This essay has its roots in a chance conversation with an old friend. He shook his head and wondered why one of his employees kept acting in ways that sabotaged his own interests. It got me to wondering – then asking – then asking some more. This is a journey inward as much as outward. After all, none of us are exempt from being human.
I’ve been a student of human behavior for at least four decades. During that time I’ve become fascinated by behaviors which people adopt and which are self-sabotaging. Over the years I have developed a list of these behaviors which I used to keep track of the tendencies of people that I met. [Have you noticed that there seem to be a lot more self-sabotaging in the world? I have.] I recently began to suspect that the percentage in American society was shifting even more towards the negative tendencies. My natural curiosity – as well as my damaged sense of national pride – led me to do a bit of research.
In my advisory work I teach clients to open files on each person they meet and keep a record of their experiences with them. This keeps them from wasting time with non-productive relationships. Recently I have received a number of requests for some sort of organized presentation of the system. [There were it seems other people who were having the same experiences] I set about to formalize the list and provide a guide for using it. I even developed a ‘point system’ that seems to work remarkably well. [Everybody starts out with a hundred points. Points are deducted for each transgression.] I came up with eleven habits of self-sabotaging people. Here is the list:
1. They Are Late: I consider this unthinking treatment of others (and me in particular) to be one of the seminal indicators of a lack of respect. Being on time is one of the easiest ways to indicate to a person that their time and the potential relationship are important to you. It is also one of the easiest compliments to pay. You simply arrive on schedule.
Self-sabotaging people are almost always late for meetings. Somehow they don’t seem to recognize the incredibly insulting nature of this behavior. “Your time is so unimportant that I do not need to conserve it. You will see me when I get there. Until then, you wait!” seems to be the prevailing attitude. This, of course, quickly translates into “You are barely worth my time and should be happy that I showed up at all.”
When confronted with the insulting nature of this behavior these people usually come up with something like “I am sorry. My schedule always seems to get out of control. I am a victim of my own celebrity.” This replaces one insult with another – “You are not worth it” becomes “You are the true victim of my incompetency. It is your burden to bear.” Of course you are then asked to believe that they are going to prove completely competent in other, more demanding areas. [Give me a break – minus ten points]
2. They Are Unprepared: I am constantly amazed at how little time self-sabotaging people spend preparing for meetings. As a matter of course, I prepare as if the individual that I am meeting is important and the matters we are going to discuss have substance.
My company’s website provides a lot of information about my interests, core competencies and projects. We do that for a reason – so that people can go there and find out about us. I also publish a lot of articles on various subjects – again to help people know what my interests are and identify possible common interest. We go to a lot of effort to make that information available. So what does it say about a person when they come to an initial meeting without spending any significant time on the website? In other words, they are winging it!
Most often I have spent a fair amount of time on their site (including printing out selected portions to use at the meeting). Pages will have highlighted areas where I want clarification or additional information. I spend time going over things that either interested or confused me. Self-sabotaging people are generally not even conscious of the difference in our preparation levels. [Minus ten points]
3. They Are Unfocused: I get to a meeting and quickly discover that the other person has not thought through why he was interested in meeting with me. I remember meeting with a guy who had asked me to advise him on a new career direction. We set up a session to which he arrived late. [Minus ten points – I was doing him a favor and he returned it by insulting me] When we finally settled down and my temper came back under control, I asked him what he wanted to do – what direction he was considering. “I really don’t know,” was the reply “I’ve just started thinking about it.” I paid the check and left Bo Peep to find his sheep. [Minus twenty points – a double!]
4. They Are Superficial: “I just wanted to meet with you to see if you could help me get business.” Wow, I love this one. When the hell did I become your business development department – and, if I understand you correctly, an unpaid one at that? Give me a break. And if you really want to bring the conversation to a complete halt, ask “what’s the quid pro quo”. Usually the response is something like “Well, I’d be happy to pay you a finder’s fee if I do get business from one of your introductions.” Sure, I’m likely to risk the time and reputation of one of my valued contact by introducing them to someone who is intent on wasting my time! [Minus ten points]
One more out of this particular barrel – I get a call from a person who has linked up with me through Linked In. She is traveling to the DC area and would like to explore a ‘possible common interest’. She is very expansive in her vision of a possible common project. Some of what she says makes some sense. So we schedule a dinner. As the dinner starts it quickly becomes clear that she has read some crap by some networking guru that told her ‘never to eat alone’. So she cooked up a shallow-water rationale. The meeting was totally unproductive – a complete waste of my time – but she did get to fulfill the author’s proscription. Another friend of mine was subjected to exactly the same treatment by this person during the same visit to the area. [Minus twenty points – another double!]