Dogs Don’t Second Guess Themselves, So Why Do We?

What do we mean when we say “acting on instinct?” Animals act almost purely on them. And as far as I have observed, animals don’t second guess themselves. They don’t have the luxury, or the burden, of a higher brain to talk themselves into or out of things.

When a dog senses something they don’t like, do they ponder, “did I really sense what I think I did?” Nope, of course they don’t. They don’t paint on a happy face around people they don’t like or fear either. They act and react on their instincts and they never doubt them. The average person, on the other hand, spends an exorbitant amount of energy contemplating with or against what their gut has to say.

We see and hear people do and say things that we simply don’t want to believe. We want to find one of a myriad of explanations to avoid a difficult truth. We will likely spend the next several minutes telling ourselves (a.k.a. our gut) it wasn’t what it appeared to be.

Let’s use an example. Let’s say it is your co-worker getting an award. As you genuinely clap in applause for this person you look over and see another co-worker not clapping. Not only are they not sharing in this honor, they have an undeniably soured facial expression. Now, what do you do? How does that dialogue go between your gut and brain? For many, that answer is “benefit of the doubt.” This is the escape that goes on inside of us to avoid the difficult stuff. It might instead go something like this,

well Jim has been under a lot of pressure lately. He was probably consumed with other things when Linda received her performance award.”

It certainly appears to me that it is human nature to give the benefit of the doubt, to an unfortunate fault in these types of situations.

The average person is far more optimistic by nature than pessimistic. The pessimistic glass-always-half-empty individuals in our lives become that way from the conditions and circumstances in their life. They are not born jaded at the world. By being naturally optimistic about others in our daily lives we do tend to give the benefit of doubt way too often. We want to see the good in people, not the bad.

Now I don’t want to give you the wrong idea here. I do not advocate jadedness, unnecessary skepticism, or always looking for the faults in a person. What I want to make perfectly clear is that when we see the signs of those that are undermining, backstabbing, and acidic to the foundation of humanity, stop giving them the benefit of the doubt!

Teams & Toxic Leaders

Our desire to work together in teams and to share/communicate with others is what allowed our less adapted homo sapien race to win the coveted Ice Age Challenge. It was our creating innovative ways to solve everyday problems and wanting to share them with others who we didn’t even know that gave us the edge over the more rugged and durable Neanderthal Man.

If you were to grade us in terms of how well we build and work as teams today, what grade would you give us?

You might have been less critical on us than I just was. I mean an F-minus is like a teacher adding an ‘!’ to your big fat failing grade! But I assume you do agree that we are not exactly operating at the A-level either. I believe this is because we lack a societal filter that prevents acidic individuals from deteriorating our foundation of progress. Just look at who wins.

Who runs our biggest companies that employ the most people? Who are the politicians that run our state, local, and federal governments? Who are the ones that pass legislation that ensures elected officials and congressman have best-in-class full coverage benefits for life? Do our congressman have to take random drug screens like the rest of us do? One more question — do the nice, caring, and competent get the leadership positions or is it their opposite?

There are more people out there than you realize that when they hear words like “humble, helpful, and humility,” they associate it with “hunger, appetite and where’s my bib?” These are the people that, and I don’t feel I am being too bold here, will consume the souls of others for their own gains, advancement, and agendas. Yet, somehow, we convince ourselves that demonstrated narcissism is a leadership quality!

Barbara Kellerman describes toxic leaders as insular, intemperate, glib, operationally rigid, callous, inept, discriminatory, corrupt and aggressive. These are people that have low restraint when things are not going the way they want. They are either a bully behind closed doors or openly proud ones.

My personal belief is “every narcissist is a bully and every bully is a narcissist.”

The research from Catherine Mattice Zundel and Brian Spitzburg of San Diego State University supports the direct link between bullying and narcissism. Especially, the indirect tactics like withholding or delaying needed information that affects other’s performance, ignoring requests for support while appearing innocent, spreading rumors to upper management, closed room one-on-one intimidations, or the various forms of setting others up to fail.

Jean Lipman-Blumen states in her book The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians — and How We Can Survive Them that it comes from the collective public aggregate and our psychosocial needs and emotional weaknesses. Maybe she means a sort of collective battered spouse syndrome? There is a term for this called groupthink. This is when groups of people, in the desire for harmony or conformity make collective irrational or dysfunctional decisions. In other words, this is what keeps us not only working for them but continuing to elect them into office.

Neville Symington’s research goes further even suggesting that one way to evaluate a company’s health is their ability to exclude narcissistic personalities from key posts. What does this say then about our own government? (Rub your temples before answering.)

Another somewhat famous author, Italian Niccolò Machiavelli wrote The Prince in 1513. If you are not that aware of the history of Machiavelli and why The Prince is generally described as the “guidebook to maintaining power in the princedom,” I highly encourage you to read the links. Machiavelli’s central message is that it is far better to be feared than to be loved if you want to stay in power. At the time, of course, he meant being the prince in charge of a region or province taken over by the King. Today, it is about taking over political or corporate territory, and what it takes to maintain it.

Something else this “leadership guidebook” made popular is the term Machiavellian or Machiavellianism, in reference to corporate leadership as well as World Nations (watch this YouTube link.) The meaning of these has been well-researched but can be summarized as a duplicitous interpersonal style, a cynical disregard for morality and a focus on self-interest and personal gain. It also is linked to what psychologists call the dark triad: a subject in psychology that focuses on three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.

From Wikipedia: All three dark triad traits are conceptually distinct although empirical evidence shows them to be overlapping. They are associated with a callous-manipulative interpersonal style.

Gary Namie is a social psychologist and anti-workplace bullying activist who has completed substantial research on Machiavellian company leaders. His research concludes what we instinctively already know. These are people that manipulate and exploit others to advance their personal agendas. Interestingly though is he does not believe the average workplace Machiavellian bully has a personality disorder or psychopathy. But they are not exactly the stuff high-performance teams are made of, are they? They do however possess these traits among them:

  • Never show humility.
  • Arrogance as a common form of dealing with others.
  • Morality and ethics are for the weak: Powerful people feel free to lie, cheat and deceive others when it suits them.
  • It is much better to be feared than loved.
  • Neglect to share important information.
  • Find subtle ways of making another person look bad to management.
  • Fail to meet their obligations.
  • Spread false rumors about another person.

So why I am regurgitating all of this? Because I want you to call in sick today, duh. Well, not really but feel free to call in sick. What I want to show you is how simple it is to see without having to have a minor in psychology. It truly can be quite easy, and I promise it has minimal memorization. I will give you a way to call a spade a spade. If enough people have and use it, eventually society starts to install a much-needed filter. A filter that just might keep the monsters in the closet instead of in the boardrooms.

Greed is necessary for survival. What about when the context of survival changes?

Greed is necessary for survival, I get that and you get it. Perhaps the DoDo bird might still be around if it weren't so giving, kind, and gullible? In a civilized society where progress depends on teams greed becomes that deteriorating agent that I keep referring. Arguably more so today in the Knowledge Economy and Information Age than at any previous point in history. We not only lack a societal filter against these ugly leaders of the not-so-free world, we might say we have a system of attractive incentives to be more like them. I mean, who doesn’t want money, fame, and power?

We all know that the people we actually want in high-ranking positions will never make it to the ballot before becoming a Machiavellian’s breakfast. Just as much, we know we cannot stay in the “instincts zone” like our beloved pets. But we can use the following four simple questions that do not require a minor in psychology. These are questions that shine the light on a person’s true stripes.

  • Do they (more often than not) need to be “right” or otherwise “win” the debate or conversation?
  • Do they fail to actively listen and try to understand what others are saying while turning the focus somehow to themselves?
  • Do they rarely reshape their views and opinions after listening and considering the inputs, ideas or feelings of others? (Note: it is okay that someone might need a day or two to ponder before showing that they have reflected on the inputs and views of others.)
  • Do they often get noticeably irritated when others do not agree with them? For example, YOU ARE EITHER WITH ME OR AGAINST ME!

These are the clues that reveal the true stripes of a person that tries to hide them from view. As you give these same people the benefit of the doubt, just know that they would not hesitate to use you for their own personal gain. To them, life is an individual’s game, not a team sport. With the lack of a societal filter against it, being the opposite (humble, helpful, humility) is synonymous to being prey.

Hopefully one day there is a filter in our companies and governments against it. I am always hopeful and I like my glass half full. But keep your eyes wide open, especially when you are giving people the benefit of the doubt. Imagine that they might proudly belch a bit of your soul after eating it for their own personal gain.

Okay, so I think now you get my point. See people for who they are, not who you hope they are. Look for the answer to those four questions. If the answer is yes to any of them, trust me, the other traits of the Dark Triad are there.

Now I want to have some fun and share with you what I created while watching the Presidential debates. Below is a list of the “tactics from the Dark Triad” but with a tag name intended for it to be easy for you remember and reference when you see it happening.

When you see someone using any of these following tactics, make sure you tell the person your are next to what it is called that they are doing. Help create the definitions for the tactics that today have no definition making it easy for them.

BROAD-BRUSHING: A method of evading pointed questions while simultaneously removing oneself from the line of questioning. This is done by answering questions that were actually not even asked, and subsequently directing blame or fault towards others to manipulate the perceptions of the questioner and observers. By the time they are done talking, it is difficult to get the flow back to where it started.

UNDERSTATE-EXAGGERATE: This is when someone plays two sides of situations to their benefit. “Understate” is where one situation or person’s actions are diminished by undermining facts as heresy, conjecture, misunderstood, or simply inaccurate. “Exaggerate” is when they switch to strongly advocating other situations, events or individual’s actions where the strength of their certainty lies on amorphous details and blurry recollections. However, the conviction of the Exaggeration, especially when aided by Intellectual Bullying, leaves the listener feeling at least open to the possible validity of the encompassing statements. Which can be seen from either extreme — Understate or Exaggerate.

POINT-SHUFFLING: Occurs when someone feels they are being cornered to answer highly specific questions. It is a rapid-fire way to escape the questions where Broad-Brushing is a more ‘curved’ way out. Once removed from the “line of fire” of questions by Point-Shuffling, the person can ease into other tactical forms such as Broad-Brushing, Throttle-Loguing, or Understate-Exaggerate.

REASON-RIFLING: This is the infamous “excuse machine” that happens when pressures are mounting towards this person. They will quickly find nothing but rapid-fire reasons they are viewed or perceived as having failed or not met expectations. There is always a reason it ended up this way right?

VICTIM-HOOD: When all else fails, play the victim. Set-ups, operating without needed information, being railroaded, or thrown under the bus, etc. This is closely tied to the process of Reason-Rifling. Meaning they will exhaust the magazine of reasons then proverbially faint for sympathy.

THROTTLE-LOGUING: This is a tactic often used in conjunction with others such as Broad-Brushing and Point-Shuffling as an “accelerator pedal” to drive a conversation where desired (which is usually any direction away from the one it is currently on.) In the absence of direct questions to avoid, this person can “take the floor” and Throttle-Logue. It is a race-against-the-clock window of opportunity to say many things; broadly directed, powered with verbs of certainty, leaving the listener feeling the intended way. It often appears as though they may not even know exactly what they will say next, but they always know what they are not going to say.

INTELLECTUAL BULLYING: This is when someone uses many factual or statistical “fragments” as necessary to overwhelm someone by casting themselves as the obvious foundation for which to make claims and speak of facts and truths. This tactic will extinguish any attempt to think or believe counter to this person’s view. Or, it serves to take away the chance for those that see this happening from countering it because of the alleged reliability of so many facts, figures, and statistics (real or not.) In other words, it can overwhelm the audience. And if everyone else agrees by virtue of not speaking up, it falls into the category of groupthink and the Abilene paradox.

LEMON-SEEDING: This is the over-arching way the artfully sly person can get out of being held accountable for their actions or behaviors. Like trying to pinch a lemon seed out of a wet glass, it is not easy. They have mastered these many techniques of redirection, projection, denial, and lies. They live inside the “white lies” and gray boundary because they can always recall the specific choice of relative words they used to technically say nothing definitive despite their purposeful intention to make you believe they were at the time. The closer someone gets to pinching the lemon seed the more irritated and angry the person will become. They will eventually detonate an “uncouth drama bomb” if they have to in order to evade having their lemon seed pinched.

I hope you have enjoyed this newest blog and I sure hope you begin using it. Please share it with your family, friends, and coworkers. The more people that have this lens to see it, the greater the chance people will start to call it out for what it is (these definitions) as it is happening. The goal here is to make it difficult for those who consider “humble, helpful and humility” as synonyms for “tasty and delicious” from sabotaging our life’s game of Jenga.

Kelly Williams:,