If It Weren't For Them-This Job Would Be Easy

Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD

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As a manager, executive or business owner, you will be conducting meetings and strategy sessions with your employees. And you may discover, as many have before you, that one of your biggest manager/team leader headaches is dealing with the distracting communication style.

It seems that in almost every team, there is at least one ‘difficult’ person. His/her communication style tends to hinder the flow of communication and distracts the manager/group leader from the prescribed goals.

If managers/team leaders believe that the distracting behavior is a result of their style of leadership, they may feel inadequate or frustrated. It is important, therefore, that they understand these personalities are usually enduring styles rather than transient behaviors exhibited as a result of the team process.

In working with numerous managers/team leaders, I have isolated five communication styles. As with life in general, it is the exception that rivets our attention and stimulates reflection. Using Eric Berne’s Games People Play as the paradigm, I have abstracted five distracting communication styles that appear consistently no matter the environment. They are:

1. Yes, but
2. Wooden leg
3. If it weren’t for them (the boss, co-workers, management, etc. )
4. Ain’t it awful
5. Now I’ve got you, you S. O. B

While each of these styles is characterized by different behaviors, a common trait is avoidance behavior. Each style serves the purpose of avoiding becoming involved in the process and/or having to consider seriously the issues being raised.

In my experience, working in various settings, reveals that every organization’s employees manifest these personality styles in varying degrees. Organizations with no competitors have minimal influence from external forces to prompt growth, a situation which promotes organizational stagnation. This stagnation finds indirect expression through all the communication channels in the system and has its terminal impact on the attitude of the individual employee. Somehow, maintaining the status quo becomes both an organizational and personal dictum. When confronted with information that has a high probability of generating cognitive dissonance, the individual ‘instinctively’ wants to put his/her head in the sand or fight to defend the status quo. This syndrome is manifested behaviorally as the ‘games’ I have identified.

The following compendium represents a synthesis that I have developed to aid managers/team leaders in successfully managing these personality styles and in promoting effective learning.

One person does not have the right to ruin an otherwise well-functioning group. But one person can do just that if the manager/team leader doesn’t know how to respond to him/her. As you practice the responses given here, you will become more and more adept both at identifying different personality types and responding to them effectively. Instead of watching helplessly as all your well-laid plans go awry, you will have the satisfaction of knowing what is transpiring and that you are in charge of the situation.

Communication Style

l. Yes, But Person presents problem regarding work situation. Co-workers or Manager present possible solutions: “Have you considered…?” Person responds, “Yes, But…. ”

2. Wooden Leg Person makes statements of helplessness: “I can’t do…. ” “I’ll try…. ” “You expect too much. ” “I’m can’t change at my age. ” And on and on…

3. If it Weren’t for Them (The boss, Co-workers, management) Person blames others.

4. Ain’t it Awful Person relates ‘war stories’ regarding organization’s policies, etc. with no apparent purpose in mind.

5. Now I’ve Got You, You S. O. B. Person looks for and points out issues to discredit the information and the manager/leader’s ability.

Reason for Behavior

1. Person seeks no solution to problem. Desires to maintain status quo. Doesn’t want change. Wants to make others appear inferior by rejecting their solutions as not good enough

2. Person feels generally inadequate. Wants group either to rescue or feel sorry for him/her (poor helpless/ defenseless me.

3. Person doesn’t take responsibility for own behavior or solution to conflict. Blames others for problems, inadequacies, etc.

4. Person wants to elicit sympathy from others. ‘Ain’t it awful, I have it so bad here. ’ Person wants to look superior by airing others’ faults, thus avoiding a recognition of how she/he is part of the problem and has a responsibility for the resolution.

5. Person is threatened by new information. Is unable to accept different and possibly easier ways of doing something. Feels inadequate and unable to change. Fears change.

What To Do

1. After second response of ‘Yes But, ’ use gentle confrontation to redirect the energy and focus of the person. Ask: “What is it you want to accomplish?’ Or point out: ‘It is important to consider solutions before you reject them. ’ If the person insists there is no solution, suggest the need to learn ways to cope and cease complaining.

2. Encourage him/her to re-evaluate. Ask: ‘Do you want to…?’ The appropriate response is: ‘Yes, I do. ’ Or ‘No, I don’t’ If the person continues to play ‘Wooden Leg, ’ intercede politely and ask another person a question to direct the group to a productive discussion.

3. Use questions to bring out other aspects. Ask: ‘Have you discussed the issue with those involved?’ Or: “Have you told those involved how you feel?’ Have you shared your ideas and opinions?’ Encourage the person to look at the situation from others’ perspective.

4. Empathize with the person’s situation. Avoid joining in the game of ‘Ain’t it Awful. ’ Ask: What he/she does to change the situation. If person seeks to find solution, engage in problem-solving dialogue. If person switches to ‘wooden-leg. ’ Empathize and refer to wooden leg dialogue above.

5. Avoid becoming embroiled in answering a series of questions about your qualifications. Empathize with person’s fear of change. Encourage person to discuss feelings regarding change and how they see themselves as change agents. Remember that fear often precipitates aggressive/obstinate behavior. Keep your temper; the person is not attacking you. Empathize with their reactions to the content.

Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, Entrepreneur, personal and professional Life Coach has 25 years experience. She has consulted to Fortune 500 CEO’s, Vice Presidents, business owners and people of all walks of life. http://www.drdorothy.net


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