Thursday, August 16, 2007

Notes from the loony bin

In the past, I've read lots of books on how to deal with your manager, your co-workers, and random people you meet. How to negotiate, how to network, etc. etc.

As per, you know, what they say you should do "to help your career".

Ok. So. The problem with these books is, they all make one fatal assumption:

that the people you're dealing with are essentially "normal" people, "like the rest of us."

Unfortunately, when you put a bunch of people in a pressure cooker and shake it up, that is not what you're dealing with at all. All kinds of weird things come out in a pressure cooker.

And all you need is one loony in the bin to drive everyone else crazy. You know, how one bad egg spoils the dozen?

In almost every bin I've been in, there's been at least one person who was severely disturbed, for whom the regular medications were obviously not working.

You can't reason with crazy people. You can't negotiate with them, or predict how they might try to manipulate you, because they might not even realize that the inconsistencies in their own stories don't make any sense.

They might try all kinds of things that a "normal" person would never try to do.

Worst of all, even in the case where you might notice blatant inconsistencies, it's hard to know what to do with that information. Call the university hotline? Call a doctor? Call the police?

Lately my favorite, seemingly harmless type, is the person who says one thing repeatedly for a while, only to turn around and say the exact opposite a little while later, without explaining why or even acknowledging that they've changing their mind.

I've tried to sit around and guess the reasons why a rational person might change their mind, and then change the subject when you ask them why.

In some cases it's obvious, just insecurity or you actually managed to convince them.

But mostly it was a waste of time. If the motive is unknown, or what new information might now be in the equation, it's really hard to guess.

It's easy to wonder if maybe they just... forget?

I'm wondering if I need to get some more books on psychology, though. Then at least I might know which are the red flags? So I won't mistake, you know, manipulativeness for mental defect or disease?

Or the other way around.

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At 4:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

IIRC, the "book" way of dealing with the forgetful type is to do business by email, and if no email record exists, send them an email immediately after an important conversation detailing your recollection of the event.

Now, as to how well that works, I can't tell you. :)

At 9:17 AM, Anonymous another lab rat said...

well, if it makes you feel any better, the loony person in my bin is my boss, the PI, the one and only person in the group with a PhD (yes, it's a small group). So there's no one around to tell said loony off. I've learnt to recognise the manipulativeness, and the other oddities that I would have otherwise missed had it been anyone else. Maybe it just takes practise?


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