A Dance with Consequences and On-Lookers









Last Monday, I conducted my first interview with Dr. Herbert Rappaport on our topic of People: The Different and the Difficult. Over the course of the week, I spoke with clients applying the concepts.

The three keys to effectiveness that Dr. Rappaport opened the session with are:

  1. Know thyself (and your blind spots).
  2. Listen with your third ear.
  3. Be an anthropologist.

I’m not going to repeat the interview here (you can still purchase the recording). Rather, I wanted to share how I’m using some of the concepts. Not wanting to “out” my clients, I’ll share some of my own experience.

When I worked in a high-profile, high-pressure consulting firm as the head of HR, I had to deal with 25 partners. Some were a dream, others were pretty scary—to me.

As the head of HR, I was often working to solve problems among partners and within staff, and to somehow rope partners to conform to firm expectations. I guess it might not be so surprising that the scariest partners for me were also the most powerful, the biggest business developers. They were demanding, unwavering, critical, and sometimes rude and crude. They basically raised my anxiety level just thinking about a probable interaction.

Dr. Rappaport shared with us Karen Horney’s three trends for human interaction, especially in situations producing anxiety. We either move:

  • Away from the person,
  • Toward the person, or
  • Against the person.

Part of knowing myself is being self-reflective about how I react to others. Of the three trends above, I am clearly the person who moves away when anxious. I might procrastinate, defend, or compromise when challenged by a scary person. Harmony is important to me.  My values are important to me–and when crossed, it’s not OK with me.

If I can stop when confronted by this kind of situation, I can consider what I am anxious about, what triggered me, and if I have any blind spots about the matter or the person. And, then think about the other person. Every time I pushed myself to go “forward” toward a scary person and engage and understand, that person at the very least became more human and known to me. Ideas for how to approach or interact emerged.

Take a look at the picture I chose for the post today. Think about the impact of each person not considering their own vulnerabilities and actions; and then, putting that knowledge in play. Notice the onlookers—isn’t that similar to our organization life. While we might be engaged in “the fight,” there are almost always onlookers.

So, just considering this slice of my interview—what do you know about your triggers and your trend when faced with a scary person or high-anxiety situation. Take time this week to be reflective about your part in the dance and how you might even be creating or fueling your partners dance.

And mark your calendar for May 14th at noon ET for my second interview. We’ll be diving into one of the toughest personality types.