Playing with B-t-B experts 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.
Somewhat oversimplifying their motivations, B-t-B players do not trust themselves and feel any errors or mistakes will likely lead to something bad happening. Counter play, then, has two prongs: increasing the player’s faith in himself and emphasizing positive outcomes.
You can force the player to use his judgement more often. Do this by reacting negatively to problems coming up because the player did not use good judgement. For example, “I cannot believe you passed up a $17,000 sale. There are policies to deal with day-to-day kinds of things but you are here to use a little judgement. There is always a policy to keep our customers happy. If you are going to work here, I expect you to show some discretion about things. Not everything can be done By the Book.” The point is to use negative reinforcement to show that negative outcomes can come from playing B-t-B.
Although the negative approach is sometimes useful, as a general rule a positive approach is better.
Using the same example, suppose the employee reaches the owner. The owner says, “What do you think? Should we do this?” The employee may say Yes in some situations or No in others, depending on what he thinks is safest. Whatever the player says, the question is then, “Why would you go that way?” The idea is to walk the B-t-B player through the decision making process. In most situations, the interaction 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.
As you get more experience as a counter player, you will want to consider another possibility. The most likely explanation is that you are dealing with a real B-t-B player. There is the possibility of another problem, though. You may be seeing a pseudo-B-t-B response caused by your behavior. This condition develops if you do not take the time to praise and positively reinforce associates and subordinates. The only response or reaction people get from you is negative or critical. Since there is no likelihood of reward or positive reinforcement, a reasonable person does the reasonable thing. He puts most energy into avoiding negative reactions. The result is a new B-t-B player.
The conclusion is to consider the possibility that the B-t-B player across your desk is a product of your negative behavior. Importantly, though, whether you created or inherited the player from someone else, positive and productive counter play is the same. Teach and encourage in positive and supportive ways. The reward for the player has to come primarily through success and increasing judgement and initiative.