off balance and preclude any personal involvements that might weaken or interfere with their game. It is important for them never to be in a situation where they have to deal with people as people.


Finally, warriors use arguing and a reputation for going to war over everything as a technique to keep others on guard and at an arm’s length. This fighting posture enables the player to defend his turf and to keep the game away from emotional or “feeling level” tricks. The game is and will remain a matter of who has the most muscle and the greatest willingness to go to the mat over everything.


What can you do?


Counter play is not complex. The key is to stay away from the usual technique of trying to get cooperation by showing the other person how cooperation will work to his advantage. With warriors, that is not an incentive to go along. Instead, the skilled counter player says, “If you don’t want to go along with me on this, I respect your choice. I thought I might be able to help you avoid the problems you are going to have over this. If they are not of concern to you, I have other things to do.”


For example, in the illustration Brent would do better using this technique with Harold than he does by getting into an argument. He can say, “Harold, I see your point about the price and appreciate your concern. Nonetheless, it may be better to test things out now instead of running the risk of your having to deal with irate customers. What do you think?”


As you develop a feel for pointing out negative outcomes to warriors, pulling it off depends on neither arguing nor reacting to hurting comments. No matter how cutting the barb, say, “Thank you for sharing that with me. My point is . . . .” If the player starts to argue over anything – and he will – passively listen until he stops talking. Now say, “My point is . . .” It is an exercise in being thick-skinned, not reacting or responding to the garbage.


Now you know and there you go.


Henry Allen walks into the teachers’ lounge where Doris is saying, “It’s their fault down in that office. They always get things fouled up. We work our tails off and they can’t get anything right.”


Picking up on the assault, Greg says, “Do we ever get a thank you or how do you do? Not a chance!”


Henry joins in, “You can say that again. It’s about time we start calling them like they are. It’s time to put the responsibility directly on the people who are causing the problems. We all know who they are too. It’s just a few who make us all look bad and make it impossible for us to do our jobs.”


Greg says, “I know people have bad days but that’s no excuse. They have to do it right every time, including the little things. Taking it out on us is intolerable. It is professionalism we are talking about and the students are the ones to suffer in the long run.”


Everyone nods at the profundity. Doris says, “It’s attitude. It is our responsibility to keep things on a positive note, no matter how we feel. I do it and don’t see why everyone else can’t do it. Greg is right, it is a matter of professionalism.”


Management and psychology texts argue that people will do as well as they can under the specific circumstances. They only need to accept the underlying values, understand the problem, and receive support and encouragement. Faultfinders like those in the teachers’ lounge do not buy into that. It is only necessary for them to look around to see the absurdity in the people-are-good-and-want-to-do-the-right-thing hypothesis. These players can look at almost any behavior, activity, or project and point out things that should have worked out better or faster. They can point to people who should have been smarter or sharper. They also call attention to events or circumstances that someone should have handled more smoothly or efficiently.


They always do better, they believe, so it is reasonable for them to expect others to do the same. Faultfinders reason thusly:


If things were done right the first time, we would not have to waste our time straightening out messes other people are causing.


There is no excuse for that – whatever that happens to be.


If you can’t do the job, we’ll find someone who can – and that will be easy to do.


What can you do?


People trying to deal with these players are apt to see them as confident people who have high standards and a low tolerance for anything less than perfection. The real issue is that they cannot separate the important from the unimportant, the essential from the unessential. They can recognize an exact duplicate of something, know when people are following the rules or tell when things are not right. What they cannot recognize is a reasonable example of something. They cannot tell when someone does a job well enough for the purpose. They cannot see that behavior sometimes only varies in style or as a function of personality. They need an exact match or they see no match at all and of course, there are never any extenuating circumstances.


As with anyone who drives you up the wall, do not react, do not come to the bait. The bait is the urge to react negatively, to tell them off, to refuse to work with them, or to resign to the inevitable while you are boiling inside. Instead, make the changes that are appropriate and reasonable. Remember that they are sometimes right and not just faultfinding. The rest of the time, do only what needs to be done, as well as it needs to be done.


Here is the real trick. Without overdoing it, find honest opportunities to say supportive things to these players. Point out things they have done especially well. Comment on it when one of their skills or abilities makes things easier or helps things turn out successfully. Over time, relating to them in these positive ways will modify the way they treat you. It will have little effect on their behavior with other people. The technique only tends to benefit the one who uses it.


Now you know and there you go.