How To Read Minds

Have you ever encountered people that upon first introduction need to tell you the personality traits and characteristics on how they want you to perceive them? And then have to reconfirm the point on a fairly regular basis?

For example a prior supervisor used to say “I am such an easy going guy” on a very frequent basis. Unfortunately, he was the exact opposite. Very uptight. His jokes always appeared forced and generally he was one of the most OCD guys I have ever encountered. He would micromanage me to a point where he checked on my whereabouts every 30min and followed up on every single task he gave me in 15min intervals. It became unbearable to work for him.

Another example is from a female manager that I am currently working with. She is a person that very frequently has to reaffirm how important collaboration is for her and how she is always so negatively surprised by how little others play in a team. The unfortunate truth for her is that she is very self centered, does not listen to others well, comes off very harsh and offensive at times, and approaches others who disagree with her very often somewhat bullying to a point where people simple get tired of her arguing, personal attacks, and cave in. Nobody voluntarily invites her to meetings for collaboration as it is so difficult to collaborate with her, because she is only out to win the arguments no matter the cost.

A third example is of a co-worker I am working with who always states “I really hate this person and that is surprising, because I get along so well with everyone.” To some extent this is true. He is very likable and gets along well with others. Most others. But not all. At every single point in time he finds an “enemy”. There is always this one person he just cannot get along with. To a point where it is not just a simple disliking between the two of them, but pure hate and war with more passion than I have seen other people handle their not so favorable work relationships.

And I also have a fourth example of a manager who always claims that the communication is just not handled effectively. I used to respond with setting up daily meetings to improve communication of topics, changes, and daily concerns, but her complaints just would not stop. It took me several months to realize that she just did not like what she was hearing. It had nothing to do with the communication, it was just her way of getting what she wanted by complaining to the authorities about lack of communication until the content of the communication changed to what she was willing to hear. This was a form of selective information seeking not miscommunication.

Apparently, most people have a tendency to highlight the topics they are most insecure or frustrated about in conversations by overcompensating for their weak points or throwing fog bombs to avoid addressing the real issue.

Often this is also used as a tactic to defer perspective and blame or make a misconception your problem instead of theirs. “If you think I am an uptight guy, you are wrong, I just told you I am a very easy going person.” Or it is a deflection to avoid addressing their own personal problems: “I do not need to change my behavior, it is their fault for not seeing me for the great person I am.”

I used to fall into the trap of making it my problem when someone threw a fog bomb to distract from their character weakness. I used to feel guilty for thinking negatively about a person who “was just such a great guy”. However, over the years I learned to see behind the masks. I learned to trust my instincts and to believe in my people reading abilities. And with these abilities I have been able to navigate my work place more effectively.

If someone tells me that collaboration is so important to them, I believe that this is what they think.

If someone is claiming the communication is just not working, it can mean they have fundamental issues with what is being said.

Since I noticed these patterns I am more actively trying to understand the other persons point of view. I am not trying to win an argument, anymore, and thus create conflicts, as a person that handles interpersonal situations with subconscious manipulative behavior is probably more skilled to use your confrontation or stubbornness against you. There is just no winning with people that cannot or have not practiced self evaluation well enough.

So, I am trying to beat them at their own game. I am asking questions. I openly seek their advice and help and often I ask them to be part of the solution and the deliverables at hand. Valid questions are: “How do you think we need to handle communication? Would it help if we sat together weekly to go through the list of changes before sharing with the group?” Or if I am very courageous: “Would you mind typing up a proposal on how you would implement this new process? We can discuss your thoughts next week.”

And in more difficult situations for example with the not-so-easy-going supervisor of mine. Just do not step on their toes. Do not provoke them. Just let them be. And get out of their way fast. Seek allies. I collected all nasty emails he wrote me over time to have backup. Some people are toxic and if you stay professional, there is no need to get down to their own level. I was lucky that his behavior was noticed and he essentially was demoted. Others are not as lucky. He is still bitter about it and writes nasty Emails to me and my team on a very frequent basis. I just ignore those these days.

So, here is the tip of the day. Learn how to read people. Do not take what they say for granted. And always try to understand the incentives behind everyone’s behavior. Most people are trying to do a great job and like good collaboration, however, not everyone has the natural personality traits and skills to make this happen easily. Sometimes you are most successful by being the guide and the support these people need to develop their own skills. Always keep in mind: you yourself can only be successful if you are able to work with difficult people effectively and if your projects and assignments get delivered. Learn how to be good with people to accomplish your goals.

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