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.

By The Book

Is there someone where you work who absolutely, totally, and unequivocally drives you up the wall? Do you sometimes feel like climbing the wall all by yourself as the quickest way to escape? If you are saying Yes! Yes! Yes! you have had first-hand experience with “The Frustration Factor,” up close and personal.


The players of the world are alive and well and ready to drive you up the wall. Some are aggressive, some passive; some are extroverts and others introverts. Whatever their personalities, they are mostly motivated by personal needs, status goals, and insecurities. If their private goals are coincidentally compatible with your company’s, so be it. If not, their selfish interests prevail.


Rich is an experienced player.


Rich’s approach to driving people up the wall is B-t-B: By the Book. In a less linguistically correct time, we called this CYA.


His main play is to do things the same way he always does them. What has worked before is likely to work again. He knows people seldom find fault with his handling things in the usual way, whether it works or not.


Next, Rich always looks at how things can go sour and little at how they can succeed. He asks, “What are the three strongest reasons for not doing this?” His motto is nothing ventured, nothing lost.


Finally, any time he has to do something that has some risk, he spends most of his time figuring out what to say if it goes sour. Of course, the best thing to be able to say is, “I was uneasy about this but went along reluctantly. I handled it the same way we always handle things. I did it By The Book.”


Rich’s play calls for doing things the same way he always does them. He avoids all risk whenever possible and has an explanation for failure made up ahead of time. Sure, there is a more simple version of Rich’s play. Do not do anything new or innovative and try hard to keep others from making that mistake. What can you do?


Playing with B-t-B players like Rich is not a game for the impatient or impulsive. It helps to understand that these players have little faith in their abilities and less faith in their basic grasp or understanding of situations or circumstances. Since they do not believe they can trust their judgments or instincts, they do not take any chances on themselves.


Next, they do not have much ability to anticipate or predict the behavior of others. The idea is that they cannot predict if a specific action will lead to praise or punishment. Usually, they think the likely outcome of following their judgments is punishment.


You can use disciplinary and other negative approaches to show that negative outcomes can come from playing B-t-B. But if you do, take pause. If the only response or reaction folks get from you is negative or critical, reasonable people do the reasonable thing. They put most energy into avoiding negative reactions. Consider the possibility that the B-t-B player is a product of your negative behavior.


suppose you are Rich’s manager. His rigidly sticking to the way he has always done things is driving you up the wall. He never uses his personal judgement even when he knows that the old way will not work. You can say, “What do you think? Is there a better way to do this? He may say Yes in some situations or No in others, depending on what he thinks is safest. Whatever he says, the question is then, “Why would you go that way?” The idea is to walk this B-t-B player through the decision making process. In most situations, you can close with, “You seem to have some ideas about this. Use your best judgement.”


When the player starts taking more chances and making decisions, it is important not to be too negative when things do not work out well. Avoid the temptation to second guess the player. Remember that avoiding negative reactions is why he is playing B-t-B. Your goal is to teach and encourage in positive and supportive ways. The reward for the player has to come primarily through success and increasing judgement and initiative.


Now you know and there you go.