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Weekly 3: Better understand people

Summary: Avoid working with these character types if possible. Pay attention to people's actions. Loo

Idea Journal Weekly 3

November 18 · Issue #61 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Avoid working with these character types if possible. Pay attention to people’s actions. Look for the emotional reactions to your ideas. (~10 min read)
Note: Idea #2 is taken from a previous issue, and we’ve included it here because it’s a good fit with the core theme: better understanding people.

#1. Toxic character types you might find inside and outside of work
Robert Greene, author of The Laws of Human Nature, writes in a blog post that you can usually spot people who are “obviously evil or manipulative” a mile away.
Harder to identify are people with toxic characters who present their weaknesses as something positive.
Greene suggests that the best defense is to be aware of their tendencies, and to disengage from them as quickly as possible.
Here’s what to look for in the 10 most toxic character types:
1. The Big Talker
Why they’re attractive: Their ideas and the projects they’re working on can be impressive. They need help, backers or funding, and you can be sympathetic.
Why they’re ultimately toxic: At the heart of this type is a tension between two tendencies: on one hand, they’re afraid of the effort and responsibility required to make their ideas tangible. On the other hand, they crave attention and power.
Often, the more anxious side usually wins and the result is that this person never actually finishes what they start. They’ll often blame others for not realizing their visions – bad luck, some hard-to-define negative force, or society at large.
2. The Drama Magnet
Why they’re attractive: This type will draw you in with their exciting presence, unusual energy, and engaging stories. They can be animated, witty, and fun to be around – until the drama turns ugly.
Why they’re ultimately toxic: While most people try to avoid any kind of confrontation, this type seems to live for it. As you get to know them, you’ll hear more stories of the battles they’ve faced, but they’ll manage to position themselves as the victim in every case.
3. The Easy Moralizer
Why they’re attractive: This type communicates a sense of outrage at this or that injustice, and can be eloquent in making their case. It’s this conviction that earns them followers.
Why they’re ultimately toxic: Over time, you’ll begin to see the cracks in the edifice: they don’t treat their employees well, or they’re condescending to their spouse, or they seem to have a secret life.
The trouble is that their morality is “as easy and compulsive as drinking or gambling,” and doesn’t require any sacrifices on their part – just a lot of noble claims. The giveaway is a contradiction between their loud cries against some injustice and a lack of actual empathy.
4. The Hyper-perfectionist
Why they’re attractive: This type can lure you in by their hard work and apparent dedication – they’ll often put in more hours than even the lowliest employee.
Why they’re ultimately toxic: While they want to maintain the highest standards for the organization, at the root of this type’s behavior is a mistrust of others: “Once their back is turned, they imagine everyone slacking off.”
One sign of the Hyper-perfectionist is that they can’t delegate anything. They have to oversee everything, but this is less about a dedication to the team than it is about power and control. Another sign is that they’ll be quick to blame others whenever anything goes wrong.
5. The Pampered Prince or Princess
Why they’re initially attractive: This type comes off with a regal air – calm, confident, and with a slight sense of superiority. It can be pleasant to meet people who seem destined to wear a crown.
Why they’re ultimately toxic: The problem is that they’re masters at getting others to pamper them. You might find yourself doing favors for them, working especially hard for no pay, and not understanding how or why.
You’ll notice that when they don’t get what they want, they’ll often display baby-like behavior, such as pouting or even tantrums. They’re not equipped to handle the harsher aspects of adult life, and either manipulate a someone else into pampering them, or “resort to drinking or drugs to soothe themselves.”
6. The Personalizer
Why they’re initially attractive: The Personalizer comes across as particularly sensitive and thoughtful, even a little sad. This is how they earn your sympathy.
Why they’re ultimately toxic: You’ll eventually notice that this heightened sensitivity only goes in one direction – inward. They tend to take everything people do or say personally, and they’re constantly on guard: “are you paying them attention, do you respect them, are you giving them what they paid for?”
If you look at their past, you’ll see a pattern of many fallouts with people, and like the Drama Magnet, they’ll always see themselves as the victim.
7. The Pleaser
Why they’re initially attractive: They can make you feel like you’ve never met someone as accommodating, considerate, and nice – it almost seems unbelievable.
Why they’re ultimately toxic: But you slowly start to have your doubts – maybe they don’t show up as they promised, or don’t do a job so well. The problem is that this type has developed their niceness not out of genuine affection, but as a defense mechanism.
Behind their smiles is a resentment at the role they have to play, and they may secretly want to harm the person they serve or defer to. One expression of this is a lot of passive aggression.
8. The Relentless Rebel
Why they’re initially attractive: What’s exciting about this type is that they hate authority and love the underdog – they don’t recognize rules or precedents. Nearly all of us are attracted to this attitude on some level: “it appeals to the adolescent within us, the desire to snub our nose at the teacher.”
Why they’re ultimately toxic: If you associate with them more closely, you’ll notice that it’s an attitude they can’t control – it’s a compulsion to feel superior, and not some higher moral quality.
To criticize them means to risk being branded as a hated authority figure. If you look at their past, you’ll tend to find that they frequently split with people on very bad terms, made worse by their insults.
9. The Savior
Why they’re initially attractive: You can’t believe your good luck – you’ve met someone who can save you from all your troubles. Somehow, they “recognized your need for help and here they are with books to read, strategies to employ, the right foods to eat.”
Why they’re ultimately toxic: The trouble often starts as soon as you want to assert your independence and do things on your own. That’s because they get their greatest satisfaction from rescuing people, and acting as a caregiver.
The test is whether they seem to have a compulsive need to control you: “If they are willing to let you stand on your own two feet after some initial help, then they are truly noble. If not, it is really about the power they can exercise.”
10. The Sexualizer
Why they’re initially attractive: This type often seems charged with a sexual energy that is “refreshingly unrepressed.” You’ll notice that they tend to mix work with pleasure, and blur the boundaries of what is appropriate for using this energy.
Why they’re ultimately toxic: The problem is that this energy actually comes from a dark place, and sex becomes a means for self-validation.
When they were younger, this might have led to an “exciting promiscuous” lifestyle. But as they get older, if they go through a long period without this validation, they can become desperate.
For example, if they’re in leadership roles, they will use their power to get what they want – “all under the guise of being natural and unrepressed.
#2. To better understand people, pay more attention to what they do than what they promise
Psychiatrist and author Gordon Livingston writes in his book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart that we are a verbal species, so much that we are “drowning in words, many of which turn out to be lies we tell ourselves or others.”
And yet for all those words, we are not what we think, or what we say, or how we feel. Instead, we are defined by what we do.
In judging other people, Livingston argues that we should pay attention not to what they promise, but to how they behave.
Following this simple rule “could prevent much of the pain and misunderstanding that infect human relationships.”
As Livingston notes, a lot of the heartbreak that people encounter is the result of ignoring the reality that past behavior is the most reliable predictor of future behavior.
#3. "Millions of words and only six emotions"
Marketing guru Seth Godin writes on his blog that as you’re trying to sell your idea or product, you should be mindful of people’s emotional reactions.
The intellectual parts of our minds can analyze features and benefits and create engaging narratives that compel others to action.
But all of these words are “merely costumes for the six emotions built deep in our primordial soup”:
  • Anger
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Surprise
For example, from your brain’s perspective, being angry at the driver who cuts you off in traffic is the same as being angry at the relative who cuts you out of their will.
The difference is how we explain the two events to ourselves, and how long the feeling lasts: the traffic story probably won’t last nearly as long as one about the will.
Knowing that there are really only 6 buttons you can push might not guarantee that you’ll have a hit, but it can help you focus your energy on the kind of reactions you want to evoke.
Quote of the Week
“Means and instrumentalities change; motives and ends remain the same: to act or rest, to acquire or give, to fight or retreat, to seek association or privacy, to mate or reject, to offer or resent parental care.”
- Will and Ariel Durant in their book The Lessons of History
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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