The dynamics of
faultfinders are interesting in so far as they are not what you might expect. 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.


The trick is to
look at the faultfinder’s behavior or performance. If you see a flaw or problem
in the player, he also sees it and amplifies it many times. The player has
little faith in himself, has little tolerance for personal shortcomings, and is
self-blaming about things that were unavoidable. Faultfinders have a standard
to which they compare themselves, and they fall short.


The first step in
managing these players is to see that they are not doing anything to others
they do not do to themselves. That helps you take their behavior less
personally. They are only pointing out a problem or difficulty. The variance
from their standard bothers them more than any person in particular, as hard as
this may be to see at the time.


Next, faultfinders
not only expect others to foul up but also fear they will do so. They are not accepting
of others but are not accepting of themselves either. If you watch them, you
will see that they treat themselves as critically as they treat others.


This insight leads
to the best technique to use with these players. 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 affect on their behavior
with other people. The technique only tends to benefit the one who uses it.


As a closing
thought, be alert to a special context in which faultfinders do some of their
most destructive work. The behavior occurs in casual conversations in hallways,
before and after meetings, and when people are not expecting anything
important.


The faultfinder
makes a comment to you about someone who is not present. The comment just slips
into the conversation in a low-key way, appearing to be innocuous.


“I wonder how
Linda is doing with that project. She is having more trouble than a kid
learning to ride a bicycle. I wish I had time to help her, but you know how it
goes.”


This player is a
sensitive person who only wishes he could do more for Linda and perhaps for the
company. Here is a real team player.


As an experienced
counter player, you see the real game, though. The Faultfinder is running a
complex gambit on you. Here are the elements:


•           Linda is not
doing very well


•           Her project
is as commonplace as riding a bicycle


•           The player
could do Linda’s project quickly and well, if he had the time


You say something
like, “Linda has her hands full. That project is more complex than it
seems at a glance. You can be glad you do not have time to get involved.”


Your counter play
puts the faultfinder on notice. You are not going to play the game at Linda’s
expense. This is a good thing for your colleagues to know. Further, your
counter play shows, in a positive way, the importance of a thorough
understanding of what is and is not happening before passing judgment. Finally,
you are able to model these positive techniques without falling into the trap
of criticizing anyone. When dealing with faultfinders, take care to avoid
dealing with the problem by doing a little faultfinding of your own.