A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
May 8th, 2014 by William

Never Wrestle with a Pig

Chances are that the person to either your left or right hasn’t the intelligence, or common sense, of a bag of hammers. You’re going to run into idiots in the workforce, and you’re going to have to deal with them and many times that idiot is your boss. In your career you’ll come across naysayers, whiners, ego-maniacs, micromanagers, drama-queens, workaholics, rotten apples, do nothings, snitches, screw-ups, button-pushers, stubborn mules, cowboys, snipers, saboteurs, super-sensitive introverts, super annoying extroverts, narcissists, sycophants, sociopaths and (the worst) bullies. And that will be in your first year out of school. You’ll also find that these different personalities, unfortunately to the detriment of mankind, have cross-bred.

Most of us think that once we’re out of high school we don’t have to deal with these kinds of people any more, but remember the same idiots that you tolerated in high school have moved on to the business world with you. Your biggest frustration will be the realization that most all organizations tolerate these people. Recall my blog post “The Hedgehog’s Dilemma” of a couple weeks ago−you certainly don’t want to become friends with these people. Also, as we learned in the post “Industrial Strength Musical Chairs,” we stand a chance of becoming a poor Thomas being pummeled by all the Tony and Isobels of the world.

The conventional wisdom for dealing with idiots is to ignore them−take the high-road−don’t engage. I tend to agree, for as Mark twain once said, “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

Of course I use the term “stupid,” and “idiot” (and childish) interchangeable with all those personalities noted above. That’s because as Albrecht’s Law proves: “Intelligent people, when assembled into an organization, will tend toward collective stupidity.” This “law” was proposed by German entrepreneur Karl Albrecht to explain why all those people you know that seem normal outside of work become dysfunctional idiots at work.

The fact is that despite your best efforts you’ll find yourself sucked-in at some point and your workplace experience will turn into little better than a battlefield, i.e., little better than wrestling with pigs. I guess if most organizations didn’t have an over-abundance of idiots I would have had no reason (or material) to write my book Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw.

That said I have to agree that it is rather foolish to attack the idiots head-on−especially if the idiot is your boss or manager. Your biggest challenge in your career will not be keeping up with the skills necessary to do your job or to move up the corporate ladder. It will be trying to get along for thirty or forty years without pointing out what a pack of idiots the people you work with are. It’s truly amazing how much “sliding by” and “not rocking the boat” you’ll have to engage in. You can live out on the street pushing a shopping cart, fishing for dinner from a dumpster, and it’d probably be more rewarding than most jobs, from the perspective of the nincompoops you’ll have to deal with.

The $64,000 question is why is the workplace like this−why do people act like idiotic children? In my book I partially explain this by taking a look at Transactional Analysis (TA) to reveal the mechanisms behind why people behave the way they do.

Transactional Analysis was first developed by Canadian-born US psychiatrist Dr. Eric Berne, in the late 1950s. In his book Games People Play, Dr. Berne dissects, in a simple easy to understand way, the whole process of interpersonal relationships and his book is one of the founding works in the field of Transactional Analysis (TA). Understanding the basics of TA is a great place to start if we want to explore the interaction of people in today’s workplace.

Briefly (if you want a more detailed presentation please refer to my book) to understand all human interaction we must first define what Dr. Berne calls the “ego state.” He tells us, “An ego state may be described phenomenologically as a coherent system of feelings, and operationally as a set of coherent behavior patterns.” An ego state is simply how you think affects how you act. Everyone has an ego state at all times. According to Berne people exhibit ego states that fall into three categories called Parent, Adult, and Child. They are described as:

• Parent: the same state of mind as one of your parents. You will thus respond as he or she would, with the same posture, gestures, vocabulary, and feeling. Authoritative and at time condescending.
• Adult: an autonomous, objective appraisal of the situation. When in this state, you’re using thought processes, the problems you perceive, or the conclusions you’ve come to, in a non-prejudicial manner. In other words you act impartially and professionally.
• Child: the intent of your reaction is the same as it would have been when you were a little boy or girl. You act moody, get angry, sulk and attack adversaries.

TA is a Neo-Freudian theory of personality and as such Berne’s ego states are heavily influenced by Freud’s id, ego and super-ego, although they do not precisely correspond with them. A primary difference between Berne and Freud is that Berne describes the actions of people as “games.” Thus the name of his book: Games People Play.

The key to understanding Berne’s ego states, and why they are important to our discussion here, is that everyone enters an interaction (Berne calls these “transactions”) with another person in one of the three ego states, i.e. we are a parent, adult or child. In the workplace, where everyone is a supposedly professional, we (hopefully) enter interactions, or transactions, with others as an adult. Berne claims that the “games” begin when interactions degrade such that a conversation between two people starts as adult-to-adult, and in response, one of the players reverts to a child. This forces the other to become the parent. This especially explains the path of many boss-to-subordinate conversations−certainly during the yearly performance review.

Hence the person who became the parent sees the person who became a child as an idiot. We all move through these three ego states many time each day, thus why we tend to see each other as idiots.

Berne asserted that these type changes in people’s ego states are totally independent of the nature and content of our daily interactions, i.e., any discussion between two individuals can degrade into a “game.” When interactions become a game, communication between the individuals breaks down. Thus Berne’s theories perfectly explain why good communication is often lacking in many organizations. It’s rough when your boss is an idiot, thus exacerbating the degradation in the interaction. Even worse is when the top guy in the organization is an idiot. When this happens the idiocy propagates throughout the entire management team like a contagious superbug.

In his May 5, 2010 article, “How to Deal with Stupid People in the Workplace,” Thom W. Conroy, gives us some advice. “Refrain from an aggressive action. The best way to deal with stupid people in the workplace is to simply smile, nod pleasantly and go about your business as though you have just had an amusing interaction with a small child. It needs to be understood that stupid people generally do not realize that they are stupid, so to point out the folly of their thought processes behooves no one.

“All of the guidance and corrective counseling in the world will not add a single IQ point to the intellect of a stupid person, so save your time and energy for battles at work that can actually make a positive difference. Allow the stupid people at work to ramble at their own discretion, as often the sound of their own voices is a wonderful vehicle to appease the intellectually challenged without getting personally caught up in the vortex of their ignorance.”

In other words, as George Bernard Shaw is credited with having quipped, “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reload Image