I’m a big fan of compassion, understanding, and appreciation. I’m also a sucker for stories of redemption and reconciliation. It’s part of my programming. Overall, I’m optimistic where people are concerned. I trust people. But I’m not naive. Mostly, I trust us to be human. I trust us to pursue what seems to be in our best interest with the tools we have available. Unfortunately, one of our tools of choice is called the fundamental attribution error. This hard-wired error has us believing that our missteps are due to circumstance and any harm we cause is accidental and should be forgiven. The flip side of this error is that missteps of others are due to character flaws, the other person hurt us on purpose and they should be punished.
The result is that even that annoying person who is intentionally being a pain in your butt believes they are reasonable and decent, and that you are the nasty person. This one-two punch of blame and righteous indignation can destroy great relationships and entire teams. The good news is that with enough effort and the right tools for shifting and sharing perspective, the worst aspects of this error can be avoided, mitigated or resolved. Relationships and relevance can even be strengthened through what I call productive conflict.
All of that is well and good (although hard enough) when the other person really is reasonable and decent and has just fallen prey to the fundamental attribution error. Helping teams with these differences is very happy work for me. More challenging however, is when decent people find themselves faced with a Backstabadyl. This is the person who takes pleasure in your pain and doesn’t care if you are decent or not. They are frequently charming and persuasive and a Backstabadyl may even commiserate with you over misfortune they secretly caused.
Before you get paranoid about everyone who is nice to you, the Backstabadyl’s easily identified flaw is pride. They will often comment on their talent for manipulating or maneuvering others. Almost all will reveal themselves through the disdain and disregard they have for others. If you see this, carefully reassess any confidences you share with them and reduce your contact and exposure. You can also read my book, Never Trust a Happy Dinosaur, for more information on Backstabadyl and it’s much more dangerous cousin, Conivus Conspiridon.