by Dr. Ichak Adizes

When people are tired or upset, they often revert to their default styles of communicating, ignoring the needs of those to whom they’re speaking. That’s why it’s extremely important to be relaxed and well rested before important meetings. And even under the best of circumstances, there are times when a meeting should be stopped altogether and rescheduled.

How will you recognize those situations? Let’s use your car as an example. You’re very familiar with the normal humming sound your engine makes, so if someone asks what that noise is, you can say, “Oh, nothing. That’s normal.” Once you know what a normal noise is, you can identify noises that aren’t normal and might indicate a problem. If you hear such noises, what should you do? Normally, you should stop driving as soon as possible and get the car checked out. The same is true in personal relationships. Sometimes a conflict is normal and nothing to worry about. It’s even music to your ears, because you know you are both learning. It’s pain with gain! But when you hear abnormal noise, it’s time to intervene and stop the discussion. If a meeting is not stopped at the point when people are getting emotional and angry, the danger is that the machine will keep sputtering until major and sometimes irreparable damage is done. What is breaking down is not the transmission or the muffler, but mutual
trust and respect.

Each of the (PAEI) styles exhibits a typical abnormal “noise,” which I call “backup behavior.” It appears whenever people aren’t listening to or learning from each other anymore. It usually starts when people feel intimidated and fear they are losing control.

When (P)s feel they are losing control, they become little dictators. They proclaim, “OK, I’ve heard enough! Here is what we’re going to do, and I don’t want to hear any more about it. Period!”

When an (A) feels under attack, he freezes. His jaws lock, his face becomes frozen, he’s totally quiet. He just looks at you, or not even at you but through you. What he is thinking is not fit for print, but he doesn’t say a word. However, he remembers everything. Ten years later, that (A) will say, “Do you remember what you said, Friday, the 22nd of April, at three o’clock in the afternoon?” He’ll never forget. He’ll keep a detailed diary in his mind and sometimes even on paper.

An (I) yields like a tree in the wind. He flexes himself until the wind passes and then he straightens himself up again. How does this manifest itself? He will claim, “Oh, I didn’t mean that,“ or “That wasn’t what I meant to say,” or “That’s not exactly it,” or “I’m sorry,
I didn’t mean it.” See what’s happening? He’s wiggling.

An (E) is the most dangerous when threatened. He will go for your throat. He will cut you to pieces, suck your blood and spit it out, he will call you obscene names and publicly demean you. What’s interesting is that the next morning he will act as if nothing happened.
He’s forgotten about it. It’s all over, done, finished, that’s it. He doesn’t understand why you’re still upset.

This sort of conflict occurs in many marriages. (E)s often marry (A)s because they complement each other. Traditionally, although not necessarily, the (E) is the male and the (A) is the female. In an argument, he attacks her, and she withstands it silently while mentally cataloguing it. Years later, when she wants a divorce, he falls to pieces because he doesn’t know what went wrong. She starts reminding him what happened on that infamous afternoon ten years ago, and he is shocked because he has very little memory of the fight. He hardly remembers what he had for breakfast, much less what happened ten years ago. But an (A) never forgets and never forgives.

When backup behavior occurs in a meeting, whoever is still more or less in control of his emotions needs to stop the discussion immediately. You can say something like, “Let’s discuss it tomorrow. I hear you, and I want to give you the full attention you deserve, but we are too emotional right now.” Refuse to continue the discussion.

Be prepared for the (P)s and (E)s in the room to object and insist that the problem be resolved immediately. They hate pain and want to get it over with. When they hear abnormal noise, they don’t slow the machine down; they speed it up. Don’t get sucked in.

It’s also not a good idea to resume the meeting too soon. After all, what did you do with the car that sounded as if it were breaking down? You stopped it. Did you immediately start it up again? Of course not. You checked the source of the breakdown first.

The same holds true for personal conflict when there is backup behavior. When the meeting has been adjourned and everyone has cooled down, try to find out what caused the backup behavior in the first place. Clear up that issue before continuing the discussion. Ask the others, “What happened yesterday? You seemed upset. What did someone say or what happened that upset you?” Only when that issue is resolved should you reactivate the machine. Then you can go back to discussing the issue you were dealing with.

(Excerpt of Dr. Ichak Adizes’ book “The Ideal Executive” published by the Adizes Institute Publishing in 2004.)

“While early promotions in one’s career are due to excellence in a professional discipline, promotions to key management positions hinge upon excellence in interpersonal skills. This book is the culmination of Dr. Adizes’ theoretical studies, vast experience and great intuition. It will help you understand and better deal with subordinates, peers, and specifically your supervisor.” –

SASS SOMEKH, Executive Vice President of Applied Materials, Inc.