As a leader, you know you have influence with people and are in a position on your team to accurately diagnosis key character traits that compose and affect team dynamics. Your ability to make this assessment will serve you well, and help to avoid a great deal of frustration.

One particular character trait that determines a person’s compatibility and success is their reaction to feedback, what I call their receptivity. In his book, Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud discusses this very topic, and I highly recommend this book for any leader.

Cloud characterizes three categories of behavior we encounter in virtually any situation involving others. The labels he gives are easy to distinguish: wise people, foolish people, and evil people. But before he describes the traits of each label, he makes a great point – “These three categories of people or behavior are very different in what motivates them and what sustains them. As a result, the ways to get them to change are very different as well.”

As a leader, if you have a tendency to deal with those on your team the same way, you likely experience some great moments with some individuals and frustrating moments with others. We have all heard about the ‘golden rule’ – treat others as you want to be treated. But this ‘rule’ does not mean to treat everyone the same.

Yes, everyone wants to be treated with respect, but also in ways that tap into their unique natural traits, motivations and desires. These are different for different people. Therefore, treating everyone the same will not produce the relationships or results you are seeking. We cannot use the same techniques to influence everyone and expect everyone to respond the same way either.

Cloud goes on to say, “What works with you [in how you want to be treated and the level of personal accountability you practice] will not work with everyone, and it is imperative that you figure out what kind of person you are trying to [influence].”

You know you are dealing with a wise person when, as Cloud describes, “truth presents itself, [and] the wise person sees the light, takes it in, and makes adjustments.”

Wise people are receptive; they are open to hearing the truth, especially when they have an opportunity to improve or do better. Wise people learn from experience and make adjustments. They accept personal responsibility for the impact of their actions on others.

As a leader, you cannot fix or motivate people to change if they are not willing to take feedback. From their perspective, they don’t believe they have a problem! When you invest in the development of a wise person you will most assuredly receive a return on this investment.

The second category of behavior is the foolish person. You can tell you are dealing with a foolish person because “the fool tries to adjust the truth so he does not have to adjust to it.”

In other words, the fool is never wrong – it’s always someone else’s fault or someone else’s problem. To give feedback to this person in the same way you would give feedback to a wise person is sure to create a sense of frustration.

So, it makes no sense to continue to give feedback when such feedback will not produce the change you are seeking. Someone who accepts feedback also accepts the responsibility for adjusting their behavior. The foolish person is unreceptive and often acts irresponsibly.

Instead of repeating the same conversation with a foolish person about a reoccurring issue, begin to set limits on the problem by establishing consequences which may enable the person to finally see the light. As Cloud says, “Give limits that stop the collateral damage of their refusal to change, and where appropriate, give consequences that will cause them to feel the pain of their choice to not listen.”

Certainly you cannot completely control another person’s decisions. But what you can do is prompt an end to the negative effects their refusal to take responsibility is having on you or others. Consequences have a certain effect on most people. Hopefully they will soon begin to realize the need to perform in a certain way or achieve certain results, or they will be demoted, removed or fired.

The third type of behavior belongs to evil people. These people like to bring others down and this mentality is to be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, this type of person will not change. Do not give in to them or give them another chance to hurt you, the team or the organization. The solution is to end the employment relationship immediately.

So, what do you think about these three types of behaviors? Hopefully, you have identified a few people in each category. And hopefully you can see it is imperative for you to treat them differently. As always, let me know if I can be of assistance in helping you develop an accurate diagnosis and game plan to adjust your approach.

Best regards,