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 non-verbally. 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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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Workplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: I
- Bullying is unlike other forms of toxic conflict. That's why the tools we use to address toxic conflict
simply do not work for bullying. In this Part I, we contrast bullying and ordinary toxic conflict.
- Why Others Do What They Do
- If you're human, you make mistakes. A particularly expensive kind of mistake is guessing incorrectly
why others do what they do. Here are some of the ways we get this wrong.
- The Myth of Difficult People
- Many books and Web sites offer advice for dealing with difficult people. There are indeed some difficult
people, but are they as numerous as these books and Web sites would have us believe? I think not.
- Patterns of Conflict Escalation: II
- When simple workplace disagreements evolve into workplace warfare, they often do so following recognizable
patterns. If we can recognize the patterns early, we can intervene to prevent serious damage to relationships.
Here's Part II of a catalog of some of those patterns.
- Directed Attention Fatigue
- Humans have a limited capacity to concentrate attention on thought-intensive tasks. After a time, we
must rest and renew. Most brainwork jobs aren't designed with this in mind.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.