I-players are a
breed apart from other players. Most people who drive you up the wall find
their motivations in underlying insecurity or a sense of inadequacy. For the I-player,
a different kind of process is going on.

When the I-player
overrates his skills and abilities, you are not seeing an overcompensation or
intentional exaggeration. The player truly believes his skills and abilities
are better than they are. People say things about these players like, “If
he were half as good as he thinks he is, it would be a thing to behold.”
The point is that the player may be competent at something or may be just
average. Nonetheless, he perceives himself as being better than he actually is.
Usually, this overrating of his ability is to the extent that the player
honestly believes he is the best at whatever it is.

The player also
believes that everyone else in your company is much less competent than he is
at whatever it is. You can take it to the bank that everyone else includes you.
The I-player is a superior person, he thinks.

This feeling of
superiority reaches beyond skills and abilities. The I-player believes his
issues are all that matter. The problems and interests of others are
unimportant in comparison. The player acts as if he is above it all, and from
his point of view it is true. The player’s self-interest is of primary importance,
and there is no reason to look beyond that.

The I-player
indeed does believe he is superior. It is important never to forget this simple
fact. Now consider the equally valid fact that the belief is irrational. The
player is not the best at everything and especially not the best at getting
along and working with others. Since the belief is irrational, talking with or
confronting him about it will do little good. It will tend to reinforce the
belief, as irrational as that might be.

What does
effective counter play look like with the I-player? The key is not to buy into
the game. Over time, most people will, for whatever reason, gradually come to
treat the player as if he is better than anyone else. It may be just too
exhausting or tedious to do anything else. The I-player is not called on his
behavior. He gets privileges other people do not have. People listen to the
player when no one is interested in what he is saying. People develop a
tolerance for the I-player, are deferential because it is easier, and let the
player have his way.

What to do? First,
treat the I-player the same as everyone else. Do not give him special
privileges. Do not listen unless what he is saying is of interest. Do not defer
to him unless he is right. If you are to play successfully with the I-player,
you need to be self-assured, assertive, and persistent.

For most I-players,
being fair, firm, and consistent will be enough to affect change in their
behavior. For the committed few, however, an additional technique is needed.

I-players do have
problems, make mistakes, and get into difficult situations. Their approach is
primarily to displace responsibility onto other people. It is not their fault;
and they go to some length to be sure you know that. Here is what to do when
you know you are dealing with an I-player.

Say, “I can
see that this is a serious problem. It may not be your fault; but you are in
the best position to handle it. Given your skills and experience, you are the
logical choice to get us out of this crisis. I am directing you to pull
together a team including the key people and to get this one fixed. I am
delegating the authority and responsibility to you. Please take care of
it.” It is likely that the problem will quickly become less critical and
that the I-player will be less likely to play his game with you the next time
he has a problem. Just be sure to keep an eye on the situation. In the unlikely
event that there actually is a crisis needing your intervention, you want to
remain in a position to do what needs done.

One further
technique may be useful if the I-player does get together the team but gets
everyone up in arms. Wait until the next time he comes to you with a crisis
that is, of course, not his fault. Listen to hear who he is blaming this time.
Suppose his target is Sue. Say, “Thank you for calling this to my
attention. I will have Sue get together a team to deal with this. I also will
let her know that she can expect your full cooperation. I am sure you will have
no problem working for Sue on this one, since you are so concerned and are not
able to work it out by yourself.”

Having said how to
deal with the obnoxious behavior, it is important to add the other side of the
counter play. When the I-player does behave in acceptable and appropriate ways,
treat him as you would anyone else. No, it is not a good idea intentionally to
reward or reinforce acceptable behavior more so than with other staff.
Appropriate behavior is to be expected, not rewarded. It is only necessary to
reiterate that the I-player has to be treated like everyone else. Over time, he
may come to behave more like everyone else, although this is unlikely. The only
thing changing is the behavior of the people who have to deal with the player.

It will help to go
back over the counter play in somewhat different terms. The I-player has -
through whatever childhood and organizational experiences – come to believe
that he is in important ways superior to and better than others. The result is
that the player is used to receiving special consideration and deference.
Within your company, his associates are being secondarily conditioned.

The process works
like this:  As most people interact with
each other, each person does two things. First, he adjusts to and accommodates
to others. Next, he projects his personality and style in a way that enables
others to adjust to and accommodate to him. This process may be understood as
reciprocal accommodation. For most people, the process quickly leads to a
“fit” within the group.

The I-player
neither understands nor functions within the reciprocal accommodation process.
His social learning has taught him that he does not have to adjust to or
accommodate to others. The player assumes that others will adjust to and
accommodate to him. It simply never occurs to the I-player that it should work
in the other direction too.

Enter the I-player
into your group or organization. Even worse, enter someone new into your group
or organization where the I-player is already entrenched. Most people, without
thinking about it, try to adjust to and accommodate to the I-player. Since
there is no reciprocity, the effort is all one-sided. Over time, people are
bending over backward to get along with the player, and he assumes a special
position and role. This reinforces the player’s behavior and the game is on.

As an effective
manager, you are alert to the game of the I-player and ready for counter play.
The trick is to spot those relationships where the adaptation and accommodation
are one-sided. When you see the pattern, the need is to treat the I-player the
same as you treat everyone else. Do this by not adjusting or accommodating to
him any more than to others. Your counter play indirectly gives permission to
others in the group to follow your lead. Also, watch for and avoid any tendency
to reinforce the I-player’s perception of being better, smarter, more skilled, and
more important than others.