Perhaps the worst habit of all!
Years ago, the place where I was working went through an internal reorganization. All of the IT infrastructure support was being taken from the various sub-organizations and consolidated under the CIO. As part of that consolidation of personnel and responsibilities, we also brought together all of the related contracts and managed them centrally.
It might sound pretty straight-forward but if you’ve ever gone through anything like it, I’m sure you can imagine what a nightmare it ended up being.
Whether or not the sub-organizations were completely honest throughout this process (they weren’t) is a subject I might explore at some point – but not today. No, today I want to talk about the habit they developed afterward. A habit that became a knee-jerk reaction, which they couldn’t seem to help but do. It took some otherwise professional people and turned them into jerks. Knee-Jerk Jerks!
“How can one habit make someone a jerk?”
The habit they developed was to argue against everything we did… but not because we had a string of bad ideas. It actually started very deceitfully. We would inherit a contract – staff and pricing already in place – and they would complain about the cost.
“Why is it more expensive than when we had the contract?”
I would stare back with a confused look on my face. “The cost is exactly the same. It’s the cost you transferred to us.”
The executive would then explain, with a straight face, that our numbers were wrong.
“Ummm... they’re your numbers. This is literally the file you gave us.”
It didn’t matter. The executive would insist the costs were going up. “I don’t care what ‘data’ you put in front of me, I know the IT portion of my budget is higher now than it was before!”
To this day, I don’t know if those executives where bold faced liars or if their direct reports really had them believing their IT budgets had been so much lower than reality.
Frankly, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that these executives got into the habit of simply disagreeing with anything we presented.
When we proposed consolidating contracts to save money, they said the savings weren’t enough and the service wasn’t good enough (even though the consolidation hadn’t happened yet).
When we shared the data showing that outages were down, they said they were hearing from “people in the field” that outages were worse.
When we shared end-user surveys showing the highest customer satisfaction results the organization had ever had, they insisted satisfaction was higher when they managed the support themselves (with no data to back up the claim).
“Are you sure you’re not exaggerating?”
Unfortunately, I’m probably downplaying it a bit. It got to a point where many of these executives simply criticized what we were doing because we were doing it. Here’s a prime example:
My team and I put together a Service Catalog that rolled up all of the contracts into various services, so it was easier to understand all of a sub-organization’s costs by type of service instead of trying to understand all the pieces of hundreds of contracts supporting them. We worked really hard to present costs in a way that would give executives information in a way that would support business decisions.
One of the executives who had complained the most about not understanding his costs met with us, let us complete our presentation, and then said, “This doesn’t help me at all. Where are the details? I want contract-level details! How can I understand my costs without contract-level details?” I spent the next several minutes trying to explain how this Service Catalog actually provided an incredibly valuable view of his costs. He disagreed vehemently and stormed out of the meeting.
So my team and I went to work documenting all of the details of his costs. We gathered all of the contract-level data for his sub-organization and created a new presentation format that would lay out all of the individual costs that rolled up to each of the services in the Service Catalog. A couple weeks after that first frustrating meeting, we met with that same executive and presented all of the detail he insisted he needed.
Once again, he let us complete our presentation and then said, “This doesn’t help me at all. How am I supposed to make heads or tails of all this detail? You expect me to figure out my costs when you dump all these contract-level details on me?” I spent a few minutes trying to explain that this was EXACTLY what he had insisted he needed. He disagreed vehemently and stormed out of the meeting again.
What I realized was that the executive didn’t want high-level, well-organized info. He didn’t actually want line-item, contract-level detail either.
He wanted to regain control.
He wanted to have his IT staff back. He didn’t care if costs were the same or lower or higher. He didn’t care if service was the same or better or worse. He just wanted control, which meant he could never accept what we were doing. He couldn’t even cooperate because that might help us succeed – and if we were successful, then he’d never get his control back. He could never rebuild his little kingdom.
“Okay, I understand the story – but what’s the bad habit again?”
The horrible habit is a knee-jerk reaction to anything proposed by someone you’ve decided is your “opponent.”
Instead of trying to figure out how to achieve a “win-win,” you’re happy to accept a “lose-lose” because you’re focused on making your “opponent” look bad. Besides, you can just blame your “loss” on your “opponent.” Honesty doesn’t matter. Truth doesn’t matter. Only winning matters.
But even winning has been redefined. If you lose less than your “opponent,” then you’ve won. If you can limit your “opponent’s” win – even if it hurts the people you’re supposed to serve – then you consider it a win. Ultimately, as long as you can retain your own power and authority, it’s a win that offsets any losses anyone else suffers (even your constituents).
Let me point out the elephant in the room (pun intended). We’ve been watching the same thing play out in politics for years... and it’s only getting worse. The disingenuous “negotiations” from the one side of the aisle aren’t focused on actually helping Americans – they’re focused on maintaining their own power at all costs.
I saw recently where a wannabe pundit on Twitter commented on Juneteenth, saying it was “an affront to the unity of July 4th.” But not long ago, during the prior Administration, the same dude was trumpeting the importance of Senate Republicans introducing legislation to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday! He smugly praised it and wrote, “Barack Obama and Joe Biden were in the White House for 8 years. Why didn’t they ever do it?”
An idea is a great idea if “your people” propose it? But as soon as your “opponent” proposes it, the idea is suddenly a steaming pile of dung? A toddler can see the flaw in that logic!
I’m not shocked that people in power pull this bullshit because they’re clearly just focused on maintaining their own power at all costs. What I continue to be surprised by is how many normal, everyday people are just fine with it.
Like Pavlov’s dogs, they’ve been trained to respond with the same knee-jerk reaction. “If the Libs have proposed it, then it’s not just un-American… it’s ANTI-American! Besides, if the Libtards have proposed it, then it’s all about taking what’s MINE and givin’ it to some freeloader who don’t wanna work! (I know ‘cuz Tucker told me so!)”
“You sound pretty pessimistic for a Relaxed Leader!”
I’ll admit that I’ve grown tired of trying to talk to Regressives who simply spout internet meme ideology.
“Critical Race Theory is an attack on America!”
Really? What don’t you like about it?
“It’s teaching our kids radical bullshit!”
Still no details. No explanation. Why? Because the truth is that they don’t have a thorough understanding of what Critical Race Theory is and isn’t. And even allegedly intelligent people don’t seem to know. Our local Catholic Bishop recently defended opponents of Critical Race Theory and when he was asked to explain what it is, he said, “Well, it has lots of different definitions, but the point is that the Church teaches that racism in all its forms is wrong.”
Okay... what? Sorry, but the important point is that the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington expressed support for opponents of Critical Race Theory and then refused to explain why. He stated that CRT has several definitions, then simply moved onto “the Church teaches racism is wrong?”
I’m not sure whether to classify that answer as a deflection, a non sequitur, or just extremely poor logic. If his point really was that he views Church teaching on racism as the best approach, then he would’ve completely opted out of the CRT debate. But he didn’t. His knee-jerk reaction was to support the conservatives because he always supports conservatives.
“So what can we do?”
Well, in order to have a conversation, you need two people who are willing to listen to each other in order to understand, and are then willing to respond in a way that thoughtfully presents their individual opinions.
So first, you need to listen.
Second, you need to try to understand.
Third, you need to actually “own” your opinion and understand why you believe whatever position you’ve taken.
Both parties need to do this but too many people never get past step one!
Self-proclaimed progressives aren’t necessarily better. I’m frequently appalled by the vitriol that online progressives spew at conservatives – and at anyone else who doesn’t wholeheartedly agree with their agenda. They’ve fallen victim to the worst habit as well. They’ve become Knee-Jerk Jerks, automatically attacking anyone who disagrees with them.
The Bottom Line:
Knee-jerk Jerks have bought into the belief that “all or nothing” is the only acceptable approach. They see compromise as weakness and swear that “if you’re not for us, you’re against us.” They are the embodiment of the dark side of the Force because only a Sith deals in absolutes.
Relaxed Leaders need to find balance when dealing with Darth Regressive and his knee-jerk hordes. On the one hand, we have to resist the temptation to simply write them off as a lost cause, attacking any idea they have as a bad one simply because it’s theirs. On the other hand, we need to understand that a true negotiation requires two parties who are willing to compromise. When one side demands concession after concession and then undermines the deal anyway, further negotiation is just foolish.
Sometimes the best response to a Knee-jerk Jerk is to simply refuse to play their game and figure out how to make progress without them.
If you like what you’re reading in The Relaxed Leader, can you do me a solid and share it with someone else? Let’s share good ideas with friends and family who also believe we can improve and make progress for everyone!