Wednesday, July 04, 2007

How to recognize people who try to command, control and influence people

In work, in life, you run across these people all the time. The guys (and they're usually guys) who have read a few how-to books, perhaps attended a management skills seminar or two, and now think they are on the fast-track to success-money-power. They see themselves as master schemers, and other people as pawns in their power game. They have no friends, only 'contacts'. At night, they comfort themselves with thoughts of the day's machiavellian deeds. They never achieve anything.

Some people persist with this behavior into their later years. They sit all day, embittered and alone, nursing their jealousies and gripes, crushed again and again as their undeserving colleagues outdo them. Their personalities decompose into mere vanity and self-hatred, and they see all relationships as an exercise in domination. Sadly, these people are probably beyond help, and must remain as sad monuments to the devastating effects of the success-money-power disease.

There is still hope for sufferers, however, if the disease is recognized in time. If the symptoms are carefully pointed out, they may still have time to reform their behavior and escape this terrible affliction. So that we can help these people back to a healthier life, I present here some of the main symptoms to watch out for.

* Brutal Handshakes

The daytime schemer sees the handshake as a metaphor for battle. For him, the purpose of the handshake is to crush the opponent (for handshakes are always against an opponent) into submission. This is done either by literally crushing the opponent's hand, or by wrestling it into an unnatural position. Victory in the handshake gives the schemer an important psychological advantage in the mental battles that are to come.

The way to cure this behavior is simply to fight back. Schemers never expect this. They feel at a loss, and even feel a little bit stupid, when the opponent knows that handshakes are war too.

* The Only One in Control

The schemer must always appear in control of the situation, even when the situation does not require control of any kind. In fact, schemers usually lose control of things in a real crisis, but that is beside the point. One way in which the schemer maintains the appearance of control is by making out that the surrounding people are losing it.

For example, a schemer may tell someone to 'take it easy', even when that person is taking it easy, or say 'Relax, we have plenty of time,' even when the other person is relaxing and is well aware that there is plenty of time. Other typical phrases are 'It's important that we maintain a sense of focus here,' and 'Let's keep our minds on the task at hand.'

The schemer's apparent self-control can be destabilised by doing lots of random weird things that makes him genuinely nervous.

* Inventing a Crisis

Another tactic in creating the appearance of control is to invent a crisis to be in control of. The great majority of crises in the world are actually invented in this way. One way to do this is to attempt to prolong a crisis that has long since passed: for example, schemers like to step in after arguments are over and ask everyone to calm down. Another way is to keep creating non-existent deadlines that must be met. A crisis can be found in almost anything if the schemer looks hard enough: a missing teacup, dirty laundry, a delayed bus. All that matters is that the schemer gets there first and makes himself look in control.

Schemers often prepare plans of things to do in the event of a crisis, and then engineer an appropriate crisis the next day. The plans, which often contain a number of points, are rarely followed, but their presence gives the schemer the appearance of control.

The best way to deal with invented crises is to ignore them.

* The Listening Pose

Every how-to book tells the schemer that successful people are great listeners. Schemers hate this part of the book, because they are so concerned with themselves that they have no interest in listening to anyone else. Most schemers find it physically impossible to listen to other people, but they try. They really try. You can tell when a schemer is trying to listen to you because he will adopt the Listening Pose. This involves keeping his eyes wide open, projecting his head slightly towards you and trying to make his ears pop out.

Most schemers think they are great listeners. In fact, this is what is going through their heads while they are in the Listening Pose: "I'm listening. I'm a great listener. I'm really listening. I'm listening to this person and interested in what he says. I must keep listening." But of course they are not listening, because this is an impossibly great effort. Sometimes, for very short periods, they do make that effort and actually listen, but then they listen to words, rather than sentences. Schemers often pick on an isolated word in this way and use it to launch into a conversation of their own.

Cure: when speaking to a schemer, keep slipping random insults into what you say.

* Rehearsed Conversations

The schemer spends a great deal of his spare time rehearsing conversations in his mind. These conversations are designed to impress his audience with his great depth, wit and knowledge. The schemer will have about ten general-purpose conversations prepared, and several others for specific people or circumstances. When in the Listening Pose (q.v.), the foremost thing on the schemer's mind is how he can work in one of his rehearsed conversations.

Rehearsed conversations, which may be funny, moving, or noble, all have one thing in common: in each one, the audience is reduced to the role of saying yes, no, and laughing or crying where appropriate. All wit, all insight, all speech must come from the schemer. Any intervention from the audience is unwanted and strenuously ignored. This is because when the schemer starts reciting a rehearsed conversation, his brain enters a kind of recall state and he becomes less aware of his surroundings. He becomes intent on seeing the conversation through to the very end and cannot return to normal until he does so.

Because of this altered brain-state, schemers rarely seem to remember when they have used one of their rehearsed conversations, and are often known to use the same conversations over and over again with the same company. This is in fact the best way to recognize that a rehearsed conversation is taking place.

Rehearsed conversations are best dealt with by inserting random comments at unexpected places. This confuses and demoralises the schemer.

* Hypnosis

Schemers believe that they can bend other people's wills by the power of mind alone. They are often seen attempting a form of hypnosis, which involves staring at someone in the eyes, addressing them by their first name, and telling them to do something.

"Tony, you'll do that for me, won't you."

The hypnotism attempt is sometimes accompanied by a pat on the back or some other physical contact. If the victim is demoralised enough, the hypnosis will actually work, and this has the negative effect of strengthening the grip of the success-money-power disease.

Hypnosis can be dealt with by replying 'I WILL' in an obvious zombified voice, which throws the schemer's pap-psychology back in his face.

* Omniscience

There is no information in the world that can possibly surprise a schemer. Schemers must present a facade of absolute knowledge of all things. When a schemer is told a piece of information, he will not reply 'Really?' or 'Oh right' or even 'Yeah'. Instead, he will say 'Correct'. Not only does the schemer know the information already, but only he can confirm its correctness.

Schemers also have the habit of acquiring a temporary piece of knowledge, and then making sure the fact that they have this knowledge comes in very useful the next day. This is often done by inventing a crisis (q.v.).

You can blow holes in the schemer's apparent omniscience by making him say 'correct' to things that later turn out to be unequivocally wrong, or by saying 'correct' to everything he says. The latter is a particularly good tactic to use during rehearsed conversations.

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