Dissecting bullies

August 15th, 2013 5 comments

Bullies are a special type of control freak. At first glance it might appear like they are the meaner and more forceful type but when you analyse their behaviour the truth is quite different.

Adults often tell kids who are being bullied that the bullies are actually weak at heart and you can stand up to them, something that kids being bullied find it hard to believe. ‘Weak’ is half right but it’s not just about their strength of personality, it’s about them being incompetent control freaks. Yes that’s right, bullies are the special class of control freaks who for one reason or another are so useless at all the other techniques that control freaks utilise that they become bullies out of sheer desperation. They’ve tried everything else and it didn’t work so this is all they have left.

The particular behaviours that mark out bullies are reasonably easy to spot:

– They take offense, but not like an ordinary person. No these apparently are the most sensitive individuals in the world because they find almost anything you do or say offensive, even the tiniest little nuance. Their offense is like a raging torrent in that it rushes upon them so quickly you can barely finish the sentence and it comes with such deep anger that you can see it clearly in their countenance.

Of course this is all deliberate and not the deep emotional response they want you to believe. They want you to think that you’ve broken some fundamental rule and every human would have the same visceral response to that. It’s your fault not theirs, you completely overstepped the mark and their emotions prove it beyond doubt because only something really bad could trigger a response like this.

From that response they now have the perfect excuse for what they are going to do next. That’s the weak part of their personality because they only way they can get the strength to do what they are going to do is by creating an overwhelming justification, which you or those around buy into. A strong person would do what they are going to do without having to create such a weight of justification.

One of the first steps in preventing bullying is not to buy into them taking offense and let them and others know that. You can ignore it, reject it or even tell them to stop being so sensitive. I can’t guarantee it will work but I’ve seen many bullies when faced with this barrier, scrabble round desperately to try to persuade people that their emotional response was real and justified.

– They’re nasty. With a bully there are no areas off limits, no rules of engagement, no code of conduct. They can and will go anywhere, say anything, do anything to hurt. As far as they are concerned this is all justified because you were the one who took the gloves off by overstepping the mark and so all they’re doing is following suit.

There’s no point trying to appeal to their higher nature, or calm them down, which normally only makes things worse. That’s because they think you are trying to change the rules now that someone is giving you a dose of your own medicine. You showed no mercy in overstepping the mark so how dare you now expect it of others. You deserve what you’re going to get.

– They like to do things in private. In particular it is important for them to take offense in private if they intend to display the emotions in public. They want the onlookers to see them upset without judging for themselves what got them so upset. It also means that they can lie to anyone who asks what got them so upset.

While some bullies are so weak they have to display the emotions in public to build a case for their later actions, some don’t want people to think of them as emotional and so hide that too, in which case they’ll be nasty in private too. Whenever someone has done that to me I’ve had to remind myself that just because they kept it private, doesn’t mean I should keep it private too and so I tell all sorts of people just to break the spell.

So there we have it – bullies are often bullies because they are incompetent control freaks. Truly pathetic.

Categories: People

All your successes are belong to us

July 31st, 2012 2 comments

Every control freak likes to claim the successes of others as their own. In some cases it’s relatively easy to do, such as when nobody listening knows better, or where they do but they are too timid to say anything. The most common case relies on the well known weakness of organisational memory, where everyone expects someone else to remember things for them. Even if they do remember, they expect someone else to remember better and so be the person that raises an objection, saving them from that duty.

But that’s all child’s play compared to the real control freak who can pull this off successfully in front of people with good memories and strong enough personalities to call out the false claims when they hear them. It relies on a simple trick that fits perfectly with the narcissim of control freaks.

The trick is simple – they just claim everything and anything as a success all at the same time and deliberately take a long time to list each and every claimed success. On the face of it this might look mad because it opens them to multiple attacks, but that’s not how it plays out.

If you are the listener who hears the huge whopper of a lie laying claim to all these successes and you know these are lies then you soon realise that there are only a few courses of action:

– you can pick up on one false claim and expose it, but that won’t detract from the overall effect because all the control freak needs do is treat it as a minor issue in the overall context. They might do this by acknowledging the mistake but more likely they will swat away the challenge as missing the bigger picture and you will be labelled as out of touch.

– you can pick on a large number of the lies but that’s very hard, takes a long time and is likely to encounter strong resistance from bystanders who simply don’t want a protracted argument to take place. It can be done but it is more of a scorched earth policy than a surgical strike.

So almost everyone, even some pretty strong and determined people keep quiet and let the control freak get away with it.

Categories: Organisations, People


June 27th, 2012 No comments

If there’s any definition of karma that makes sense then it is that the more you force the world around you into a particular path then the more difficult it becomes to shift from the path that you’ve set out for yourself. That’s certainly more believable than any idea of divine retribution or cosmic inevitability.

Control freaks obviously put all their efforts into controlling the world around them. This means taking away fluidity and replacing it with rigidity, taking away opportunity and replacing it with predetermination and taking away spontaneity and replacing it with predictability. It’s a closed, dark and ordered world where the colour and spark of life is almost driven out.

But this isn’t a ‘build it and leave it’ world, it’s one that requires constant defence and constant upkeep, otherwise free will exerts itself and the edifice fades into the past. Walls built with willpower require constant willpower to keep them up. This use of willpower to maintain the walls becomes more than a habit, it becomes a way of life. Control is everything and a life without control is unthinkable. After all it’s worked so well so far so why should it not work forever more?

Then along comes an opportunity that tempts the control freak – more money, more power or more prestige. But how can they make the move? Everything they achieve now comes from control and the longer they’ve being doing this the less they can remember how other people do things. They’ve lost that fluidity, lost that spontaneity, lost that inner spark and most of all lost the ability to grow. With a personality now defined by the world they’ve defined they don’t stand a chance.

Of course the natural reaction of a control freak is to try and control this new environment too. But this never works, no matter how hard they try, because they’re not embedded in the new environment enough to do that. So their efforts get undone, diluted and lost. Not only that, but attempts at control from a distance stand out and they get spotted for what they are and so a natural resistance builds up. Even worse, they are bound to have made enemies on the way that are unpredictable wildcards.

So we end up in a position where the walls the control freak builds to control the world within now work just as effectively to trap them inside. They can’t get out without letting the walls down and they can’t let the walls down without dropping the control and they can’t drop the control. They’re trapped and by being trapped they can’t reinvent themselves and can’t rejuvenate, which is where the rot sets in.

Categories: Organisations, People

Too important even for politeness

April 26th, 2012 No comments

There are some control freaks who don’t even bother apologising for being late, or for missing a meeting, or for any other situation where they’ve let others down. This isn’t too surprising given the ultimately narcissistic view that control freaks have where other people simply don’t matter.

What is surprising though is the effect this has on their reputation. In anyone else this would seem rude and would over time become recognised as an unforgiveable flaw in someone’s character. But in the weird topsy-turvy world of control freaks it actually strengthens their reputations in the minds of the sheep that they are trying to surround themselves with.

You hear the same excuse so often – “Well they must be doing something very important”. So the sheep not only forgive the rudeness but take it as a sign that someone is truly important. It seems they think that the only good reason someone would have for being rude is because they are doing something so important. That because the sheep couldn’t possibly admit the control freaks are doing it because they just don’t care about others, because if that were true then it would mean the sheep admitting that others see them as worthless, which cuts too deep to even acknowledge. So they would rather persist in the fantasy that others are only ever rude for the noblest of motives, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

To make it even worse, implicit in this excuse is a view that people who are polite and do apologise are obviously doing things that are less important because they can take the time to be human. Remarkable!

Categories: Organisations, People

Spotting a control freak at job interview

April 19th, 2012 No comments

I’ve noted previously that control freaks manipulate their past unashamedly and this would seem like an opportunity to catch them out. After all there are bound to be some records or some people around from that time who can remember the truth and that can expose the lies. The foolish control freaks who think they are invincible make claims to university degrees they don’t have or other easily verifiable facts and so do get caught out, but this rarely works for clever control freaks because they rarely directly lie. Instead they manipulate others into rewriting history for them and so manipulate their past without culpability.

There is a glimmer of hope though as this rewritten history can be their achilles heel in a job interview which is their most vulnerable time, when they are voluntarily giving up a power base to try for a bigger one. But striking that achilles heel requires a degree of rigour and principle that very few have.

One reason this is not easy is because ruthless control freaks will have been trying to control the interview for some time and so will go into it have exerted influence over:

  • Some of the expectations of the candidates. For example they may have spent some time spreading the meme that as the incumbent in the role was appointed as an outsider this has led to him missing the mark as a result.
  • Some of the questions. For example they might have made exaggerated public defenses of the staff in that area, far beyond what is needed, and so can expect questions on how they think the staff are perceived and what support they will give them.
  • Even some of the interviewers. Yes, a ruthless control freak will have been after this job for years, they may even have tried for it a couple of times before and failed and so spent some time cultivating those who might one day end up as interviewers.

And so they may have already prevented this weakness from being exploited by some high hurdles to cross. You can even the score a bit by ensuring that psychometric tests are carried out in advance, checking references thoroughly and the like, but you will still start at a disadvantage.

Let’s suppose for a moment though that you are an interviewer with the intellectual rigour and principles to weed out control freaks, after all if you don’t and they get through then they will weed you out pretty soon, then how can you go about it?

In interview, everyone likes to embellish their past a bit, or adapt it slightly to fit better with the role they are applying for, perhaps by emphasising some points and omitting others, but control freaks go so far beyond that. Not necessarily because they want to, but because they have to and this is how they can be caught out.

A control freak comes to interview with a huge multi-dimensional reputation, that’s what got them there after all, but to limit the damage they will emphasise the parts of it that are easiest to prove and de-emphasise the parts that are the most exaggerated. However, and this is the weakness, if someone asks them about one of those exaggerated parts of their history they are attempting to de-emphasise then they can’t easily say “oh no that’s far from the truth, actually my role was only …”, because they get into all sorts of pickles if they do. For a start they voluntarily deflated their reputation and no control freak ever wants to do that, but more importantly it starts the interviewers questioning the quality of the background evidence they have and makes them wonder if they should not check everything just in case.

So a control freak when presented with a question about an inflated aspect of their past will do one of two things, either warmly accept it and so reinforce the history, or deflect away to something else. Either way and you’ve got them. If they deflect they keep bringing them back. Control freaks absolutely hate this and it shows. They bridle, curl their lips, get pointed faces and so on – they simply cannot stand someone controlling them back to where they have tried to move away from. If you can expose this anger well enough, by gently but firmly bringing it back using a point of principle as your reason for doing do “it would be remiss of me not to demonstrate that we had carried out due diligence” then that alone can be enough to kill their chances.

This technique works in general for control freaks. If you can spot their deflection and bring it back on a point of principle then they will fight to the death. A clever one will invoke a claimed higher principle to move on, but if you stick your ground then your principle will win the day.

If they warmly accept their inflated history then you need to keep as accurate a record as possible and make sure that their acceptance is as explicit as possible. Ask if needed, when again you will see the physical discomfort because they hate having to lie outright but here is one instance where they simply have to do it. Again, if they try to avoid it then invoke principle to force the issue “Just to make sure that we have accurate records of our due diligence can you confirm …”.

Of course that’s not going to be enough to stop them at interview. This has to be done in the immediate aftermath of the interview where you have full license to check references and history in as detailed a manner as necessary. The control freak will try to control this process but they are an insider at this point and so don’t have enough information to do so. Even if it is not your job to check references you can still do so – after all your recommendation as an interviewer is at stake.

Once the control freak gets the job and is in position they will do everything possible to erase the history of the interview. They will ask for all the notes of interviewers to go to HR and then in a year or two ask for a ‘deletion of old records’ process to take place or they will claim these are personal information and can only be released with their agreement and so on. So the window for action is limited before the control freak takes total control.

Categories: Organisations, People

I love the employees but I hate the individuals

April 18th, 2012 No comments

This one took me years to figure because it is just so plain weird.

I used to regularly attend management meetings where we discussed benefits for employees and one member of the team has been persistently arguing in favour of increasing those benefits. Normally I would be very happy with this, after all the better the benefits the happier the people and the better they work. OK, we need to ensure we don’t overdo it so that people can’t leave if they want to, but that’s just a matter of assessing what the market does and not straying too far.

But whenever I heard this person talk in favour of increasing benefits, it always struck a sour note with me. A little voice would go off in the back of my head shouting “But you don’t like most of the people, in fact you seem to detest them, so why are you arguing for this?”.

For a long time I took a deeply suspicious view that this attitude was driven by self-interest. Maybe the benefits they supported were ones they wanted themselves. Or maybe they wanted it to be known that they supported these benefits and were trying to buy favour with the staff.

There are some managers who I’ve struggled to understand for so long because they have an internal separation I could never make myself. That separation is between employees and the individuals themselves. The love the employees but hate the individuals!

Categories: Organisations, People

Rewriting history

April 8th, 2012 No comments

Control freaks manipulate their past like nobody else does – unashamedly. A good control freak doesn’t lie outright though, they just talk up their past a bit. In the usual subtle manner where they don’t quite say what it is that they did but make it sound very important. So if they were say a business debt collector in a previous role then they can make it sound like they were a corporate finance restructuring expert, without actually lying outright.

The trick with this is that the sycophants around them latch on to this and talk it up too in order to win favour. One time might be when a control freak is about to give a presentation and the sycophant introducing them will talk about their past in gushing terms, completely buying into every manipulation that the control freak has attempted, but instead of expressing this in the roundabout way the control freak did, the sycophant goes right for the very heart of it and makes all the untrue claims the control freak only hinted at. So they really do introduce them as having been a corporate finance restructuring expert in a previous role, along with all the other improbable roles that only someone two hundred years old could have had.

Now the control freak, when faced with this makes a very different choice from the rest of us. Anyone with any morality makes some attempt to correct the mistake, not matter how gently they might do so. Sometimes, to avoid embarrassing the host they might do it in the lightest possible way by downplaying the introduction rather than contradicting it, often only by turning away, or a slight shake of the head or other body language. Some general egotistical types will accept the mistake without comment and they should not be mistaken for control freaks who, as ultimate narcissists, have to go one step further and take the opportunity to lock in the mistake. They simply can’t resist because manipulation like this is the core of how they operate.

This locking-in is often subtle and non-verbal. When the mistake is made they do the opposite of someone with morals, they look at the sycophant and warmly accept the words or look up and smile. Never enough for someone to later raise as evidence of lying but enough for a watcher to subliminally believe that the history has been confirmed.

A mistake once made and confirmed takes on a life of its own. I’ve seen a control freak have their past talked up so much that even people who knew them back then end up recounting the inflated version as though it were the truth. That’s just how powerful mass hysteria can be.

Categories: Organisations, People

My picture is bigger than yours. No, no, mine is even bigger

March 26th, 2012 No comments

There you are sitting in a meeting painting a verbal picture of how you want to solve a particular issue and then someone else pipes up with “I think we need to look at the bigger picture here” and starts talking about their solution. Obviously you’re irritated, because this is such a loaded way of interject. It’s basically saying:

  • Your thinking is just too narrow and you’re not considering all the things that need to be considered.
  • You don’t really understand what is important and what isn’t.

which in turn implies:

  • You’re an outsider (or soon to become one) in relation to the centre of power.
  • You’ve reached the limit of your abilities and won’t progress further.

The only problem is, that they might actually be right!

So your reaction to the interjection is crucial as you have to avoid any of the numerous traps that this simple phrase lays. The main problem you’ve got is that some in the room, possibly everyone, sees something of value in what has been said and wants to discuss it more. So if you’re not careful you can actually offend the sheep by your response.

  • The first trap is to try to pull the conversation back to your solution because you think you’ve got a better understanding of the issues. All that does is reinforce the view that you’re not getting it, making this a beginner’s error.
  • The second trap is to simply dismiss what the idiot says, because after all you know they’re an idiot. In that context, as well as offending the others who want to discuss it, it is likely that they will think your response is disrespectful. As everyone knows the higher someone rises the more subtle they become in their disrespect, so obvious disrespect just reinforces the view that you’re not going anywhere.
  • The third trap is to argue against it, no matter how well considered and presented your argument is. This might seem surprising since you would expect a good argument to be listened to. Unfortunately, the initial interjection has already set the thought in the minds of the listeners that you have not thought of these things and so talking about them now has no credibility – after all, if you had known about these things then why had you not spoken of them earlier?

That’s why control freaks use the “bigger picture” technique so often – almost nobody they use it against knows how to avoid the traps and those few that do normally only have one tactic available to them – silence, which everyone else takes as agreement. Perfect.

Every now and then though someone does know how to avoid the traps and to counter the move and does it with such aplomb that they can only be admired.

The first thing you do is listen intently when the interjection is made and immediately forget whatever solution you were talking about earlier and concentrate on the new solution. They ask earnest questions, ostensibly to show that you are really understanding it and in your desire to understand you want to explore even wider into the picture, but with the underlying intent of exposing the limits of the interjector’s thinking. Once the interjector starts to falter then your found those limits and you’ve got their way back in. Just push the boundaries of exploration out even further, generally by asking a “would you agree …” type of question to reframe the conversation into an even bigger picture than the one newly introduced. If you can finish that conversation with your questions lingering then you’ve done it – your picture is even bigger than theirs.

Of course the other person could counter at this point and push the boundaries even more in another direction and so verbal fencing begins. Most control freaks aren’t that clever or can’t think that quick on their feet, so if they do fence they are either genuine or a very rare and dangerous beast. In that case, a draw would be the safest bet. After all, you don’t want to be the control freak here.

Categories: Organisations, People

Celebrating the ordinary

February 20th, 2012 1 comment

I love a good celebration, especially after a long project where everyone has worked hard together to deliver the result. Real achievement is always worth celebrating. Of course a celebration like this has some real benefits. It strengthens the team, it helps people learn from their successes and it provides a faster transition to the next project

The problem for a control freak is that they hate this kind of celebration because it recognises real achievement and so gives power, credibility and kudos to people other than them and we can’t have that.

The common mistake that junior control freaks make is to snub the celebration, spoil the party or even block it outright if that have that much control. All that does is breed resentment, which many control freaks are happy with but which ultimately gets in the way.

The more advanced control freak has a far cleverer technique that takes full advantage of the frailty of human perception. They celebrate the ordinary.

That’s right, they pick something that would never normally get more than a nod of approval and turn it into an event to celebrate, from the micro-celebration through to the full blown party. Someone wrote a letter today – woohoo! The first anniversary of rearranging the furniture – let’s send out the invites!

Fake celebration is such a good control technique because it works on so many levels. It fulfills our deep need to party without changing any power balances. It provides a historical record to show just what a good boss they’ve been. Most importantly it uses up the celebration quota and party budget that every organisation maintains, whether explicitly or not, so that there isn’t any quota left for celebrating real achievement.

Categories: Organisations, People

Pointless predictions

February 13th, 2012 2 comments

A downside of being a control freak with a fully controlled and ultra-cautious approach to everything is that people regard them as incapable of innovation or insight. Of course this is completely true, so a control freak needs a special technique for reversing that perception – pointless predictions. This is another technique that relies on the frailty of human memories and the general mass hysteria that a control freak tries so hard to cultivate and exploit.

The control freak starts by identifying a whole set of recent happenings in reverent tones, raising them up from being mundane events. It is important that they don’t provide any comment or analysis on these events individually. They need to say they are significant but never to explain that significance, because if they did then someone might start to use their logical faculties instead of their sheep faculties and see through it, so they mustn’t be given any reason to switch them on.

Then the denouement is a prediction, clearly stated as that, which can be any one of the following:

  • predicting the obvious
  • predicting that has already happened
  • predicting something that can never be tested

But that’s not enough, there are some critical success factors for the prediction:

  • It has to be a bit obscure but not too obscure, enough to seem like they’ve done their homework but not enough for anyone to think they are an expert in the field in case they actually meet a real expert. After all a real expert will know how pointless the prediction is.
  • It has to have an aura of importance after it. If you can imagine the control freak putting on a face and nodding their head in confirmation after they’ve made the prediction then they’ve set the tone just right.

So what kind of reaction can the control freak expect to this prediction? Well this is the really interesting bit.

  1. some people, especially many of those who also want to be regarded as experts in this area, will actually add this prediction to their lexicon rather than challenge it. Feeding off the bullshit is so often easier than trying to avoid it. Yes people really are that weak.
  2. others will simple not have a clue about it, won’t apply any rational consideration and will make their entire judgement based on how important they think it is (despite what else they might think they do). This puts them precisely where the control freak wants them.
  3. a few will see the prediction for what it is but most of those will do nothing about it. Maybe they are cynical, or want to protect their positions or maybe they just don’t care.
  4. which leaves only a very few that can both see through the misdirection and try to do something about it. Sad to say but almost all of those will do so incoherently or confusingly and be savaged by 1 and 2 above for it.
  5. the very few that expose the lies accurately and succinctly will be ignored by everyone, including generally 4 because 4 are too busy with their own battles, and so denied the oxygen of publicity.

So, as you can see this is a complex technique to combat but it is possible if you have the nerve. Simply respond with another pointless prediction of your own but make it sound even more important and try not to laugh as you do it.

Categories: Organisations, People