Archive for February, 2014

Which World Do You Live In?

Angry hissing catThe biggest mistake civilized people make when dealing with bullies or controllers is to assume they inhabit the same reality. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many of us live in a reality in which we want personal power and in which we respect the personal power of others. We believe in an egalitarian sharing of power, collaboration and win-win outcomes. Perhaps we even work toward a common goal!  This interaction allows growth and honesty and could be called Enlightened.

Once in a while, we run across someone who thinks we are attacking them when we try to negotiate a win-win agreement. Since attacking anyone is the farthest thing from a civilized person’s mind, most days, we assume the other person simply didn’t understand us.

So, we try to explain ourselves, but the explanation doesn’t somehow create clarity with this sort of person.  It causes friction.  Beware when efforts to create understanding blow up in your face.  This is the sign that you are interacting with someone from a different reality!

It may be that we find ourselves interacting with someone who is insulting or angry or critical, if they see us perform well, receive kudos or affection. We think perhaps they feel overshadowed and that if we extend good will toward them, they would know not to respond to us that way.  When the strange negative responses continue, we might think that if they understood how they come across, certainly they would stop it. So, we nicely confront them.

Bad idea. We get our head taken off and handed to us in an angry tirade. Wait a minute! That wasn’t supposed to happen!

The key to understanding the behavior of a bully is to realize that he or she lives in an entirely different reality with a different set of rules. Kathryn Brohl refers to this as “Neighbors living worlds apart,” in Social Service Workplace Bullying (Lyceum Books, Chicago, 2013). The bully’s reality has no room for collaboration. There is no shared power. There is only power over. All the games are zero sum. If you win, the bully loses, so you are not allowed to win.  The bully doesn’t win so much as overpower.

Once you see that this separate reality exists, a bully’s behavior is very easy to predict. In fact, bullies are tiresomely predictable and unoriginal.  My grandfather used to say that if you want to catch trout, you have to be able to think like a trout.  In the same way, if you want to deal successfully with a bully, you need to be able to think like a bully.

The bully is actually quite hostile – even though we use euphemisms like “controlling person” or “manipulator.” Power over behavior is hostile. I win. You lose. I can insult or disrespect you and hurt you. If you complain, that shows you can’t take it. You are too sensitive. Sensitivity is weakness.

This mentality is so prevalent on sitcoms, in schools, locker rooms and conference rooms that we hardly even notice it. We may wonder why we feel so tattered and torn after interactions with others.  What we thought were conversations were confrontations.

Once you understand the bully’s orientation, you won’t lose one minute of sleeping worrying about the way you might have said things. You’ll respond with something more intelligent. Perhaps you will break up with that person, join another church or hang around the coffee machine with different people. If your boss is the bully, you’ll be careful to be deferential and not shine too brightly – all while you look for a new job… I hope.     

Assuming the Worst

One of my favorite forms of crazy making is the presupposition.  It is a clever use of language that enables you get a double message across without lifting a finger.  It’s guaranteed to make the hearer uncomfortable.  All that is required is that you make an innocent sounding statement which is based on a very negative assumption.

GGW accordion player 001Even the most outrageous presupposition can meet its mark because the message puts its recipient in a double bind.  “Have you quit drinking?” is a good example of the outrageous presupposition.  What can anyone but a tea totaler respond?

A point blank demand, such as, “Did you think I needed to quit drinking?” can still be met with crazy making denial.

“Oh no, I didn’t mean it that way!  You’re very sensitive about it!”

The other day an acquaintance said to me: “I’m so glad to see you have come out of yourself.”  I chalked it up to the artless things we say on when we’re in an uncomfortable social situation and  want to fill air time.  But, it occurred to me later that the person who made the artless comment is an artist – a communications expert.

Similar comments I have heard are, “You sure look better!”  and “Boy, you are such a nice person now that I know you.”

Socially, it’s not acceptable to say,  “It’s about time you did something about your clothes!”  or  “Gosh you seemed like an ass when I first met you!”

That might give me a chance to respond with,  “I don’t think you’re in any position to judge.  When I met you I was pretty sure you had emotional issues and I couldn’t wait to get away!”  But, funny thing!  I would never say any such thing.  I wouldn’t insinuate it either!

After all, what purpose does it serve to tell someone they made a bad first impression?    What does it accomplish to tell someone they looked terrible last time you met?  Hmmm, let me think… The only purpose it serves is to make them feel bad.

If that’s what you are aiming for, the nasty presupposition can do a fine job and chances are you won’t have to take responsibility for what you say.  But if you are interested in Enlightened Interaction, what use do you have for verbal itching powder?

Presuppositions can also be used for promoting good feelings.  They aren’t as clever when used positively, but the feelings they induce are so much more productive.

“Where do you find such interesting bits of information?”  sends a compliment with the question.

“You look better than usual,” lets a person know she’s outdone herself instead of making her think you are surprised that she looks decent.

And, by the way, I want to know what workout you have been doing.


Crazy Makers! They’ll make you crazy!

shutterstock_118716532A friend and I planned to meet at 4:30. At 4:50, she called to ask if we were still meeting. Sitting in the restaurant waiting for her, I wondered how I had come to believe we had plans, but she didn’t. Checking my text messages, I saw that we had agreed on a restaurant and time. I felt a bit queasy. She claimed I was one of her best friends, and yet this happened sometimes. My mind scurried back and forth like a squirrel in the road. “My best friend” sat at one curb. On the other was, “I don’t feel a desire to show up as planned and it isn’t a big enough deal for me to remember it, much less look forward to it. When she did finally remember, she claimed she was busy and simply forgot things. I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

This is crazy making behavior. It’s a set of contradictory messages. The words say, “We have a great friendship,” and the behavior says, “You are forgettable.”

Crazy making runs the gamut from occasional forgetfulness and irresponsibility to severely abusive behavior. It can be obvious, but sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint what the contradiction is. A sure sign that you are experiencing crazy making is a sense of confusion and a sinking feeling. Crazy messages are incongruent. Often, one of the messages is not explicit, as in the ad for an attorney who  says, “We care about you!” as he shakes his head back and forth in a clear but unspoken denial.  The husband who declares undying love in a greeting card, makes his wife crazy when he walks away in the middle of the story she is telling.

When you feel that sinking feeling, look for the double message. It will usually not be hard to find if you remain awake. The contradictory half of the message is usually something the other person does not want to confront. We all do this from time to time, but some of us are less willing and able than others to confront the contradiction, and maybe we do not know there is a contradiction to confront.

The crazy making message may mean, “I really want to see you, but I am totally out of control and cannot keep track of my appointments.” On the other hand, it can mean, I say “I love you,” so you will make me a priority, but I am not really that into you.

When a relative is red in the face, huffs and puffs, and growls, “I’m not angry!” It could mean he’s angry at something which has nothing to do with you, or it could mean there is hostility below the surface that he wants to express without taking responsibility for it.

I am often called on to apply my intuition when clients experience such behavior, especially from a romantic interest.  However, it doesn’t take intuition to understand it. The client is reacting to the feeling that someting is suspicious in the relationship, and is likely sweeping the negative message under the carpet. She calls me, hoping I will tell her everything is okay.  But, we end up confronting the inconsistency that tells me everything is not okay.

The secret agenda of the crazy maker may not be anything sinister or dramatic. It is likely to be some feeling he is not comfortable expressing. It could be a sign of bad communicatiom or it could be sign of a bad relationship. Whatever the reason, frequent crazy-making from someone you interact with can make you, well, crazy.

Someone who wants to avoid negative feelings will be contradictory frequently, but may own up when confronted.  But if they are elusive, vague, minimize your concern, or explode at your “accusations,” they are unwilling to confront the issue honestly.  Stand back and take a long un-confused look before you go any further.

Don’t let the confusion be an excuse for giving the benefit of the doubt when it is not deserved. Shake the dust from your feet.  Move on to more honest relationships. Then when you consult me, we’ll be laughing about all the opportunities I see ahead of you for love and prosperity!

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