This chapter focuses mostly on “Not Me” and “Poor Me” players. Counter play with these committee players comes first in understanding that the methods are two versions of the same game. The players’ motivations are in their desire to get special concessions, preferential treatment, or exemption from most responsibilities. “Poor Me” players achieve this by getting others to feel sorry for them because they are weak or handicapped in some way. “Not Me” players also want people to feel sorry for them. They appeal to the compassion in others and to their natural inclination to be reasonable and supportive.
As is true when managing most people who drive you up the wall, the key to effective counter play is in your seeing through the game and understanding the motivations. You need to be sure it is a game and not a real problem or condition, however. This means you need to watch the player for a while and evaluate the legitimacy of his reasons, excuses, and general behavior.
Once your best judgement says that a game is on, the counter play is straightforward. If the player waits for someone else to take the lead or make a decision, say, “I will wait for you to take a position on this.”
Now, wait and be sure what the committee player says is actually a position or decision. If he is just jumping on the train, say, “You are just jumping on the train. This was not your idea and as far as I can tell, you have added no ideas of your own. Get on the train if you must, but do not think that I am playing your game.”
Rough treatment? Sure, but the player’s game is no less objectionable. The point is not to buy into the player’s behavior and to refuse to accept his excuses. Set the same standard for action and participation for him as is held for others. When the player does not come up to the standard, call him on it, making it clear the game will not work.
Does this mean you must be rude or abrasive? It may. But usually, it only means that you need to be assertive and honest. Typically it is enough to state what you think about the player and his behavior. This is exactly what he is counting on never happening. His game is dependant on it.
For “Poor Me” and “Not Me” brands of committee play, you normally only need to consistently call the player on his behavior. Insist that he participates in productive and contributing ways.
Counter play also needs to be pursued for the “apple polisher.” It can be harder to call these committee players on their behavior. It may be tough for you to say, “I am tired of your apple polishing.” Nonetheless, that is the idea that needs to be expressed. Here is an example of how the point can be made with style.
Suppose Bill is the player and you are in a committee meeting with him. You say, “I sometimes wish I had Bill’s ability to emphasize the positive in others.” Polish the apple just a little yourself. “I wonder if we would not all do well to focus on the real and critical issues at hand though. I would like for us to consider . . . This seems to me to be where our efforts will be most productive.”
As a skilled manager, you are careful but should counter the committee player on a continuing basis. The idea is to directly or indirectly point out the behavior and encourage discussion and action more related to the task at hand.