Dealing with a Polarity Responder.

negativityMike is the new leader of an international virtual team and in his first meeting with team members, he discovered that he had a team member who appeared to resist every suggestion made by other members of the team: this person either flat-out rejected the ideas; pointed out the potential problems as being unsolvable; presented a list of reasons why they would not work and generally showed how smart he was (in his opinion). Mike hoped that this would not be an on-going situation. However, in a video conference a month later Mike discovered that the team member continued behaving in the same way. Afterwards, Mike spoke to some of the other team members and the team member’s ex-boss & discovered that this was “normal” behaviour for this person.  Mike decided that things had to change so started researching ways to deal with this situation. This is what he discovered: He had a Polarity Responder in his team!

What is a “Polarity Responder” (P.R.) or “Mismatcher”?
1.  A P.R. is someone who tends to disagrees with everything that you, or other people, say.
2.  They often do exactly the opposite of what you want or ask them to do.
3.   In meetings they always present reasons for NOT doing something instead of looking for reasons to do it!
4.  Frequently, their first response will be to produce an exception to the rule.
5.  Often they see their response as an opportunity to show how smart they are.
6.  They tend to be analytical and very intelligent.
7.  They can destroy a great idea with a single syllable.

In order for them to be “successful” in their opposition, they need to break rapport with the other person / people and the easiest way to do it is by using “BUT”:
E.G.,     “I totally agree with you. BUT …(followed by arguments against it)”
“I love your product, BUT…(followed by arguments against buying it)”

As I am sure you all know, subconsciously, the word “BUT” invalidates everything that has been said before it. It should only be used when you CONSCIOUSLY decide that you want to use this form to achieve a specific communicative objective.
For example: “I love the idea, BUT there are some problems…” (In other words I don’t really love the idea!”
As an alternative to the use of “BUT” in general, I would like to propose that you use alternatives such as those indicated below:
“I love the idea and there appear to be some problems…” (Both elements are valid)
“I love the idea. However there seem to be some problems…” (Both elements are valid)
“I love the idea, nevertheless there are some problems…” (Both elements are valid)
“I love the idea. On the other hand there are some problems…” (Both elements are valid)

Specific techniques for dealing elegantly with Polarity Responders:
1. Use the “Polarity Twist” – put everything you say in the negative (+ BUT).
E.G.,
“I think that you will probably not agree with me, but…”
“You are probably are not going to like this, but…”
“This may not be the best idea that I’ve ever had, but…”
“I don’t know if this is something you’d like to be involved in, but”
“I have an idea that probably won’t work, but I wanted to see what you think.”

When phrases similar to those indicated above are used, a common response to the “Polarity Twist” is a positive reaction to the negative: psychologically you are asking them to respond to your negative which, in their mind, requires an opposite response. The opposite response to a negative is, obviously, a positive!
Example: “ Well… no. I do actually agree with you.

An example close to home is that of putting young children to bed. Many resist when older siblings are allowed to go to bed later. A direct order often results in an argument. Use the polarity twist and avoid the problems!
Tell young children: “You can’t go to bed and you have to stay up all night!”
Common response:     “But Mummy, I’m tired. I want to go to bed.”

The reason this technique works is that is based on how the human brain processes negative orders. When our brains hear a negative, in order to understand it, it has to process the positive first.
Do NOT think of a pink Elephant!
What are you thinking about?
Probably a pink elephant!
I told you NOT to think about a pink elephant so why did you disobey my instruction? You couldn’t help yourself, could you?

2. Recognition & Limitation.
In a meeting where a P.R. is present, openly recognize their special skills and then limit their contributions to specific topics and moments. Frame their responses within special tasks or jobs most fitted to their skills & abilities:
E.G., “John, you have a special skill in identifying the little things that might prevent the project from being successfully completed. I would like you tell us, in the last five minutes of the meeting, what these could be. Until then, I would like you to listen carefully and note down each one for your part of the meeting.”

3. Identify the negative points before they do.
“I think we could do this, and I can see it has certain problems such as…”
– The fact that you have identified the negative points will often lead the P.R. to consider positive ways to resolve these problems.

4. Exageration of negative effects.
– Take the bad or negative points that they bring up and exaggerate them to an extreme level.
“O.K., if the problems have no solution, let’s just fire everyone, sell off all the stock, close the building, go home, explain to our family that we can’t pay the mortgage and that we will be soon living under a bridge….etc”

5. A hopeless situation:
– Tell the P.R. that the situation is hopeless and that not even they would be capable of finding effective solutions to solve the problem. Then stand back and watch them tell you how it could be done!

While Polarity responders can appear to be a nuisance in meetings, presentation, team activities, etc., they are normally very intelligent and, when redirected properly, their skills and ability can greatly enhance the results obtained. When you apply the techniques indicated above you are clearly demonstrating your communication and leadership skills to your companions which can positively influence your future career prospects!

(c) Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid Spain.  June, 2013.

Bilingual web page: http://www.brownlee-associates.com

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About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
This entry was posted in Advanced Communication, General Communication, Leadership, Meetings & Teleconferences, Negotiation, Neuro Linguistic Programming, Training & Development and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dealing with a Polarity Responder.

  1. What can a P.R. do when after reading this? … find a mistake 🙂 You use “N.R” twice. Is this a typo or by intention?

    • ianbrownlee says:

      Thank’s Thomas. Well spotted. They are typos. It just goes to show that no matter how many times you proofread something, there is always a sneaky little something that escapes you – even when you use a spelling checker! Have a great week & a better weekend, Regards, Ian

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