How To Handle Adults Who. . .Aren't

One of Working Girl’s little life rules is to never ask more of people than they are capable of delivering.  (She doesn’t always manage this, but she tries.)

So she was thrilled to see Daneen Skube’s Interpersonal Edgecolumn in yesterday’s Seattle Times.  Daneen approaches this same topic in a related but original way.  First Daneen helpfully defines the “less mature” person:

  1. Thinks in terms of black and white
  2. Can’t see the world from other people’s perspectives
  3. Can’t sympathize with others
  4. Not good with the painful emotions
  5. Intolerant of differences between people
  6. Low self insight
  7. Low insight into other people

Sound like anyone you work with?  If so, Daneen has a cool way to deal with these immature types:

“. . . .close your eyes and ask yourself how old you’d picture this co-worker if they didn’t have an adult body.  Once you’ve established an age, consider how you would actually treat a child this old. . . . .[For example} if your co-worker really were 5, you would probably be patient, clear, and set limits without resentment.”

In other words, treat people according to their emotional age, not their “real” age.  Brilliant!  Of course, the trick is to do this without sarcasm, condescension, or annoyance.   But think about it.  Relating to people at the level they’re at (as opposed to the level they should be) can be an effective way to get the job done.  And, at work, that’s all you’re trying to do, right?

Thanks, Daneen.  You’re so smart!

No Comments

  • almostgotit says:

    Wow, you read my mind! And, um, that “black and white” thinking can be PRETTY LITERALLY MEANT when you’re talking (as I’ve been doing, lately) about Education in the American South.

    The other thing I’ve discovered is that particularly- immature people are also, conveniently, much less sensitive than one might think to being “handled” — the key being, as you say, not to be mean, sarcastic or condescending about it.

    Find what you can be supportive and even complimentary about. Skirt the stuff there’s no point in raising with them, anyway. And be so matter of fact about setting limits that they won’t even imagine that life could operate in any other way…

  • Karen Burns says:

    Yup, if they’re clueless enough to be so immature, they’re clueless enough to not realize it when they’re being “managed.”

    It’s a win-win.

  • This may work well at work, but what about if you’re related to an overgrown 5 year old…?

  • Karen Burns says:

    Ha. You know, I think the same system would work with relatives! However, it’s probably much harder to pull off, because the situation is more emotional.

    But it’s worth a try….