Definitions vary, but "throwing a nutty" is a phrase used, sometimes mockingly and affectionately, to describe inappropriate behavior. For example, in a small meeting, when discussion turns to Natalie's frustrating pattern of delivering as promised, but two weeks late, one of the participants, Bert, might deliver a three-minute rant, with steadily increasing voice volume and blood pressure, describing in detail Natalie's secret plot to destroy the company. Everyone else listens, stunned. When Bert realizes what he's done, he falls silent. The conversation resumes, albeit uncomfortably, as if Bert hadn't spoken at all.
Bert has thrown a nutty. Again.
Nutties make most of us uncomfortable. What options are available when someone throws a nutty? In what follows, I'll use the name Bert for the person who's throwing the nutty, and the name Ernie for the person who's trying to figure out how to respond. Here are some suggestions.
- Wait it out
- Waiting quietly and respectfully for the nutty to end is always a choice. Take care, though, not to communicate impatience nonverbally. For example, if Ernie looks at his watch, or starts reading mail on his "personal device," Bert might take offense.
- Use prismatic deflections
- Deflection to new subjects can be effective if it distracts Bert. To work well, though, the deflection must convey respect for Bert by connecting to something in Bert's nutty rant. By analogy with the way a prism decomposes light into its color components, a prismatic deflection draws Bert's attention to something new, built on one element of his rant. Ernie (or someone else) can then deal later with the performance issue of throwing nutties.
- Intervene judiciously
- To intervene is to interrupt Bert, usually to protect Bert from himself. In private, interventions of the form "Are you OK?" can be suitable if Bert and Ernie have Nutties can make some of us
so uncomfortable that we feel
compelled to stop them,
whatever it takes. That's what
makes nutties so contagious.a strong relationship. But if they don't have a strong relationship, and especially if Ernie is subordinate to Bert, such direct offers of assistance might trigger resentment. A prismatic deflection can be a useful alternative.
- If others are present, Ernie's direct intervention can embarrass Bert, even if Ernie and Bert have a strong relationship. Waiting it out or prismatic deflection are then Ernie's best options.
- There's no obligation to join in
- Nutties can make some of us so uncomfortable that we feel compelled to stop them, whatever it takes. This dynamic is what makes nutties so contagious. Harrumphs, screaming matches, hangings-up-of-phones, and stalkings-out-of-rooms can all result from nutty contagion. We aren't obliged to join in another person's nutty. If you aren't in physical danger, try something else.
Throwing nutties is a performance issue. If Bert is your subordinate, address the issue. If Bert is a peer, find a way to get through it. If Bert is your boss, you might have to find a new boss. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
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- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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