Brent Miller’s dog-and-pony show takes twelve minutes. When the lights are back up, Brent confidently asks if there are any questions. This is his big mistake.
Ronda Simpson breaks the ice. ‘That was good, Brent. I at least understand your data better than I did in January.’
Brent smiles and says, ‘Given your twenty years as a manager, Ronda, I will take that as a compliment.’
Harold Stiner, Production manager, jumps in, ‘I know you have only been with us for a year, Brent. There are a few things you seem to be still struggling with. You want $150,000 to – what did you call it? – place two machines. Production keeps getting pushed to cut costs, and your boys in R&D want a hundred here and a hundred there.’
More interrupting than responding to Harold, Brent asks, ‘How much can we handle for this test installation?’
Harold imperceptibly tenses as he responds, ‘As far as I’m concerned, R&D wants to push up the cost unnecessarily. This will get the price up so high we may get stuck with the lot of them.’
Ronda smiles at Harold as he handles the new kid on the block and is quick to join sides against Brent. Ronda looks at Brent and fixes him with her famous stare. She delivers her equally famous admonition as if to one of her subordinates. ‘It may be back to the drawing board, Brent.’
Do you recognize the warriors in the conference room or does this sound like business as usual? Are the players productive and oriented to the goals of their company or are they pursuing their own agendas?
There are warriors at work.
Warriors are overly aggressive, insensitive, rigid, and have an unusual need to control people and situations. Understanding these characteristics is the key to effective counter play. Never giving an inch over anything, never letting anyone take advantage of them, and trying to take charge of everything are the essence of their play.
Next, warriors create a negative and emotionally charged environment for their game. Stepping on the feelings of others and being harsh and abrasive keep others off balance and preclude any personal involvements that might weaken or interfere with their game. It is important for them never to be in a situation where they have to deal with people as people.
Finally, warriors use arguing and a reputation for going to war over everything as a technique to keep others on guard and at an arm’s length. This fighting posture enables the player to defend his turf and to keep the game away from emotional or ‘feeling level’ tricks. The game is and will remain a matter of who has the most muscle and the greatest willingness to go to the mat over everything.
What can you do?
Counter play is not complex. The key is to stay away from the usual technique of trying to get cooperation by showing the other person how cooperation will work to his advantage. With warriors, that is not an incentive to go along. Instead, the skilled counter player says, ‘If you don’t want to go along with me on this, I respect your choice. I thought I might be able to help you avoid the problems you are going to have over this. If they are not of concern to you, I have other things to do.’
For example, in the illustration Brent would do better using this technique with Harold than he does by getting into an argument. He can say, ‘Harold, I see your point about the price and appreciate your concern. Nonetheless, it may be better to test things out now instead of running the risk of your having to deal with irate customers. What do you think?’
As you develop a feel for pointing out negative outcomes to warriors, pulling it off depends on neither arguing nor reacting to hurting comments. No matter how cutting the barb, say, ‘Thank you for sharing that with me. My point is . . . .’ If the player starts to argue over anything – and he will – passively listen until he stops talking. Now say, ‘My point is . . .’ It is an exercise in being thick-skinned, not reacting or responding to the garbage.
Now you know and there you go.