From the professional field

Skilfully thwarting mismatchers

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In NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), someone who is always looking for mistakes, has something negative to say about everything and counters every argument with
«Yes, but ...» is known as a «mismatcher». 1 Having this type of person on your 
team may
well be challenging, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. 

Mismatchers are almost predestined to pick up on mistakes. The problem comes when mismatchers work behind the scenes, creating issues in the background and cleverly playing colleagues and supervisors off against each other, manipulating them for their own purposes. The examples below provide a few pointers to help hospital managers spot manipulative mismatchers and offer ideas on how best to deal with them: 2, 3

«I won’t be able to manage it ... could you maybe do it?»

Essentially, there’s nothing wrong with a colleague or member of staff asking for help. That does not mean that they should simply take control of the situation and have you do their work for them. Some colleagues, however, have perfected the art of «delegating upwards». Under the guise of wanting to do everything right wherever possible, the task – for example organising a meeting – is quickly delegated to you.

Tip: Counter with a friendly, «I’m sure you’ll find a way to manage it.» If the employee really isn’t able to complete the task, offer to show them how to do it rather than simply taking the task off them.

«I can offer you three alternatives ... »

If a mismatcher wants you to make a specific decision, they will cleverly offer you three solutions. At first glance, it looks like you have a choice. However only one of the suggestions is actually helpful or practicable. If the employee is pursuing the goal of you hiring his friend from university, for example, he will recommend three candidates to you: a) his friend, b) someone unqualified and c) someone who is over-qualified.

Tip: Pick up on the mismatcher’s intentions: «Let’s be honest. You prefer person A. He’s the only one really in the frame – the others aren’t suitable.» And then say, «I need three real alternatives.» This allows you to make it clear that you have seen through his trick and cannot be manipulated.

«I told you about it already ... »

Sometimes, a mismatcher wants to hide an unpleasant or uncomfortable fact from you, for example that there have been complaints from patients about him. In order to avoid the accusation of having withheld information, he will use a concealment tactic: he will send you an e-mail with a subject line that you might well ignore, such as «Background information». Or he will bury the unpleasant information on the penultimate page of a long and boring report, in the hopes that you will not notice it.

Tip: Request that long documents be summarised on a maximum of one page. Make it clear that you will hold the author responsible if this one-pager leaves anything out that is clearly important.

«Did you know we have a problem?» 

If a mismatcher does not like the direction in which a team meeting is going, he will do everything he can to change the subject. He will address a problem that is guaranteed to draw your attention, such as increased post-operative infection rates. He might spread a rumour for this purpose: «Did you know that hygiene regulations are not being followed on our ward?»

Tip: Deflection manoeuvres only work if you are willing to go along with the change of subject. Therefore, there should be an agenda for each meeting, which everyone present must stick to. If someone brings up a topic that is not on the agenda, postpone it: «You’ve mentioned an important problem there. Let’s talk about that another time.» At some point, the mismatcher will realise that his tactic is not working.

Once you have revealed the mismatcher on your team, it is important to react immediately. Call a performance critique between the two of you early on, in which you factually and clearly address his behaviour. Our checklist of «7 tips on how to provide fair critique» may be helpful for you.


Further reading

Robert B. Cialdini
Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition. 2016.

Amy Cooper Hakim, Muriel Salomon
Working with Difficult People
TarcherPerigee. 2nd revised edition; 2016.

Georg K. Simon
In Sheep‘s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People
Parkhurst Brothers Publishers Inc. 2nd edition; 2010.


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