Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 14, Issue 2;   January 8, 2014: When Somebody Throws a Nutty

When Somebody Throws a Nutty

by

To "throw a nutty" — at work, that is — can include anything from extreme verbal over-reaction to violent physical abuse of others. When someone exhibits behavior at the milder end of this spectrum, what responses are appropriate?
A ray of light passing through and reflected from a prism

A ray of light passing through and reflected from a prism. The ray comes in from the lower left. A portion is reflected back to the upper left by the first surface of the prism. The remainder enters the prism. When it reaches the prism's other side, a portion is reflected down and out of the prism. The remainder emerges from the far side and forms the rainbow effect.

This decomposition of light into its color components is the metaphor we use to generate a "prism deflection" that respect's Bert's nutty enough to get him to consider a new topic, thus bringing an end to the nutty. Photo courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Definitions vary, but "throwing a nutty" is a phrase used, sometimes mockingly and affectionately, to describe inappropriate behavior. For example, in a small meeting, when discussion turns to Natalie's frustrating pattern of delivering as promised, but two weeks late, one of the participants, Bert, might deliver a three-minute rant, with steadily increasing voice volume and blood pressure, describing in detail Natalie's secret plot to destroy the company. Everyone else listens, stunned. When Bert realizes what he's done, he falls silent. The conversation resumes, albeit uncomfortably, as if Bert hadn't spoken at all.

Bert has thrown a nutty. Again.

Nutties make most of us uncomfortable. What options are available when someone throws a nutty? In what follows, I'll use the name Bert for the person who's throwing the nutty, and the name Ernie for the person who's trying to figure out how to respond. Here are some suggestions.

Wait it out
Waiting quietly and respectfully for the nutty to end is always a choice. Take care, though, not to communicate impatience non-verbally. For example, if Ernie looks at his watch, or starts reading mail on his "personal device," Bert might take offense.
Use prismatic deflections
Deflection to new subjects can be effective if it distracts Bert. To work well, though, the deflection must convey respect for Bert by connecting to something in Bert's nutty rant. By analogy with the way a prism decomposes light into its color components, a prismatic deflection draws Bert's attention to something new, built on one element of his rant. Ernie (or someone else) can then deal later with the performance issue of throwing nutties.
Intervene judiciously
To intervene is to interrupt Bert, usually to protect Bert from himself. In private, interventions of the form "Are you OK?" can be suitable if Bert and Ernie have Nutties can make some of us
so uncomfortable that we feel
compelled to stop them,
whatever it takes. That's what
makes nutties so contagious.
a strong relationship. But if they don't have a strong relationship, and especially if Ernie is subordinate to Bert, such direct offers of assistance might trigger resentment. A prismatic deflection can be a useful alternative.
If others are present, Ernie's direct intervention can embarrass Bert, even if Ernie and Bert have a strong relationship. Waiting it out or prismatic deflection are then Ernie's best options.
There's no obligation to join in
Nutties can make some of us so uncomfortable that we feel compelled to stop them, whatever it takes. This dynamic is what makes nutties so contagious. Harrumphs, screaming matches, hangings-up-of-phones, and stalkings-out-of-rooms can all result from nutty contagion. We aren't obliged to join in another person's nutty. If you aren't in physical danger, try something else.

Throwing nutties is a performance issue. If Bert is your subordinate, address the issue. If Bert is a peer, find a way to get through it. If Bert is your boss, you might have to find a new boss. Go to top Top  Next issue: Big Egos and Other Misconceptions  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenwdiWukQHRaCzCwtIner@ChacShIpOBHKVGfanlbZoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Conflict Management:

Humans aren't the only species that communicates by facial expressionsDismissive Gestures: II
In the modern organization, since direct verbal insults are considered "over the line," we've developed a variety of alternatives, including a class I call "dismissive gestures." They hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part II of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.
A single-strand knotTangled Thread Troubles
Even when we use a facilitator to manage a discussion, managing a queue for contributors can sometimes lead to problems. Here's a little catalog of those difficulties.
Example of an unsecured driver-side floor mat trapping the accelerator pedal in a 2007 Toyota Lexus ES350Indicators of Lock-In: II
When a group of decision makers "locks in" on a choice, they can persist in that course even when others have concluded that the choice is folly. Here's Part II of a set of indicators of lock-in.
Many different viewpoints make for many different choicesOn Differences and Disagreements
When we disagree, it helps to remember that our differences often seem more marked than they really are. Here are some hints for finding a path back to agreement.
The FBI wanted poster for Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev, a Russian cyber criminalToxic Conflict in Teams: Attacks
In toxic conflict, people try to resolve their differences by eliminating each other's ability to provide opposition. In the early stages of toxic conflict, the attacks often escape notice. Here's a catalog of covert attack tactics.

See also Conflict Management and Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Artist's concept of possible colonies on future mars missionsComing June 28: Tackling Hard Problems: I
Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project. Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps. Available here and by RSS on June 28.
Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightningAnd on July 5: Tackling Hard Problems: II
In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenjkgaMKrTQkcSjjVaner@ChactPkFTUzrPQsiFngnoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.