Crazy and Mischievous People
This came in today’s email:
Dear. Dr. Rick,
I love your book on Dealing With People You Can’t Stand. Your diagramming of what the difficult people really want is especially useful. However, all books of this genre assume that all people want to overcome obstacles – but I find that some people are content with the status-quo, even when it’s crazy, because they’re crazy.
One example is a crazy women I used to worked with. She once asked me a point blank question, and I gave her a point blank answer. She asked how I knew the cause of a problem she was having. I gently and naively answered that she had the same problem the month before. She hit the roof and made my life miserable until she was laid off. OBTW, she believes that nothing is ever her fault and all her problems are the fault of others — which she needed to prove to all that will listen with invented acts of persecution.
If I had known how she would respond, I would have made up an excuse for her so she could continue making the same mistakes and spared myself the pain of dealing with her constant attacks. But I can’t identify these people until its too late!
Another example is a guy I worked with. Pleasant enough and smart, but feels that he’s been given bad advice all his life and is in constant pain because of a bad decision he made years ago. Whenever something is going too well in other people’s lives, this guy has to say or do things to make his target’s life miserable. I’ve noticed that he doesn’t do these mischievous things to people that have significant problems (family health, money, work) or important people that are in a position to hit back.
Your book actually stresses being ethical in the workplace. Would it have been ethical in this situation to lie and make up a story of woe just so he would leave me alone? OBTW, he’s a relatively important contributor so he’s more entertaining to the bosses then troublesome.
I’m writing to ask, what is your opinion on mischievous and crazy people who benefit from the status quo? The crazies are very good at masquerading as normal people. How can I identify the crazies beforehand instead of assuming that all people really want to make things work better? Please help before the next one shows up in my life!!!
Here’s my reply:
There aren’t many books in the self help arena for dealing with truly crazy people, and there are probably a lot of good reasons for that. First of all, the legal liability if something goes wrong has to be considered. Second, I think dealing with ‘crazy’ people requires skills not likely to be learned from reading a self-help book.’Dealing With People You Can’t Stand’ does not assume that other people want to make things work better, only that you, the reader, do.
Yet the premise is that people are generally well intentioned,and do whatever they do for a reason. Their behavior, whether you like it or not, serves some positive intent, even if it creates a negative reaction in others. If you can identify this intent and blend with it, you gain access to a whole host of options besides your own stress response of fight or flight.
The problem with labeling someone as crazy is that it becomes a limiting and self fulfilling assumption. Once you decide something like that, you can’t help but look for proof in order to be right about what is wrong. The predictable result of limiting assumptions is a sense of powerlessness to change the situation. I call that a booby prize, because it is what losers win. Instead of winning by losing, I advocate replacing limiting assumptions with useful ones. That’s why the Lens of Understanding is in the book. The Lens gives you something useful to assume, and then provides a behavioral vector of approach that you can use to resolve the conflict.
Now, if I can be perfectly direct and honest with YOU, it seems to me that your response in both examples and in the general tone of your email is that people are either normal or crazy (you = normal; they = crazy). Personally, I find many useful shades of grey when it comes to dealing with different behavior. And I can’t help but wonder, is it possible that the way you deal with these people could be part of your problem with them? That perhaps your approach is either mischievous or crazy? Just an idea!
I think the opportunity for you in all of this is to live and learn, to reframe your labeling system, to practice more blending, to speak to positive intent, to listen before speaking, and to think strategically (i.e. organize your response around a desired direction). Like it says in the book, if all you know is what you don’t want, you will get more of it. To truly take advantage of the book, I encourage you to read it more carefully. Start at the beginning and apply it, chapter by chapter, to the two people you described in your message to me. I think you’ll be amazed at what becomes possible when you organize yourself with direction and strategic thinking.
Then, if you’re really wanting to expand the domain of your effectiveness, you might want to read my new book, Insider’s Guide To The Art Of Persuasion: Use Your Influence To Change Your World.’ It will give you many more options besides the ones you’ve been using.