The less astute observer may tend to confuse the Impersonal player with Warriors, but you can see the important differences. The Impersonal player is a breed all his own.
The road to success with this method is to play with a total lack of interpersonal sensitivity. The trick is in maintaining a complete absence of any telltale signs of the social graces. It is all business at all times.
Dr. Arnold views the system as a machine and people and problems as annoying irrelevances. Consider for example, “The problems with the most recent version of the policies and procedures not withstanding.” The issues are always with the people and not with the instructions and most certainly not with the designer of the system. It is the function and purpose of people to behave in those ways defined by the designer – Dr. Arnold. Failure is always a problem of the people.
Part of carrying off the method is to be abrupt and too busy to get involved. For issues from minor to major, the effective player does not have time to deal with anything. He works it in later if absolutely necessary.
“Because of my busy schedule, it will not be possible for me to meet with you and your group . . ..” Of course, if there are problems later, the player’s response is, “You should have consulted with me about this. You should have given more stress to its importance instead of bringing it up as a routine matter.”
If the argument is, “I did stress its importance,” the player responds, “The problem is you present everything as important. If you were a better manager and set priorities more carefully, you would not have this mess to work out.”
Look at Dr. Vincent Arnold’s clever way of discounting a problem. “I understand how important you believe this issue to be.” For those who hear the words you believe and read between the lines, it is obvious that the good doctor does not think it is important at all.
The essence of his style goes even deeper, though. “I will have fifteen minutes to discuss it with you at 7:00 on Thursday morning. . . . Specifically, two points will require complete clarification.”
Please play it back one note at a time for the thoughtful reader. The master makes it look like something perfectly reasonable. First, he makes it clear that no matter how important the problem, it only justifies fifteen minutes of his time. Score one for Dr. Arnold.
Next, he sets a time when no one wants to meet: 7:00 a.m. Score two for the doctor.
Next, he sets the agenda and requires a thorough presentation in fifteen minutes. Score another point for Vincent.
Here comes the capper. He demands that his two points receive complete clarification within the fifteen minutes. Is it just possible that there may be no time left to discuss the problem itself? Score a fourth for Dr. A. He pulls off a complete shutout. The problem will never get discussed.
Dr. Arnold also shows how a world class Impersonal player handles another tricky situation. Sometimes administrators are maneuvered into actions and behavior that are later criticized. To avoid this trap, it is necessary to put the responsibility for those actions onto others. Dr. Arnold needs to appear to be in charge while being able to dump off any repercussions onto his subordinates. It is good work if he can pull it off, and pull it off he can.
“What role or part do you expect me to fill in the process? As Chief Executive Officer, I look to my assistants for guidance about these types of irregular involvements.” The small slight of word “irregular involvements” is the key. Is it possible that any involvement with his staff is irregular? Sure. And any problems are due to the bad guidance he gets from his subordinates.
Dr. Vincent also shows there are other advantages attendant to positions at such heights as his. “Based on my experience, this is a personnel variable that fluctuates over time.” From his perspective, Dr. Arnold is the best judge of staff issues. He best understands the problem, its causes, and the best response to the issues. That makes it easy. Everyone simply needs to quit complaining and get down to business, the doctor’s business.
Whatever is going on with the staff is a system issue and need not be considered or dealt with in interpersonal terms. “People problems” only need to be managed and of course managed by someone other than the doctor. Given that other people do the managing for him, Vincent does not have to do anything. This gives him more time to further perfect his techniques.
“Also, many staff seem to be selfishly putting their feelings and perceptions on a par with or above the goals and interests of the system. The need is for all involved to put the problem into proper perspective and do what is necessary to accomplish the mutual objectives.”
Dr. Arnold is not only an executive, he is a philosopher, perhaps even inspirational. Individual needs, feelings, and interests are subordinate to the goals and interests of the company as those goals and interests are defined by Dr. Vincent Arnold. This has the advantage that he never has to take anyone or anything into consideration beyond his needs, feelings, and interests. The outcome is eliminating any competition for the starring role, for the honored place at the center of the universe.
Throughout his implementation of the Impersonal-player methods and techniques, Dr. Arnold is consistent with the main requirement of the general method. He shows a total disregard for and disinterest in the human or feeling side of anything. The machine is central, and people are a necessary but not very important variable.
“This is to acknowledge your receipt of the Psychologist-of- the-Year award from the Psychological Association. This will be duly noted in your personnel record.” The perfunctory way in which this individual matter is handled gives testimony to Vincent’s complete mastery of impersonal technology. “This is to acknowledge” and “will be duly noted” are the clues to his play. The action is completely impersonal and may as well be handled by his assistant. In these days of computers and word processors, it can be handled as a form letter. This is a pure example of the “cold fish” technique.
Dr. Arnold can articulate his philosophy as system policy while including a flavor of condescending instruction. “It is not good practice to make exceptions or give individuals special consideration.”
Notice the policy: individuals do not get special consideration. Of course, this means that no one gets special consideration. As a rule, it could be stated, “Do everything by the book or pay the price.” This is true even though “the book” is in a constant draft mode. The best part is that the book says whatever Vincent says it says today.
At another point in the illustration, Dr. Vincent Arnold succinctly explains the scope of his philosophy. “The primary responsibility of the MH&MR system is to be in complete compliance with the requirements of outside regulatory entities.”
Now it is clear that his approach can be generalized. It can be applied to any organization having responsibility or accountability to some organization or entity outside itself. At a more micro level, it can also apply to any department within a larger organization. Only the naive think that the MH&MR system is primarily responsible for its staff. Only those who are totally out of touch with reality think that the primary responsibility is to the system’s clients. A skilled player like Vincent Arnold never lets something as important as responsibility reduce to anything so human and unpredictable as staff or clients.
Perhaps the most subtle point is that Dr. Arnold is not the responsible party either. He is also subject to the outside regulators. Neat? It surely is. It lets everyone know that whatever he does, he is only following outside instructions. This makes him only incidental to the process.
By using this gambit, he has a process devoid of any concern about people – the goal of the ultimate Impersonal player. To be successful with his techniques, Vincent has to be sure others in the organization do not stray from the required pattern. At a minimum, people cannot deal with each other and especially not with him in emotional or irregular ways. Everything has to remain impersonal.
“Your lack of professionalism is unacceptable. . . . I expect all employees regardless of rank or position to follow common rules of courtesy.” It is a parent saying to a child, “Never talk like that to me again. I demand respect and total deference. Do you understand young man?” If anyone ever starts dealing with others as people or in feeling/emotional ways, Vincent’s iron grip begins to slip. He is too good at being an Impersonal player to let this happen to him.
The range and depth of Dr. A’s skills are mind-bending. His ability to verbalize his approach in complete and comprehensive terms is inspirational. “Your request for relaxation of the time and other expectations may not be considered. . . . Each person must do his part as laid out in the ongoing planning process.” This can be paraphrased as, “Your request will not even be considered because you are dumber than dirt.” This is enough to dissuade even the most zealous associate from bringing problems or requests to Dr. Arnold.
There is also another subtle technique deserving attention. “As laid out in the ongoing planning process,” is a classic example of The Frustration Factor. The message is, “As laid out in the plan that of course is continuously being revised.” This makes it impossible for anyone to know what is expected. The plan is changing, and those who cannot keep up are out of luck. This takes “putting everything in writing” to a new level. The book can be rewritten without notice and is in typing if someone happens to have the last version. It is the moving target ploy. The motto is, “Always keep them guessing.”
An extension of the guessing game comes with, “Detailed explanations are not necessary. . . . I have determined this action is in the best interest of the MH&MR system. Further agitation on your part on this issue or persistent questioning of the decision will be counterproductive.” Asking questions is agitation and counterproductive, while explanations are superfluous. It sounds a lot like, “sit down and shut up.” No one may question the actions of the king. It is like a game with unfamiliar and changing rules where the decisions of the self-appointed judge are final.
Consideration of the techniques and methods of Dr. Vincent Arnold concludes with a summary of his approach directly from his mouth to your ear. “We are proud of our record of evenhandedness and treating all programs, services, and people alike.” It is a sign of the uninitiated to argue that programs, services, and people are different and should thus be treated differently. The experienced Impersonal player knows that this is the road to disaster. The trick is to keep the target moving, disregard the people, and never get personally involved. All things considered, Dr. Arnold may be a viable candidate for the player of the year award from FFSI.