Frustration Factor

Fault Finders

Do you know someone who would probably find something negative to say about the Easter Bunny? They always have a comment or opinion, and it’s usually negative or critical. If you find these fault finders as annoying as I do, listen for a tip about how to manage them.

Frustration Factor

A Little Trip Back Up The Wall

Are you a never go back person or do you like to revisit places you’ve been before? Well, we’ve been here before but it’s a place worth another listen. Of course, if you don’t mind being driven up the wall, it’s ok to take a pass on this revisit.

Frustration Factor

The Frustration Factor: It’s Always About Me

Ray Vinham stands up to a light round of applause and delivers his campaign speech to the Westover Leadership Coalition. It is the evening he has waited for since the day he joined the civic group. From that first meeting, he had known that his being president was critical if the club were to get out of its rut. He revels in the knowledge that his day has finally come.

The I-Players of the world are alive and about to drive their associates up the wall. It’s always about me is their theme song and they sing it loudly and enthusiastically. Sit back, relax, listen and learn. You are about to be the next unwitting victim driven up that wall, if you are not very careful.

Frustration Factor

Come Play With Me?

•           I am a perfectionist

•           Either it is right or it is wrong

•           Rules are rules

These types of phrases frequently come up when you try to manage warriors. Interestingly, players who use this technique are likely to make their pronouncements when others are around and will overhear. When focusing their play on one person usually a subordinate warriors like to be sure others hear so they learn not to test the player. They have been forewarned.

Warriors step on the feelings of others

Since most people are at least a little insecure about their competence and ability to work with others, these players play on others’ insecurities. Some phrases from an office environment are instructive.

•           That is trash

•           More of the same old stuff

•           Dragging your feet

•           Out of your area of expertise

•           Roadblock

•           They followed by any negative pronouncement

Add any other phrase or statement to the list implying that the other person is at fault, incompetent or less skilled and cooperative than the player. The key is to get them where it hurts. …

Frustration Factor


Have you ever been driven up the wall by a mainliner? “What’s a mainliner?” you ask. Read on. You likely are already familiar with the type and how they can cause havoc in your company.


Mainliners cannot be bothered with elementary groundwork.


These players will plunge into any project without so much as a pretense of preparation or planning. They rely on their instincts and agility. They are usually from the group who never bothered to do their homework in high school. Later, they wrote their college papers the night before they were due, without inhibiting themselves with trivia such as a trip to the library. In a pinch, they used someone else’s notes. The solution is always at hand if the player is observant enough and clever enough to recognize it.


Mainliners assume that actually knowing how to do a job is irrelevant.


The essence of this technique is seeing that “knowing how” only limits and inhibits the range and flexibility of expert players.


The blind spot here for non-Players is in understanding what “knowing how” refers to. The uninitiated think that “knowing how” means you have specific knowledge and skills related to the task or problem. They also think that related experience is useful.


Dyed-in-the-wool mainliners understand that, for them, these kinds of things are not important. The only skill they need is an ability and willingness to dive in and to keep poking. Usually, things have a way of working out. If not, truly creative mainliners either abandon the task or call in a specialist, taking full credit for saving the day. — Read and learn.


Liz is an engineer assigned to troubleshoot a lockup problem with a computer installation at a small retail business. For some reason, the main application and the operating system are not interfacing correctly. The result is that the system is lockingup and the business is having trouble staying open.


Liz’s first approach is to say that the people operating the system are causing the problem. When this does not hold up, she next attributes the difficulties to a hardware problem or bug in the operating system. Again, the explanation does not stick. Finally, she reverts to type as an experienced mainliner.


There are a few minor deviations from specifications in the way the business uses the system. One part of the application is one no other customers use.


“You are the only user who has tried to use this function. It’s only an add-on to the main application. We did not expect it to be used on a daily basis. That is what your problem is.”


“Well, it’s important for us to use this function. How soon are you going to fix it so it doesn’t keep locking up?”


Sure, Liz knows just what to say. “This problem is unique to your system. You will need to exercise your support agreements with the hardware and operating system vendors. They will need to straighten out your problems with their installations before we can help.”


“We bought the system from your company. Aren’t you going to stand behind your sales?”


Liz is again ready. “We will support you 100 percent. Just as soon as you get the other problems worked out, I will see you have a specialist assigned to the problem.” A specialist? Yes indeed. That is someone, anyone other than Liz. That’s the way to pass the old buck!


Mainliners start before understanding what you expect.


This technique is axiomatic for mainliners. To find out what you expect is a waste of their time. Adroit players have no intention of doing anything other than what comes to hand. This is called “winging it.”


Someone once said that if you do not know where you are going, you probably will not get there. Mainliners figure that if they do not know where they are going, wherever they end up is where they were headed. If played right, the people who count define it as the only place to be. Ultimately, no one likes admitting getting taken for a ride, especially to somewhere you did not want to go.


Managing Mainliners:


Understanding mainliners’ motivations is easy. They do not want to be found out. They do not know how to do the job you need done and would rather foul everything up than admit the truth. Their goal is to bluff their way through, no matter what the cost to you and your company.


With this in mind, counter play proceeds like this. Do not accept excuses and explanations that are not factual or do not have a ring of truth. If things are getting worse, if problems are getting out of hand, if business is going down the tube, the likelihood is that you have a mainliner at work.


The best counter play starts with a clear notion of what your goal is. It then extends to defining what progress is. Finally, counter play sets specific criteria for deciding if things are moving toward or away from your goal.


If there is no movement toward your goal or especially if there is movement away from it, it is time for individual accountability. Listen to the excuses and explanations and then hold the responsible person accountable.


Much of the time and especially in technical jobs or in complex situations, knowing whether the problems are the work of a mainliner or are unavoidable is difficult. Frequently and especially in smaller businesses, individuals get into positions where only they are qualified to judge their work. The result is that they have no accountability to anyone who can knowledgeably and objectively evaluate their performance. They have, for all intents and purposes, a free rein.


The issue with mainliners is that no one knows how to separate problems caused by the mainliner’s behavior from situations that are going sour despite reasonable and skilled action. If you have an active situation, the best counter play for you is to develop a strategy to evaluate the project and the people objectively. The key here is to be sure that your strategy includes outside people who are experts in the problem area.


For you, the best counter play is to know that mainliners can and will do in your company while they drive you up the wall, given the opportunity. Since you may not detect them until it is too late, any important project should be mainliner-proofed in advance. Build into every critical function in the project an evaluation or monitoring process separate from and not integral to the project itself. This process needs to include people who are qualified to judge every aspect of the project. They also must have the proven ability to tell when circumstances are the problem and when the people in the project do not know what they are doing. Just be sure that the monitoring activity is not itself a haven for a mainliner of its own.


Now you know and there you go.


Frustration Factor


During the fellowship hour after church, a few parishioners mingle but most take their usual places near their usual companions. A scattering of conversations can be overheard.


In a small group toward the back of the fellowship hall, things are getting a little emotional. A teacher has just said, “I think I’m going to give up teaching one of these days. It’s getting to where the children just have no respect. It was all right but the new ones in the class just add to my problems. I don’t know what happened to the traditional family.”


The group is sympathetic except for one young mother at the fringe. Abruptly, she sets down her coffee cup and rushes away.


The teacher says, “What got into her? She and her children have only been coming here for a couple of weeks, so I don’t know her very well.”


Across the fellowship hall, the preacher is saying to an extremely agitated man, “Melvin, I agree there may be a small problem; but I doubt if it is as bad as you are saying.”


Not to be appeased, Melvin presses his point. “I don’t think we should just brush this incident with Carolyn off as a minor problem. The next thing you know, the parents will be up in arms and then the church itself may be in trouble. If we lose members over this, everything we’ve worked for will be in jeopardy.”


Just at the moment Rev. Lewis thinks he has managed to get away from Melvin without getting him more upset, another agitator steps up. “I couldn’t help hearing what Melvin said to you, Reverend. I don’t want any bad feelings and wouldn’t upset anyone for the world. I just have to say this. Carolyn is doing her best and deserves our support.”


About twenty minutes later, Rev. Lewis feels a tug on his sleeve. As he turns, he hears, “I think you better talk with Carolyn. She has a right to have you tell her to her face what you said. She is my best friend and I’m going to stand by her.”


Looking directly at Carolyn, Rev. Lewis says, “I did not say anything about you except you and I would talk. I would like to talk soon except this is not a good time or place. How about tomorrow sometime?”


With obvious sincerity, the friend says, “Carolyn does not need this hanging over her head.” Turning to Carolyn, she says, “You are not going to let him put you off, are you?”


Unsure what to say, Carolyn says to the preacher, “So, what do you have to say to me?”


As the preacher fumbles with what to say to Carolyn, the agitator says, “I can see this is getting a little personal. If the two of you don’t mind, I will be headed home. I have a hungry family to feed. I will call you later Carolyn.”




The stock-and-trade of the agitator is being able to embellish and shape any information to increase its importance. An effective way of doing this comes from Melvin. “I don’t think we should just brush this incident with Carolyn off as a minor problem.” Melvin is an exceptional agitator. According to Melvin, what Rev. Lewis thinks was a minor incident has put the church itself in jeopardy. With the church at risk, Melvin has no difficulty getting most anyone to listen and take him seriously.


The teacher in the illustration provides an especially cruel example of agitating. She splits her play into two parts. First comes, “It was all right but the new ones in the class just add to my problems.” After the young mother sets down her coffee cup and rushes away, this agitator asks, “What got into her?”


Suppose another member of the group suggests that the teacher upset the woman. The teacher acts shocked and says, “I have no idea what you are talking about. I was not talking about her and her children.” It matters little anyway. The mother and her children likely will not be back. It is a variation of the hit-and-run play, except here it is hit and the other person runs.


There is yet another agitator getting in her two cents worth whether anyone wants to hear it or not. “I do not want any bad feelings and would not upset anyone for the world. I just have to say this.” Of course, she knows there will be bad feelings and someone will get upset. The trick is to deny any intent although the player well-knows what is going to happen. It is like saying, “I would not hurt you for anything,” and then punching the person in the nose.


Having given a disclaimer of any malicious intent, the player says, “I just have to say this.” She does not want to but has to say it.


What if someone interrupts and says, “No, you do not have to say anything.”


The player then says, “I’m sorry but I do have to say it. It has to be said.” Only the totally unsocialized refuse to back off and let her say her piece. Sooner or later the agitator takes center stage with a receptive audience.


There is one last complex gambit. It starts with, “I think you better talk with Carolyn. . . . I think she has a right to hear it to her face.” This opens the interchange on just the right note for the agitator. The preacher is immediately on the defensive and the player is ready for the assault. The stage is set.


Rev. Lewis tries to put it off but the agitator has none of that. “I think we should settle this now.”


The agitator presses on in spite of the preacher’s efforts to calm the troubled waters. “You are not going to let him put you off, are you Carolyn?” If Carolyn says, “Yes,” she is a patsy and someone who lets others kick her around. If she says, “No,” the confrontation is inevitable. Most people do the face-saving thing and say, “No, I will not be put off like that.” It is human nature that helps the player succeed.


The closer for the gambit is, “I can see this is getting a little personal. . . . I will be headed home.” The agitator creates the scene, encourages the participants, and sets the stage for the confrontation. Her work is done. On cue, she exits and lets the scene play itself. Her motto is Why don’t the two of you go fight?


Tips for handling agitators:


Understanding the motivations of agitators is not too difficult if you look at their behavior and then ask yourself why they are behaving that way. More to the point, what do they get out of it? Their motivations are in the payoff or what they get.


Agitators will say anything no matter who gets hurt or feels badly. They get a cheap moment in the spotlight. Just keep in mind that agitators will say anything about anyone, including you.Agitators also get their kicks from complaining.  This too gets them in the spotlight. Of course, there is always a little more power in that position.


Players make things seem bad, people seem incompetent, and everything appear worse than it is. They get attention, get a little more power for a little while, and are seen as in the know and on top of things.


Given the behavior, its varieties and its motivations, how can you handle agitators? Listen to what they have to say and then say, “You are a trip. You can find more ways to look at things negatively than anyone I know.” Call them on their agitating behavior and make it clear that you have no interest in what they have to say.


Is this approach too rude and direct for you? Think about this. If you passively listen to the agitator and say nothing, you have tacitly become part of the problem. People who seem interested, go along, and do not take a stand are fueling the agitator’s defamatory game.


In another example, a player is agitating and says something negative about someone. The classy response is, “I am surprised to hear you say that. I do not think it is true.” The player will likely press on with, “It is true! I. . .,” then going on to say some more critical things.


Your response can then be, “You probably would describe the tooth fairy as a thief.” Now comes the real trick. No matter what the player says next, do not respond. The game is over.


As with most people who drive you up the wall, the trick to handling agitators is to do what needs to be done and then quit. Players can only play with people who will play. For agitators, just be sure they get minimal attention and no additional power or status from you. Quietly and calmly call them on their behavior and then let it go. When others do not play, the game will stop.


Now you know and there you go.

Frustration Factor

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.

Frustration Factor


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.

Frustration Factor


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.