Have you ever had a conversation with someone that is ridiculously circular? And more talking just makes it worse?
By the end of the conversation you really wonder “what just happened?”
That’s a good indication that you were up to your elbows with a foolish person.
Now before I set myself up as an expert please know that a lot of what I am going to touch on in this blog is from Dr. Henry Cloud (Necessary Endings), teachings from Pastor Bill Hybles and insights from former Thomas Nelson CEO Micheal Hyatt.
I’m writing from my perspective; a doctor, husband and dad.
I’m giving you some life learned pointers and it doesn’t mean I’m immune to foolish behaviour. In fact just yesterday I walked away from a conversation with a patient thinking, “Wow, I could have handled that better”. I’m now going to have to swing around and offer an apology.
So here are the three identifiers that you are talking or interacting with a fool.
1. Fools don’t listen.
In a normal conversation there should is a logical flow of questioning, listening for a response and then responding. Even in a passionate debate, that same rhythm applies.
But when the person you are speaking to is only “silent” until you stop talking, then proceeds to argue their point, you know you are talking to someone engaging in foolish behaviour.
Your best bet? Stop talking and exit the conversation as soon as possible.
If it’s habitual behaviour with someone you are trying to lead (a direct report or one our our kids) then you need to set boundaries and clear consequences. As a doctor, if someone is not following through on their home based exercises I gently provide clear objectives.
“I need you to do these exercises at least 3 times a week until our next progress exam in 3 months. Then we will re-check your posture (or x-ray). The great thing is if you do your part we’ll start to see the changes we need for you to regain your health. And that’s why you’re here. Sound good?”
Clear, directive and with a timeline.
I am really careful to do it with enthusiasm and encouragement.
Be inspirational, do not come at this from guilt and shame.
The challenge is when it comes to someone you report to. Your boss, or someone you’ve hired to do contract work for you, basically someone who you really don’t have much leadership leverage with.
That is far more difficult but even more important to manage.
The best solution is to have clear objectives in writing so you can come back to the “contract”. No amount of self justification or blame can argue with a contract. That is the easiest way and the way that protects your character, reputation and emotions. But if you don’t have that, like I realized on two separate projects this year (yes, I’m getting burned on 2 separate things in the same year). Expensive education.
Take the high road in those situations. Hold up your end of the bargain, learn from your mistake and move on.
The more you engage with them, the longer you let the relationship drag on, the worse you will feel.
Then you run the risk of doing something that you’ll regret, like in one of my situations this year, I behaved just as foolishly. That just made me disappointed in me. It’s never worth getting sucked down to their level of behaviour.
If that happens, don’t feel guilty, just pull yourself together and get back to being the best version of you that you can be:)
Don’t waste precious time figuring out how you are going to get even. Obviously don’t hire them again but next time have a contract, no matter how trustworthy someone may seem.
If it’s your boss, then I’d start looking for another job. The fortunate thing is it’s much easier to find work when you’re already employed.
In any situation where a fool is exercising authority over you, your best plan of attack is to remove yourself (or your family) from that situation.
It may take time and may seem risky but the greater risk is to stay under their influence. The sooner you get out, the better.
2. A fool is illogical.
If you have any emotional intelligence and most people do, you have a general idea how a normal person would respond in a disagreement. When dealing with foolish behaviour often what would be considered a reasonable response becomes overblown.
When you’ve made a simple request or followed up with accountability and the response is overly dramatic or blown way out of proportion then you’re likely dealing with foolish behaviour.
3. A fool can be uncanningly disrespectful.
It’s like a comedy scene in a bad teenage movie, only it’s not very funny.
As adults we expect, and deserve respect in a conversation or a relationship. It’s a basic condition of a mature relationship and mature adult to adult conversation.
So if you’re fighting back offence after an interaction with a co-worker, boss or acquaintance you might just be dealing with a fool.
If it’s a rare occasion, give the person a break. Everybody’s entitled to a bad day. If the character of that person has not been foolish in the past, we owe it them to give them a pass. You may need to call in the exact same favour someday:)
It’s a problem when it’s a regular occurrence. If you walk away from an interaction with that person and feel horrible about being you, then it’s time to call it like it is. You’re dealing with a fool.
The sad thing? They often know exactly what they are doing.
Dr. Cloud (Boundaries for Leaders) talks about foolish people being the “smartest” people in the room, they know they are playing the disrespect card, they do it to deflect the real reason for the conversation.
They don’t want to be exposed for their lack of accountability, inappropriate behaviour or failure to deliver so they take the conversation to a level of personal attack.
They have an ability to turn the tables fast. Before you know it they are blame shifting and accusing you of character issues . . . . . that are the very issues you are calling them on.
When you “wonder what just happened here” the best plan of attack is, as I mentioned above, remove yourself as soon as you can from the conversation.
More talk in this kind of situation only makes it worse.
What do we do once we identify a fool is having influence in our life?
The thing that helps me after I identify that a fool is influencing my life, is create some space.
I need room to think, time to speak to some trusted advisors, get their input on the situation. Then I need to act quickly before I think about it too much.
With a fool there is never going to be perfect timing, a perfect outcome, a reasonable result. You just need to pull the bandaid off as fast as you can.
How necessary is this person in my life?
I ask myself, how necessary is this person to my goals and dreams. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding a suitable replacement. It may not be easy but as the unknown entrepreneur once said “hire slowly, fire quickly”.
Execute a plan.
Other times I need to execute a plan to get out of a bad relationship. What are the necessary steps I need to take? How can I isolate that person from causing me additional harm? How can I honourable withdraw from that relationship? Unfortunately in today’s world that usually cost’s money. Money is replaceable, character is not.
As I mentioned earlier, the longer you stay in a relationship with a fool, the greater chance you have of doing something that compromises your character. And that can’t be undone.
Learn your lesson.
And finally, once you have resolved to take action, don’t let guilt get the best of you.
Do what it takes to get out of the conversation or relationship and move on. Don’t continue to give the situation any more brain space than necessary; get over it.
Chalk it up as a life lesson. Life’s lesson’s may be expensive, but the more expensive lesson is to forget and have to do it all again with somebody else.
Don’t make the same mistake twice.
Remember the quote by Randall Terry, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”.
I hope you can learn from my mistakes from allowing foolish people into my life.
Unfortunately it’s been my experience that reading about someone else’s life lesson hasn’t seemed to lessen mine.
I usually read their lesson after the fact and am comforted:) I feel, at least I’m in good company.
I do wish you wisdom in dealing with foolish people in your life. They come in all shapes and sizes.
The best practice is to ensure you’re not the fool in someone else’s life.