Are You a Difficult Person?
Do people at work drive you crazy? If so, you'd better take a good hard look at yourself before blaming them. Then you can blame them. Luckily, a seminar shows you just what to do about them
BY DAVID OWEN
AT FIRST I DIDN’T THINK I FELT MORE CONFIdent. But later—after I learned that the background music had contained positive subliminal messages intended to boost my self-esteem—I did begin to sense that I felt more sure of myself. I also seemed to see greater success in my business and personal life. Still later, after I played my four Be Confident the Subliminal Way tapes while driving in my car, my mind appeared to become inundated with confidence-building concepts and ideas. On one side of each tape the subliminal messages were masked by relaxing music. On the other side the messages were masked by ocean waves. It was while listening to the ocean waves that I realized it might be possible to make a great deal of money by helping today’s achievers take personal responsibility for their own career success.
None of this would have happened to me if I hadn’t attended a one-day seminar conducted by CareerTrack, Inc., also known as Your Success Company, one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing producers of business seminars.
Look at it this way: Career Track’s commitment is to ongoing training. Here’s what one of the company’s publications has to say: “Look at it this way: If you experienced one of our one-day seminars (either live or on tape) every three months, you would likely be in the top 5% of people, skills-wise, in your profession.” If not, you would likely be entitled to ask for your money back. Every CareerTrack seminar has a oneyear, 100 percent, money-back guarantee.
The seminar I attended was called “How to Deal With Difficult People.”This is one of the most popular of the two dozen or so topics that CareerTrack trainers explore more than 4,000 times a year in hotels, auditoriums, and corporate conference rooms on four continents. The continent on which my seminar took place was North America. In fact, Connecticut. I went because I had received an enticing promotional brochure that asked me whether I recognized the following types of people: know-it-alls, passives, dictators, yes-people, no-people, and complainers.
Yes, I recognized them. As the brochure pointed out, they are the people I work with and live with every day. I dialed CareerTrack’s toll-free telephone number and signed up.
Business seminars are a very big business in America. Billions of dollars’ worth of them took place last year alone. In 1988 CareerTrack had revenues of $52 million, making it the second-largest seminar company in the country. (The largest is the American Management Association, which had sales of $120 million.) The audience for seminars of all kinds includes millions of individuals and so many Fortune 500 companies that you would have to expand the Fortune 500 to include them all.
As the date of my seminar approached, I began to feel some trepidation. What would happen behind the closed doors of the conference room at the Sheraton Waterbury Hotel? Would there be role-playing? Would I be required at any point to take off my shirt? What about having to sit on a stage while a group of strangers told me exactly what they thought of me?
As it turned out, there wasn’t much of that at our seminar. Our trainer, an experienced motivational speaker and former guidance counselor, mostly just talked to us. Her name was Linda Hughes Allen. She is the author of, among other works, Action Plans: The New Woman’s Survival Guide. She lives in Norman, Oklahoma.
On a car trip recently she and her husband tried using nonsubliminal audio tapes to increase the selfesteem of their fifteenyear-old son. At our seminar she wore a dark blazer over a somewhat less dark floral-print dress. She began by asking us to think about the most difficult person in our lives.
“Don’t you feel like doing this to him?” she asked, jabbing her index finger angrily into the air. “You just want to point your finger and go like this?“ She jabbed again.
There were murmurs of recognition from most of the 120 or so people in the conference room. Allen continued: “Well, the next time you are doing this” (jab, jab, jab) “or you get the urge to do this” (jab, jab, jab), “I want you to turn your finger around” (and here she slowly crooked her index finger back toward her own face) “and look at who you’re pointing at, and remember that this is in fact the most difficult person in your life.”
FORTUNATELY, THE FACE THAT YOU YOURSELF ARE the most difficult person in your life doesn’t mean that when you go to an all-day seminar you have to spend all day discussing yourself. Instead, you can discuss who at your job drives you crazy. This could be your stupid boss. It could also be your babyish customers. It could also be the person in the next cubicle, who talks too loudly, complains about everything, makes too many personal phone calls, comes in late, and takes credit for your best ideas.
The first step in dealing with people like this is to classify them by using a diagram called the “Window on the World of the Difficult Person.” This is a rectangular grid, or window, that has four quadrants, or panes. Each pane corresponds to one of the four major categories of difficult person.
“The further to the left on the window the person is, the more passive they are,” our seminar workbook explained. “The further to the right they are, the more aggressive they are. Higher up on the window means they are more task-oriented; lower down means they are more people-oriented.” The upper left-hand pane represents the kind of difficult person my workbook referred to as the analytic; the upper right-hand pane is the ruler; the lower left-hand pane is the relator; the lower right-hand pane is the entertainer.
Each of these four general types comprises three subtypes. An analytic can be a complainer, a noperson, or a passive person; a ruler can be a tank, a sniper, or a know-it-all; a relator can be a yes-person, a maybe-person, or a passive person; an entertainer can be a grenade, a sniper, ora think-they-know-it-all. As you might expect, a ruler-sniper isn’t the same as an entertainer-sniper. An entertainer-sniper snipes merely to get attention, whereas a ruler-sniper snipes to gain or consolidate power. In addition, an analytic passive person is different from a relator passive person, although I can’t remember how.
If all of this sounds confusing, don’t worry. Almost no one at our seminar seemed to understand it either. One reason may have been that there were two subtly different versions of the workbook in circulation. Another reason, as Allen suggested, may have been that the people who had trouble with the window were predominantly right-brained in their thinking, as opposed to being leftbrained or bilateral.
Brainedness is a concept that has been proved to be extraordinarily useful for explaining certain types of human behavior to participants in motivational seminars. “We do know that for whatever reason, some people have picked a favorite side of the brain that they like to use,”Allen explained. A bit over half of all people, she said, appear to be bilateral thinkers, which means that they draw more or less equally on the right and left sides. Everybody else is “polarized” in one direction or the other. If you are inflexible, for example, you are probably leftbrained. Allen wrote key words having to do with ieftbrained characteristics on an overhead projector:
A right-brained person, naturally, is just the opposite—say, an artist. Some of the most important seminar-related work in brainedness has been done by people involved in a field called neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP. The coinventor of NLP is Richard Bandler, who wrote a book called Using Your Brain—for a Change, which Allen recommended. Bandler also co-wrote Frogs Into Primes. (Last year, to the great relief of his admirers, Bandler was found not guilty of murdering Corine Christensen, an NLP student and fellow cocaine abuser whom Bandler had threatened to kill and who died after being shot in the head with one of Bandler’s guns during a visit from Bandler and a friend.)
From the work of Bandler and others, Allen said, we know that people will go with what they see rather than with what they hear” anywhere from 55 percent to 80 percent of the time. Body language is part of it. Other unconscious clues are also involved. Our brains understand a great deal more than we do, to put it mildly. The words a person uses are sometimes the least important part of what that person communicates. That’s NLP.
When you’re dealing with a difficult person whose brain polarity is different from yours, you can’t just communicate in your normal way and expect to get what you want. Instead, you have to go over into the other side of your brain temporarily and try to understand the difficult person’s point of view. Allen called this “bridging the gap.” If your difficult person happens to be the tightly laced manager of the computer department, you simply cross over to the left side of your brain and think like a nerd for a while. This helps you bring the difficult person to the place where you want him to be, enabling you to win your raise or your promotion or whatever it is that you are trying to win.
One thing I’ve noticed about brain polarity is that, at least in its motivational-seminar form, it seems to be primarily a right-brained concept.
That is, it’s a concept used by flexible, disorganized people to explain the behavior of inflexible, organized people, such as managers, accountants, bankers, and your boss. Leftbrained people, in my experience, seem to be less enamored of the idea. Or is that just the right side of my brain speaking?
When Allen had finished telling us about brains and neuro-linguistic programming, she said, “At this point in the seminar I would like to anticipate the number-one question that I get asked. The number-one question I get asked is, ‘How come we didn’t have Danish rolls in the morning?'”
Now that Allen mentioned it, I realized that I had been wondering about this myself. During the registration period (while the background music, unbeknownst to me, had been sending my self-confidence through the roof) we had been offered coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and tea. That was all. There had been no Danish or any other kind of food. Why had there been nothing to eat?
I’m not going to answer that question right away. I’d like you to think about it yourself for a while. Does CareerTrack have something against serving food? Cross over into the other side of your brain and see if you can find the answer.
CAREERTRACK WAS FOUNDED IN 1982 BY JIMMY CAlano and Jeff Salzman. Jimmy was twenty-four years old and a recent graduate of the University of Colorado. He had run his own seminar and mailing-list businesses for about two years. Jeff was twenty-seven, a somewhat less recent graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He owned a company that prepared advertising copy. The two met, hit it off, and decided to go into business together. They put up $10,000 to found CareerTrack, whose headquarters are in Boulder, Colorado.
From these humble beginnings CareerTrack grew like wildfire. The company’s revenues increased from $220,000 in 1982 to $3.5 million in 1983 to $15 million in 1985 to $52 million in 1988. This Year the company expects to take in $65 million. In 1987 the editors of Inc. listed CareerTrack as the tenth fastest-growing privately held company in the nation.
Being listed in Inc. isn’t the only honor CareerTrack and its founders have received. In 1985 Jimmy was named a finalist in American Express’s Most Interesting Lives competition. The follow - ing year he was named Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year by the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. In 1987 he won the Napoleon Hill Foundation’s Silver Medal Award for Entrepreneurial Achievement. He won one of six Chivas Regal Young Entrepreneur Awards. He became a regional finalist in the Venture/Arthur Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition. He was featured in Fortune's “People to Watch” section. He was selected by the Young Entrepreneurs Organization (YEO) as the nation’s eighth most successful entrepreneur of thirty or under. The following year—last year—he was selected by the YEO as the nation’s fifth most successful entrepreneur of thirty or under. (I’m not sure what Jeff was doing during this period. He may simply have been too old to be considered for any awards.)
When you become involved with CareerTrack, you tend to see quite a few pictures of Jimmy and Jeff, who serve as president and vice president, respectively. There is a little photograph of them on the printed thank-you slip that comes in the envelope with your seminar ticket. A similar picture appears, larger and in color, on the cover of CareerTracking, Jimmy and Jeff’s 1988 book containing their “26 Success Shortcuts to the Top.” (“Two hours with this book will save you 15 years of trial and error,”says Denis E. Waitley, the author of Being the Best.) Similar photographs appear in other CareerTrack publications and in the numerous newspaper clippings that the company’s corporate communications office provides upon request. Jimmy has curly brown hair and Jeff has straight blond hair. In about half the pictures Jeff is holding his chin. In one he’s getting ready to hold his chin. In none of the pictures can you tell that Jimmy, whose personal motto is “Do Something Now,” was severely cross-eyed as a child.
Jimmy’s childhood eye problems are one of the keys to understanding CareerTrack’s success. Teased by other children, Jimmy developed an overwhelming desire to be the best. “My ambition scares me sometimes,” he admitted to the Denver Post in 1987. He also said, “When I was young, I felt I could make a good leader, but I wasn’t good enough at sports or didn’t have the key ingredients to get followers.” Later, after eye surgery, he discovered that he had a flair for the synergistically related fields of self-help and direct mail. In Jeff he found two key ingredients he had lacked: an ability to produce brochures and a knack for building a large staff of effective trainers. According to Jeff’s company biography, “Jeff is the mastermind behind the CareerTrack ‘message.’”
As Jimmy and Jeff readily admit, the message Jeff masterminded is not particularly earth-shattering. It’s really just a broad sampling of self-help nostrums and businessrelated motivational advice. There are no big secrets. Here are a few of the 26 Success Shortcuts to the Top: (9) Have More and Better Ideas; (12) Conduct Meetings That Get Results; (17) Make Presentations That Win Support; (21) Set and Achieve Your Goals; (23) Attend Seminars and Get Ahead. You could probably guess some of the others.
Jimmy and Jeff flesh out these shortcuts with step-bystep “how to do its” and with advice based on their own business experience. Since Jimmy and Jeff’s business is giving business advice, most of the experience on which their advice is based was acquired in the course of giving business advice, much of which was a lot like the advice they would later give as a result of having acquired the experience of giving it. Also, of course, they read a lot of books.
Jimmy and Jeff’s increasing familiarity with and prominence in the business-advice business has led to some profitable alliances. A few of these are described in CareerTracking. To illustrate their belief that you should extend yourself first in order to (19) Negotiate Better Deals, Jimmy and Jeff tell a story about Jimmy’s first encounter with Ken Blanchard, a co-author of the best-selling business-advice book The One Minute Manager. Blanchard was interested in having CareerTrack produce a seminar version of his book, so Jimmy went to meet with him at his headquarters. Blanchard picked Jimmy up at the airport, invited Jimmy to stay at his house instead of at a hotel, talked to him late into the night about his next book, and drove an hour out of his way to take Jimmy to meet a friend.
“But that’s not what most impressed Jimmy,” Jimmy and Jeff write. “Rather, it was Ken’s reaction to a stranded motorist they encountered shortly after leaving the airport.”
A woman’s car had broken down in the middle of an intersection. While other motorists zoomed past, Ken stopped his Mercedes and gave Jimmy the “let’s-giveher-a-hand signal.”The two men pushed the woman’s car into a parking lot. Then Ken offered to let the woman use his car phone to call a friend. Then Ken suggested that the woman come to a restaurant with him and Jimmy while they waited for her friend to join them. Then they had cocktails. Then Ken offered to send the woman an autographed copy of his book.
“Jimmy couldn’t believe his eyes or ears—was this guy for real? Before he had known Ken for an hour or negotiated one item on his agenda, Jimmy knew he was about to do business with an unusually generous and kind man.” “The One Minute Manager" became one of CareerTrack’s most successful seminars.
“The One Minute Manager” costs $95. Many CareerTrack seminars, including “How to Deal With Difficult People, ” cost about half that much. One-day seminars offered by other business-seminar companies usually cost much, much more—often several hundred dollars. From the beginning Jimmy and Jeff’s marketing strategy has been to beat the competition on price. As a result their seminars are attractive to the sort of employees who can’t simply charge things to their expense accounts, which they don’t have. The low prices also encourage repeat attendance.
Jimmy and Jeff’s commitment to affordability means that CareerTrack seminars have to be largely frill-free. Instead of computer-based video and audio equipment, our trainer had a schoolstyle overhead projector and a public-address system that was slightly unpleasant to listen to. Instead of leather-bound notebooks for jotting down our thoughts, we were given small pads of paper and cheap ballpoint pens embossed with the Sheraton logo. And instead of Danish, we were given no Danish.
ONE FRILL THAI CAREERTRACK DOES PROVIDE AT its seminars is ample opportunity to buy CareerTrack products, sales of which account for almost a third of the company’s revenues. In the course of our day we were given three breaks during which it was possible to buy audio tapes, videotapes, and books. In fact, buying these products was frankly encouraged. Before we took our first break, Allen told us that her background in education had made it clear to her that “repetition is absolutely the key to learning.”If you want to learn something, she said, you need to hear it three times.
Probably the best way to introduce this degree of repetition into your life is to (24) Learn With Audiocassettes. “We’ve found that more and more people are going to cassette learning simply because it’s a great way to use what we call dead time,” Allen said. Dead time is time you spend driving around, rowing on a rowing-machine, or waiting in line at the supermarket. Why not put this hidden asset to work for you by buying a lot of tapes?
Allen told us about Career Track products for quite a while. Then she turned us loose. I followed the crowd out into the lobby, where I bought about a hundred dollars’ worth of stuff. I bought a copy of Career Tracking, a set of subliminal self-confidence tapes, and the audiotape version of “How to Deal With Difficult People.”
The tape version of the seminar is hosted not by Allen but by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner, who originated CareerTrack’s approach to dealing with difficult people. Many times, when you see people referred to as doctors but see no mention of any medical specialty or hospital affiliation, you sort of suspect that they are doctors of something other than medicine. Especially if they are both named Rick. But in this case my suspicions were sort of unfounded.
The Ricks, I later found out, are both graduates of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, which means they are almost as much like real physicians as chiropractors are. The Ricks are also certified practitioners of neuro-linguistic programming.
Naturopaths can’t join the American Medical Association or, in most states, prescribe prescription drugs, but they probably wouldn’t want to anyway. The basic naturopathic repertoire includes manipulative therapy (similar to what chiropractors do), diathermy (heat), Oriental botanical medicines (to support the body’s natural ability to heal itself), hydrotherapy (primarily to stimulate circulation), minor surgery (including the removal of warts and cysts), clinical nutrition (health food), homeopathy (administering tiny quantities of things that in larger quantities would make you sick or kill you), and gentle electrical pulses.
Earlier in this century there were more than twenty naturopathic colleges in America. Today there are just two: the National College, which is in Portland, Oregon, and John Bastyr College, which is in Seattle. There is also a naturopathic college in Canada. Dr. Rick Brinkman is a member of the faculty at the National College, where his title is professor of hypnosis and communication.
In spite of their medical background, the Ricks’ approach to difficult people is considerably more freewheeling than Allen’s. Allen described their tapes as having a “Saturday Night Live format.” The Ricks talk fast, tell jokes, and do impressions. But they also offer a lot of practical advice. One of their central concepts—one that Allen didn’t spend much time on in our seminar—is an NLP technique called pacing. “If magic is done by mirrors,”the Ricks say on their tape, “effective communication is done by pacing.”
Pacing is the process of subtly mimicking a person’s natural rhythms of, for example, breathing, blinking, or foot-jiggling, in order to establish unconscious rapport. The technique’s theoretical underpinnings date back to 1967, when a study was done at the University of California at Los Angeles, according to the Ricks. This study found that “fifty-five percent of what people respond to and make assumptions about takes place visually.” Furthermore, “thirtyeight percent of what we respond to and make assumptions about is the sound of communication, while only seven percent of what people respond to is the actual words that are used.”
When you find yourself dealing with a difficult person, what you want to do is pace that person’s 55 percent. “How do you pace it?” the Ricks ask. “Well, number one, you pay attention to it. Number two, you take on a similar rhythm in some way. So, for example, if you notice that your difficult person is always shaking their foot, you might shake a pencil in the same rhythm.” Or blink, or breathe, or tap your finger.
The most powerful natural rhythm is that of respiration, without which we’d all be dead, of course. Avery effective way to improve your relationship with a difficult person, therefore, is to do something in rhythm with that person’s breathing. For example, you could nod your head slightly each time the difficult person inhales. You wouldn’t want to be too obvious about it. Having a difficult person ask you, “Why do you move your head every time I take a breath, you jerk?" is not a good way to establish unconscious rapport. Instead, you should wait a beat or two after each breath before moving your head.
The Ricks illustrate the importance of pacing with a story concerning Tom and Jerry, two co-workers with a difficult relationship. Tom really seemed to have it in for Jerry; the two simply couldn’t get along. But then Jerry began pacing Tom’s breathing with “a specific finger-tapping movement.” He did this for two weeks. “Then something incredible happened.” Tom came into Jerry’s office and said, in effect, let’s be friends.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of pacing the 55 percent, the Ricks suggest that you move on to the 38 percent and pace sound as well. Doing this involves the big three; tone, tempo, and volume. If you can master all of that, you may be able simply to ignore the 7 percent.
I have to admit that there is one aspect of pacing that troubles me. Suppose that Tom and Jerry are at a departmental meeting and that Jerry is pacing Tom’s breathing by tapping his finger. Now, if Jerry’s finger-tapping is in rhythm with Tom’s breathing, aren’t the chances pretty good that it is out of rhythm with the breathing of everyone else? Assuming that pacing also works in reverse, isn’t Jerry running the danger of producing unconscious hostility in a roomful of (formerly undifficult) innocent bystanders? But if Jerry stops tapping, won’t Tom go back to hating him?
DID YOU KNOW THAT GOSSIP AND GAMBLING are the two biggest time-wasters on the job in American businesses?" Allen asked us. She talked about the Turtle Syndrome, which is what you have when you don’t want to poke your head out from under your covers in the morning. She talked about the Drone Zone, which is where people go when they burn out. She told a story about a man who was deep in the Drone Zone in a crowded elevator who thought he was zipping up his pants but turned out to be zipping up the skirt of a woman standing in front of him. (Is this possible?) The man with the zipper problem had been a participant in one of Allen’s other seminars.
After the zipper story we filled out a form in our workbooks called “Who’s the Difficult Person Now ?” There were spaces for the names of three difficult people. Allen said we could use composites if we ran out of room. We were also supposed to list the characteristics that made these people difficult and to describe the changes we hoped to make, both in our difficult people and in ourselves.
I can’t tell you anything about the difficult people on my list, because they might be reading this. But I can tell you that the woman who sat next to me has only one difficult person in her life, and that person’s name is Joan. Joan is bossy and manipulative.
She’s also a lot of other things, I’m sure, but I didn’t see what they were. I had to turn away in a hurry because the woman glanced at me accusingly and I didn’t want her to think that I was copying from her paper.
Later in the day Allen gave us a great deal of advice about how to deal with our difficult people. Some of this advice was fairly general. “Remember to breathe,”for example. (“Your brain uses eighty percent of your oxygen. If it doesn’t get any, you will say stupid things.”) She also had a lot of specific suggestions, such as how to deal with a complainer who works for you. (Every time the complainer comes to you to complain about something, give him or her some extra work.)
Most of the people at our seminar didn’t seem to be too worried about how to handle people who worked for them, because they didn’t have people working for them. The most thoroughly represented job category at our seminar, I would guess, was secretary. The main difficulty of most participants seemed to be with the people they worked either under or beside. “Thex treat people like equipment,”one woman said, referring to the people at her office (probably rulers) who made her life unpleasant.
The most difficult kind of difficult person, people seemed to agree, is the tank, a particularly annoying subspecies of ruler. If your boss is always s yelling at you and telling you that you are incompetent and generally making you miserable, he’s probably a tank. “A rank is someone who purposely goes out and tries to destroy other human beings,”Allen told us. “You need to learn to stand up to this kind of person.”But don’t expect to succeed the first time. Before you can get what you want from a tank, Allen said, you have to stand up to him three times.
One way to deal with a tank is to shout his name. Mr. Jones! Or, if a tank won’t let you tell your side of the story, interrupt him or raise your voice. Show that you can’t be intimidated. Some examples of well-known tanks might be the J. R. Ewing character on Dallas and General George Patton.
Vastly simpler to deal with than tanks are entertainers. These people are egotistical and flaky. “It doesn’t take much to feed their ego,”Allen said. But if you forget to feed it. they’ll sulk. Entertainers make good salesmen, but they hate paperwork. You want to stay on their good side, though, because they have a tendency either to become rich and famous or to turn into grenades. (What to do with grenades? “Let them vent,”) Examples of well-known entertainers are Johnny Carson and Liza Minnelli. To drive an entertainer crazy, ignore him.
Allen led us through the rest of the major CareerTrack personality types and offered suggestions for dealing with each one. Like most of the other participants, I wrote down these suggestions in the spaces provided in my workbook. Get the problem out. Get the group on your side. Get specifics. Use the Detour Method. Get a commitment. Slow down. Don’t start a war. If you yourself are a complainer, get whatever help you need. Ask openended questions. Ask future-oriented questions. Write out your goals. Be prepared to go it alone.
Don’t inhale their hot air.
AT THE END OF THE DAY ALLEN GAVE US A CHANCE to put our new skills into action. She divided us into small groups so that we could help one another figure out how to deal with the difficult people in our lives. The group I joined was for people who wanted to discuss tanks. We stood in a circle in a corner in the back of the conference room.
The first person to speak was an automobile-insurance claims adjuster. His problem was that he was a relator, he said, while all of the people whose claims he adjusted were tanks. These people yelled and screamed at him and threatened to call their lawyers.
A man who looked something like a small, overweight lumberjack—he had a reddish beard and was wearing suspenders but no jacket—said, somewhat testily, “I don’t know that I would agree that all of the people you are referring to are tanks.”
The claims adjuster began to say, “Well, the truth is they’re—,” but the lumberjack interrupted him and said, “All of the people are irate people, yes—,” but the claims adjuster interrupted him right back and said, “Yes, but they’re all— ,” but the lumberjack simply raised his voice and said, “But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re tanks.”
We also discussed the problems of a man who said he had been fired after being yelled at by his tank of a supervisor. “My tongue was practically bleeding by the time I got out of there,” the fired man said, “because I was biting it so hard to keep from saying anything. I have a tendency to fly off the handle. I’ve been studying human relations. So I sat and just listened.”
While we were considering this, the lumberjack said, “I think one of the most important things that you need to be aware of, from my perspective, is that I would never step onto the football field to play with Sam Huff on his best day. I would never step up to home plate to bat against Sandy Koufax on his best day. And I would never take an antagonistic position with a tank. Because that’s their game. Their game is to battle, and they’re good at it, and the best thing to do if a tank is coming at you with a full head of steam is step to the side. Euphemistically, step to the side. If you stand your ground, head on, you’re going to get run over.”
Another man said, “You say to step to the side rather than to stand your ground. The trainer said we were better off standing our ground.”
The lumberjack gave this man a long, hard look. “It depends on what you mean by standing your ground,” he said. “Maybe it’s just a semantical difference, okay?”
Someone asked, “Has anybody successfully worked with a tank?” No one seemed to pay attention to this question, and we talked about something else for a while, but a few minutes later the lumberjack said, out of the blue, “In responding to your question, yes, I’ve dealt with tanks, and one of the reasons why I want to talk about tanks is that in one of my positions of employment my boss was absolutely a tank. And I was one of the few people in that institution who could deal with him without any problem at all. And what I found to be successful for me was to take a nonconfrontational position. If you try to refute a tank when he is coming at you, then you are in for a battle, and the tank is going to win.”
The great majority of the people at the seminar were women, but so far all the talking in our group had been done by men. In fact, most of it had been done by the man who looked like a lumberjack. I could understand how he felt, though. After sitting quietly all day while another person gave me advice, I felt like giving a little advice myself. I had already thought of several suggestions I intended to make to my wife when I got home.
Finally one woman did speak up. She said she was a nurse and that one of the doctors at her hospital was a tank. This doctor yelled at everyone, made unreasonable demands on the staff, and upset the patients. No one could get any work done when he was around. “This is a tank,” she said. “I don’t know what to do.”
Someone suggested going over the tank’s head. The nurse said that would be impossible. Then an intense man I hadn’t noticed before looked the nurse right in the eye and said, “Then you are lying to yourself. Are you a liar?”
The nurse, taken aback, laughed nervously and said no. “I did not perceive you to be one,” the intense man said. “And yet you work in a community of liars. You are saying to me, ‘I can’t stand this situation, but I don’t want to do anything about it.’ You are lying to yourself.”
There was a brief, uncomfortable pause. It was broken by the lumberjack.
“That’s not necessarily true,” he said, “There are some situations that are unresolvable. Now, I’ve spent some time in health care myself, and ...”
I was beginning to have the feeling that our informal discussion was becoming a teeny bit difficult. The people in our group were shouting and interrupting and making accusations. No one was listening to anyone else. That made me anxious and uncomfortable.
But then, without knowing it, I felt my confidence surge. After close to seven hours of comprehensive instruction, I later realized, I had unconsciously begun to develop a subliminal sense that I knew exactly what to do.