Barry J is built like wrestler, short, powerful, muscular and he is not my favourite client. Unfortunately at the moment he is significant and the most frustrating. He has a key position at my client Chevron and although he is not in control of the major items, he is the arbitrator on most of the day-to-day advertising and promotion projects that I am working on.
He is a royal pain for three reasons: first he never makes up his mind in a timely fashion, secondly things just seem to disappear and thirdly nothing ever is good enough. Unfortunately in my business three strikes and you are out does not apply and I have to put up with him day after day.
It is a particularly depressing day. He has failed to respond to a recommendation for a promotion so I have made an appointment to see him. I have taken an extra copy because I know he will have mislaid l the original.
On my arrival, he applies his relentless, boring, uninformed critique to what I have suggested. Protest falls on deaf ears and finally tail between my legs I crawl away with the admonishment ringing in my ears that he will expect better next time. I go slow for a few days, needing to get over both my irritation and frustration.
Then a miracle occurs. The original that I had sent him two weeks earlier turns up on my desk, “Much better, well done, approved.” I begin to laugh. I have made no changes. He has approved what he had recently spent two hours tearing apart. Due to our mutual procrastinations he believed the original was the result of his input. This was a vital insight in terms of working with him.
I realized that he had no real commitment to his judgment or ideas, he just needed to feel in control. This was something I knew I could manage so I developed a new strategy to deal with him. Before preparing a proposal I would connect with him for a chat. During the conversation I would float ideas, draw assumptions on what he may say and that reflect my idea back to him as his own. It worked perfectly – flattery, manipulation and diversion became the tools of my trade. What was the harm – he was happy, I was happy and the job got done.
Reflecting on this thirty years later I wonder how on earth I could have been successful with the level of awareness, knowledge and consciousness I have today. A friend of mine observed when I shared this story that I was outrageously manipulative and of course he was correct. My client’s weakness played into my strength. I was practiced at manipulation to get my needs met. Was there another way to succeed in this situation?
Today I would understand my client much better and have a great deal of sympathy for him. He would appear to have a primary narcissistic wound. As a child it was unlikely he got the support or feedback he needed from his parents and may have developed low self-esteem. According to eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis in his book What Matters Most, if we do not have sufficient mirroring of self-approval we internalize that we are at fault and become empty vessels.
In order to compensate for this one of the strategies is the power complex where we use others to create our self esteem. Interestingly, “you can never do enough for a narcissistic parent” and I sense the same challenge exists when we deal with those with in business with a power complex. Those with a power complex have to overcompensate and prove how valuable they are.
Ironically my way of dealing with it is also a reactive response. Listening to Hollis lecture on this subject I shrink a little in my chair to hear him suggest that, “flattery, guile, trickery and manipulation are all surreptitious strategies to overcome the powerful other.
At the time I had no concept for our behaviours. I was simply trying to get the job done but in fact both of us were resorting to the mechanisms we learned as children to overcome the “powerful other”.
After reflecting on this I see another possibility. If I could have seen through my own “child reaction” to manipulate, I could have suggested a more adult compromise. I could have invited him to liaise more closely with me to create a mutual solution. It would have offered a far more mature solution. This is becoming a very humbling process.
Hollis emphasises that this is not about self-judgment; it is about understanding and knowledge. It is about not being in thrall to old patterns that repeat mindlessly again and again.
It brings to mind the Greek wisdom around self-knowledge ‘Know Thyself’ that was written on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. (http://thyselfknow.com/) Reflecting on our history, seeing our patterns helps us to emerge from the swamp of self-denial.