Committee Players

The Frustration Factor Society International (FFSI) advances the art and science of driving people up the wall throughout the world. The committee on methods is meeting in Chicago a week late. They were to meet in San Francisco, but the location subcommittee neglected to reserve a hotel. Only a few of the sixty-three members are present because of a little snag with the meeting notices. Even with this glitch, the committee is now meeting.

 

Mark Brown, a charter member, is trying to make a motion to raise “Not Me” to a recognized method for driving people up the wall. “It may be that we might want possibly to consider Not Me as a method.”

 

Another member asks, “Are you making that as a motion?”

 

Mark says, “Well, not exactly. Maybe we can talk about it and see what everyone thinks.”

 

Steve clears his throat and starts the discussion. “It’s the kind of thing where it is easy to see both sides.” Steve squirms a little in his chair. Seeing that no one else wants to talk, he says, “I could come down on either side of this one. If Mark is solid with this one, I am not saying I could not be persuaded.”

 

Sharon Lewis, from Texas, hesitatingly joins into the discussion. She says, “I thought, well, I have been at a few meetings where the person who brings up an idea makes the motion. I would like to suggest Mark puts his idea in the form of a motion.”

 

Mark nervously jumps in. “Oh, no. I don’t think I should be the one to head this up. It should be someone with more experience or specific interest.”

 

Brad, from Philadelphia, thoughtfully enters the debate. “I want to hear some ideas from the rest of you before coming to closure on this one. Whenever we decide to break, it might be well to chew on this one a little over lunch.”

 

Sharon is quick to agree. “I’m going to hang with Brad on this one, unless someone has a better idea.”

 

Tim, from Maine, feels like it is a moment tailor-made for an apple polisher like him to say a few words. “I believe in consensus and think we can all agree on one thing. The members who are here today have struggled with this important decision. We have to tread lightly in sensitive areas like this. It’s people we are talking about here. The extent to which any decision might offend someone has to be considered each time.”

 

Jami from Oklahoma sees his chance to contribute. He says, “I have been thinking about the issues we have before us. I wonder if it might be a good idea to call a few of the members who are not here to get their thoughts on things.”

 

Jami’s idea stimulates instant, positive expressions and the project is under way. Because no one has a committee membership list, Jami makes a list of the members those present can remember. The committee manages to divide the list; and as Jami gives Ted, from Ohio, his names to call, Ted says, “Not me. I would like to help but I have some stuff here I had to bring along to work on. I can’t step away from it. Either I’m going to whip it, or it’s going to kill me first. The pressure is too much sometimes. You know how it goes.”

 

Let it suffice to say that looking in on more of the meeting would be redundant.

 

●He who hesitates is lost

 

●Strike while the iron is hot

 

●Victory belongs to the swift

 

These statements represent the thoughts of a moron from the committee player’s point of view. Any second rate player knows that the truth lies in a different set of wise sayings.

 

●Follow the leader

 

●Fools go where angels fear to tread

 

●Look before you leap

 

●The early worm gets caught by the bird

 

Yes, this sounds more like philosophy for the committed committee player.

 

Managing Committee Players:

 

As is true when managing most people who drive you up the wall, the key to effective counter play is in your seeing through the game. Committee players’ motivations are in their desire to get special concessions, preferential treatment, or exemption from most responsibilities.

 

Once your best judgement says that a game is on, the counter play is straightforward. If the player waits for someone else to take the lead or make a decision, say, “I will wait for you to take a position on this.”

 

Now, wait and be sure what the committee player says is actually a position or decision. If he is just jumping on the train, say, “You are just jumping on the train. This was not your idea and as far as I can tell, you have added no ideas of your own. Get on the train if you must, but do not think that I am playing your game.”

 

Rough treatment? Sure, but the player’s game is no less objectionable. The point is not to buy into the player’s behavior and to refuse to accept his excuses. Set the same standard for action and participation for him as is held for others. When the player does not come up to your standard for participation, call him on it, making it clear the game will not work.

 

Does this mean you must be rude or abrasive? It may. But usually, it only means that you need to be assertive and honest. Typically it is enough to state what you think about the player and his behavior. This is exactly what he is counting on never happening. His game is dependant on it.

 

Counter play also needs to be pursued for the “apple polisher.” It can be harder to call these committee players on their behavior. It may be tough for you to say, “I am tired of your apple polishing.” Nonetheless, that is the idea that needs to be expressed. Here is an example of how the point can be made with style.

 

Suppose Bill is the player and you are in a committee meeting with him. You say, “I sometimes wish I had Bill’s ability to emphasize the positive in others.” Polish the apple just a little yourself. “I wonder if we would not all do well to focus on the real and critical issues at hand though. I would like for us to consider. . .. This seems to me to be where our efforts will be most productive.”

 

As a skilled manager, you are careful but should counter the committee player on a continuing basis. The idea is to directly or indirectly point out the behavior and encourage discussion and action more related to the task at hand.

 

Now you know and there you go.

Bummed-out

Maryanne Mitchell is the office manager for the Koch, James and Hightower law firm. She is meeting with Martin Koch. It is not unusual for Martin to ask her to stop by, but still she gets up tight and nervous whenever he does.

 

“I am just a born pessimist,” she frets to herself, waiting for Martin to start.

 

He gets immediately down to business. “We seem to have some problems, Maryanne. Generally, things are going smoothly. The snag seems to be with some of the typing and some of the filing along with the billing. What do you think you can do to clean things up a little?”

 

Maryanne sighs but does not respond.

 

“What do you think? Is there any hope for it, Maryanne?” Martin asks, trying to relax the discussion.

 

Finally, the office manager says, “I’m worn out from trying. It is exhausting, trying everything there is to try and people are still not satisfied. I will try to straighten it out, but don’t have much hope.”

 

Martin leans toward Maryanne and says, “Maryanne, to tell you the truth, I’m beginning to get some heat about you, about your performance. There is some question about whether you can handle things anymore with the computers and all. I don’t know. I think you can do it, but you need to tell me what has to happen to get things straightened up.”

 

Maryanne sits motionless, not saying anything until Martin settles back to outwait her. In a small voice, she reluctantly says, “You’ll have to decide for yourself about me. I am working as hard as I can. I’ve given this firm all I have. Things are a mess around here. I’m a nervous wreck from trying to straighten out everything that goes wrong. Everyone thinks it’s all my fault. I’m just one person and can’t do it all. Even you think it is all me, now.”

 

Maryanne plays bummed out to perfection. Her main strategy is to get Martin to feel sorry for her.

 

●”I am worn out from trying”

 

●”It is exhausting, trying everything there is to try and people are still not satisfied”

 

●”I have given this firm all I have”

 

●”I am just one person”

 

●”Even you think it is all me, now”

 

Let Martin get tough with Maryanne and then give him a guilt check. On a scale from one to ten, he will register at least eight or nine. Maryanne is counting on it.

 

As an aside, you occasionally see an interesting variation on the theme. The bummed out player makes an alliance with several other players. As a bummed out diad or triad or whatever, the crew supports each other’s bummed out patterns. People who play together survive together. They usually describe their shared condition as being burned-out or perhaps demoralized.

 

Managing Bummed Out Players:

 

When bummed out is the game, the player neither values nor expects job success. Should it come, it is only serendipity. His personal priority is being protected and being forgiven – in advance – if things go badly. It is this guarantee of immunity that the player works for.

 

Going at it with a skilled bummed out player is exhausting but is not particularly difficult. Consider first what the dynamics of the play are. The bummed out player is using the technique to avoid responsibility, to get others to back off, and to avoid work or pressure. In a child, the pattern would be called pouting.

 

It will do little good to talk with the bummed out player about his behavior, but it cannot hurt. At least talking about the problem puts the player on notice that he will not be successful playing the game with you. Whether you talk to the player or not, there are several steps that will be effective over time.

 

First, simply out wait him. Bring up a problem or issue of concern and then wait for a response other than “bummed out.” If necessary, say, “I hear all that. My concern is. . .. I’m waiting for your response to the problem.” Patiently go back again and again until an appropriate response comes.

 

If this does not work, say, “I can see you are not going to deal with this, and I do not have time to play your game. Have your response to me in writing in two hours.”

 

The idea is first to respond only to positive and productive behavior. Next, set things up so such behavior is expected and required. At first, the player will likely not follow through or do what you expect. When this happens, it is time to say, “I expected you would handle this. It seems to me you are either unwilling or unable to deal with these kinds of things. Since it is important, I’m going to take some other action to be sure it gets done. It’s too bad you are unable to handle your job. We will need to talk about that soon.” Do what needs to be done to get the job done. Even the most dyed-in-the-wool bummed out player is likely to do the job himself the next time.

 

Now you know and there you go.

Faultfinders

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.