My Sunday School teacher was fond of mentioning that there were only two types of people in the world: good guys and bad guys. While this may have been true, it left me with no tools to sort out which was which. For instance, were my business competitors all “bad guys” or might some of them be good guys? I needed a practical and workable system for determining whether someone was on my side or not, whether I could trust them or not. I finally found that one method worked best to answer these questions about people.
First of all, I stopped listening to what people were saying. Some of the most underhanded people I ever worked with said wonderful, flattering words to my face and then proceeded to undermine me relentlessly. So words were not the test of whether a person could be trusted. I needed a better system. What I discovered was that I could look for business results and get a good estimation of the worth of the person. I started dividing people into two camps. Rather than “good” or “bad”, which had too many extraneous connotations, I started using “constructive” and “destructive”. Either a person was helping me and the business or he wasn’t. Either he was pushing for results for himself and others or he wasn’t. This made the picture much clearer. I also found that the minute I focused on results and those who were constructive in achieving them or destructive of them, I could easily sort out a few other “types” in each camp.
Below are the “types” I found most commonly, with genders chosen randomly for each type.
THE CONSTRUCTIVE TEAM: Gets results for self. Helps others get results.
Mr. Busy: Rather than being a busy-body, he is just plain busy. Phone calls, emails, meetings—he goes all day long. He is just busy, busy, busy getting things done! This is the top person to have on a team that wants to achieve results.
Superhero: He is the ultra-constructive hero of the office. He likes to pitch in, works hard and goes a tad nutty when others try to stop him. If he complains, it is about injustices or the barriers to success. On a normal day, he is busy and optimistic. He likes to talk and may even run late from getting too involved in some conversations. He loves having an exciting goal to pursue and likes other people.
Ms. Thoughtful: She is concerned about the results, thoroughly thinking through strategies and timelines. She ponders about data and furrows her brow at complex problems. Likes to review charts and spreadsheets. New ideas are a bit too risky because they might jeopardize the cause. She’s helpful and a good person to go to for a thorough analysis.
Mr. Blah: He’s bored at meetings and tends to doodle on his napkin. He occasionally gets interested in a project, but it takes some effort and has to involve him personally. He’s nice and wouldn’t hurt a flea. Don’t expect him to lead the team, but he will do what you ask him to do. Put him on a team with a strong leader.
The Fighter: Picks a fight with anyone for any reason. Loves debate and a good boxing round with others. You might wonder at times whether he’s on your side or not, and he certainly can be exhausting, but his heart is in the right place. The fights can be unnecessary at times, but they aren’t ill-intentioned. A good team player if you can keep him fighting against the competition instead of his teammates. Also needs a strong leader to channel his energies.
THE DESTRUCTIVE TEAM: Will slow or stop any constructive goal. Wastes time and energy.
Blow-Hard: He’s always irritated about something, but won’t always mention it. When things blow up, he’s in the middle of it, yelling and screaming, throwing staplers and verbally abusing others. The accusations are untrue and full of destructive talk. The difference between the Blow-Hard and the Fighter is that the Fighter is fighting for something important: results. The Blow-Hard is just interested in beating others up. He’s not trying to “motivate” them or prove his strategy is the best. He’s just angry and obnoxious.
The Snake: Also known as the gossip of the office, this ‘type’ is the mark of death for your office. Wanders from office to office, making seemingly harmless comments about others but secretly stirring up conflicts and problems. Casually “mentions” to the boss that Sheila was at lunch for 1.5 hours and smelled “a bit like alcohol” when she returned. Will profess to be doing every action for the good of others while casually inserting a knife into every back he or she can find. Will undermine every possible constructive goal. Will support and help destructive goals like layoffs or downsizing only. It’s nearly guaranteed that you have met one of this type, but you might have missed it. The best skill you can learn is to recognize it when you see it. The snake is intensely dangerous while appearing completely harmless or even “nice” at times, and can be quite good at hiding his treachery by apparently “sensible” arguments. Look for a person who can’t do an honest day’s work and would rather sit around “talking” about problems and excuses rather than just driving the results. Will cause confusion to all constructive types in a short period of time.
Fraidy-Cat: She’s worried. She can’t sleep. She needs another cup of coffee. The competition just sold the contract to the client! The sky is falling! The fraidy-cat is the constantly worried officemate who has you wondering if you will ever get ahead or how so much can go so wrong so quickly. She is the bearer of bad tidings, and no good for you either. The world is much more dangerous place after you finish a breakfast meeting with fraidy-cat.
Victim: He just got in an accident. Again. He lost the sales contracts just before the big meeting because someone stole his briefcase at Starbucks. People are always stopping him, beating him up, picking on him. He can’t win. Ever. You wonder how one person could have so much trouble and bad luck, and how he could miss so much work and still have a job. A popular type to start frivolous lawsuits. Stay away or you will be part of one of the lawsuits shortly. Don’t hire him or you will have more and more problems on your hands daily.
The Weeper: She cries at the drop of a hat. She’s a bit slow. She looks sad or blank most of the time. May be still stuck in a recent tragedy or just generally sad and depressed. Seems a little “out of it” at times. Hard to get moving toward goals. Points out what is wrong or bad about nearly everything. Not a good team player or even an individual contributor. Too slow and too many excuses to be useful.
Mr. Whatever: This guy usually barely speaks. When he does, it is about how much he doesn’t care, how it all is fruitless and a waste of time because failure is clearly right around the corner. Can’t ever be convinced that something will go the right way. Has few friends. Doesn’t move much or control much. His response to anything, either good or bad, could be summed up as “whatever”.
So perhaps you found your teammates in the types, and perhaps you even discovered that one person was not as constructive as you might have hoped. It’s time to get down to the most difficult question of the day: Are the few people you work with most often going to take YOU up with them? When they become successful, will you be successful too? Looking at these types should help you determine the answer to that question. The constructive types will, to a greater or lesser degree, help you, support you and be constructive toward the group goals. The destructive types won’t. It’s that simple. So take a good, long look at those around you and see what your group looks like.
Wondering what to do if you found too many destructive types on your team? Time to restructure your team. If you can’t do that, talk to a coach about handling the destructive types and finding more support for your constructive goals. And good luck!