Brent Miller,
Research and Development manager of the CAG Corp., is quietly confident. He
makes a last minute check of the cable connections and adjusts the focus on the
projector. This is the best shot he will get at the funding for the test
installation. He spent the last three weeks getting this presentation together
and feels confident. This time he has it right. There will be no rerun of
January’s fiasco.

Last January, his
departmental report did not go well. A few people at the management meeting
could not see well enough to read his charts. Also, he was a little casual in
presenting his data. By the time he finished, everyone felt confused, including
Brent. This will not happen this time. Today’s presentation is clear, concise,
and simple enough for an idiot, he thinks, as the lights dim.

Brent’s dog-and-pony
show takes twelve minutes, leaving eight of the allotted twenty minutes for a
quick question and answer session. When the lights are back up, Brent
confidently asks if there are any questions. 
This is his big mistake.

The other managers
take the mandatory few seconds to glance around the panelled room. They are
waiting to see if Mark Ross, the Senior Vice President for Operations, goes
first. Mark watches Brent but does not say anything.

Ronda Simpson
breaks the ice. “That was good, Brent. I understand your data better than
I did in January.”

For an uneasy
moment, Brent wishes he could crawl into the woodwork and disappear. He
expected her to say something about his January report but not so quickly and
directly. Ronda is usually much more subtle with her little barbs.

Brent is quickly
past the urge to hide and ready to fight, if that is what Ronda wants. He
smiles and says, “Given your twenty years as a manager, Ronda, I will take
that as a compliment.”

the games begin. The polite atmosphere when the meeting began is over.      Ronda bristles and is on the verge of
responding to Brent’s dig when Harold Stiner, Production manager, jumps in.
Somewhat more deliberately than Ronda, Harold says, “I know you have only
been with us for a year, Brent. There are a few things you seem to be still
struggling with. You want $150,000 to – what did you call it? – place two
machines. What you want to do is spend a quarter million once you add the
hundred you will need to support your test. Production keeps getting pushed to
cut costs, and your boys in R&D want a hundred here and a hundred there. I
know you want to be sure, but your price seems a little steep.”

More interrupting
than responding to Harold, Brent asks, “How much can we handle for this
test installation?”

imperceptibly tenses as he responds, “It’s Mark’s call but as far as I’m
concerned, R&D wants to push up the cost unnecessarily. We have two
machines on the floor down below, and they work just fine. We only have orders
for ten units and this would add twenty-five bills to the cost of each unit
shipped. My concern is that this will get the price up so high we’ll get stuck
with the lot of them.”

Ronda smiles at
Harold as he handles the new kid on the block and is quick to join sides
against Brent. Ronda looks at Brent and fixes him with her famous stare. She
delivers her equally famous admonition as if to one of her subordinates.
“It may be back to the drawing board, Brent.”

Ronda expects
Brent to back off, but he does not. Harold works with Brent on a couple other
projects and also expects Brent to capitulate. Usually this is exactly what
Brent’s response is. After all, he is an engineer and not a conference room
maneuverer. Not this time, though. This time no one is going to take advantage
of his normally passive nature. “I’m going to push on this one. My
recommendation is no machines get shipped until R&D is comfortable. That
will be tough until I test two in the field. This one is not my call, but there
is a real downside risk in any tendency to ignore the hard data.”

A sharp squeal no
one immediately recognizes snaps the tension in the room. It is Brent’s beeper.
There is a problem in the lab. Harold and Ronda say something to each other
that Brent cannot hear as he awkwardly excuses himself and makes his way past
Mark Ross.

Ronda is ready to
start her report but the V. P. says, “We will have to do this later,
Ronda. They have me on a tight schedule today. Why don’t you drop off a copy of
your report and my assistant can brief me on anything important?”


The dynamics of
faultfinders are interesting in so far as they are not what you might expect. People
trying to deal with these players are apt to see them as confident people who
have high standards and a low tolerance for anything less than perfection. The
real issue is that they cannot separate the important from the unimportant, the
essential from the unessential. They can recognize an exact duplicate of
something, know when people are following the rules or tell when things are not
right. What they cannot recognize is a reasonable example of something. They
cannot tell when someone does a job well enough for the purpose. They cannot
see that behavior sometimes only varies in style or as a function of
personality. They need an exact match or they see no match at all.

The trick is to
look at the faultfinder’s behavior or performance. If you see a flaw or problem
in the player, he also sees it and amplifies it many times. The player has
little faith in himself, has little tolerance for personal shortcomings, and is
self-blaming about things that were unavoidable. Faultfinders have a standard
to which they compare themselves, and they fall short.

The first step in
managing these players is to see that they are not doing anything to others
they do not do to themselves. That helps you take their behavior less
personally. They are only pointing out a problem or difficulty. The variance
from their standard bothers them more than any person in particular, as hard as
this may be to see at the time.

Next, faultfinders
not only expect others to foul up but also fear they will do so. They are not accepting
of others but are not accepting of themselves either. If you watch them, you
will see that they treat themselves as critically as they treat others.

This insight leads
to the best technique to use with these players. As with anyone who drives you up
the wall, do not react, do not come to the bait. The bait is the urge to react
negatively, to tell them off, to refuse to work with them, or to resign to the
inevitable while you are boiling inside. Instead, make the changes that are
appropriate and reasonable. Remember that they are sometimes right and not just
faultfinding. The rest of the time, do only what needs to be done, as well as
it needs to be done.

Here is the real
trick. Without overdoing it, find honest opportunities to say supportive things
to these players. Point out things they have done especially well. Comment on
it when one of their skills or abilities makes things easier or helps things
turn out successfully. Over time, relating to them in these positive ways will
modify the way they treat you. It will have little affect on their behavior
with other people. The technique only tends to benefit the one who uses it.

As a closing
thought, be alert to a special context in which faultfinders do some of their
most destructive work. The behavior occurs in casual conversations in hallways,
before and after meetings, and when people are not expecting anything

The faultfinder
makes a comment to you about someone who is not present. The comment just slips
into the conversation in a low-key way, appearing to be innocuous.

“I wonder how
Linda is doing with that project. She is having more trouble than a kid
learning to ride a bicycle. I wish I had time to help her, but you know how it

This player is a
sensitive person who only wishes he could do more for Linda and perhaps for the
company. Here is a real team player.

As an experienced
counter player, you see the real game, though. The Faultfinder is running a
complex gambit on you. Here are the elements:

•           Linda is not
doing very well

•           Her project
is as commonplace as riding a bicycle

•           The player
could do Linda’s project quickly and well, if he had the time

You say something
like, “Linda has her hands full. That project is more complex than it
seems at a glance. You can be glad you do not have time to get involved.”

Your counter play
puts the faultfinder on notice. You are not going to play the game at Linda’s
expense. This is a good thing for your colleagues to know. Further, your
counter play shows, in a positive way, the importance of a thorough
understanding of what is and is not happening before passing judgment. Finally,
you are able to model these positive techniques without falling into the trap
of criticizing anyone. When dealing with faultfinders, take care to avoid
dealing with the problem by doing a little faultfinding of your own.


Faultfinders do not have much faith
in people

Management and
psychology texts argue that people will do as well as they can under the
specific circumstances. They only need to accept the underlying values,
understand the problem, and receive support and encouragement. Faultfinders do
not buy into that. It is only necessary for them to look around to see the
absurdity in the people-are-good-and-want-to-do-the-right-thing hypothesis.
These players can look at almost any behavior, activity, or project and point
out things that should have worked out better or faster. They can point to
people who should have been smarter or sharper. They also call attention to
events or circumstances that someone should have handled more smoothly or

They always do
better, they believe, so it is reasonable for them to expect others to do the
same. Faultfinders reason thusly:

•           If things
were done right the first time, we would not have to waste our time
straightening out messes other people are causing

•           There is no
excuse for that – whatever that happens to be

•           If you can’t
do the job, we’ll find someone who can – and that will be easy to do

The trick is to
Faultfind about something, anything, and then criticize someone, anyone. The
result is that the spotlight never gets turned on the player. If the heat does
turn on him, he only needs to escalate his criticism and self-righteous

Faultfinders are intolerant of

Intolerance is to
faultfinding as a lack of reason is to dogma. Remove the intolerance and this
frustrating behavior must stand the test of reality and the close examination
of others. It is this type of scrutiny the player wants to avoid whenever

The faultfinder is
always looking for the different, the negative, or the problematic in others.
If the player shows any real tolerance, he runs the risk of overlooking these
negative aspects. Attention must not shift to people’s strengths, abilities, or
areas of special competence. This is a risk that must be avoided. Maintaining a
high level of intolerance is safe and guarantees there will always be room for

Faultfinders expect others to
foul up

This principle
joins with intolerance and the next principle to form a closed triad. Simply
expecting others to foul up enables the player to predict the behavior of
people with 100 percent accuracy. Sooner or later everyone will handle
something less than perfectly. The player’s intolerance makes it easy to see
the negative or problematic. Assuming that the foul up will happen leads to his
being sharper and quicker to pounce on it.

It is a variant of
Murphy’s law. Sooner or later things will go wrong, and it is likely to be
sooner. When it happens, the player is not surprised. He and Murphy predicted

It is easy for the
player to spot and respond to what he expects. If everyone thinks a member of
the family will foul up, they will be more alert, more on guard, and quicker to
blame. When people expect the worst, there is seldom any surprise. Even if
things are going well, Just you wait!

Faultfinders do not accept
people as they are

Now the triad is
complete. There is intolerance. There is the expectation others will foul up.
Now, however people are, they should change.

The player says,
“I do not like the way you handled that project.”

The staff member
watches the player for a while to see how projects should be handled and then
uses the player’s approach for the next project.

The faultfinder
then says, “I do not like the way you handled this project.”

The staff member
says, “But it is the same way you do things.”

The player then
says, “I might have expected you to be someone who would try to take
someone else’s techniques. You need to be original.”

Here is the triad
in another context.

Mike works beside
Ralph on the assembly line. Mike says, “Ralph, you are going to drive me
crazy if you don’t stop moving your lips like you are chewing your cud when you
operate that press.”

Ralph says,
“Get off my back!”

Mike comes back
with, “You people from the south plant are all alike. I don’t know why
they put you in here even if we are short on help. We’d be better off without
help like that.”

Ralph is hot now.
“What do you mean by that? If it weren’t for us, nothing would ever get
finished around here.”

Mike lashes back.
“I get tired of fixing things you screw up.”

“Have I
screwed up anything yet?” Ralph asked.

“Not yet but
just give you enough time.”

It is a safe bet
that Mike’s prediction will eventually come true and he will be ready to

Faultfinders are stingy with

Recall from the
Discussion section that giving someone praise is dangerous. It can backfire by
encouraging the person to do more that is praiseworthy. The faultfinder does
not want this to happen. It gets much harder to find things to fault-find
about. It is like a hunter encouraging all the game to leave his favorite
hunting ground. Faultfinders tend not to be either stupid or self-defeating.

Faultfinders enjoy blaming and
accusing people

The key here is
that no one has to be at fault or in a position to be accused of anything. A
typical example might go like this.

Karen says to
Bill, her office mate, “The truth is it is your fault I didn’t get that

Bill asks,
“How do you figure?”

That is the
opening Karen is looking for. “You missed your appointment in Atlanta, and
the result was your proposal was late.”

Bill interrupts,
“But I was snowed-in at Cleveland.”

Karen responds,
“It is always something with you.”

Puzzled at the
attack, Bill asks, “What does that have to do with your getting or not
getting the promotion?” A big mistake, Bill!

Karen is ready.
“I would not expect you to understand that kind of political thing. I work
with you and you drop the ball. That makes me look bad and I do not get the
promotion I deserve.”

More attentive
now, Bill says, “Let me get this straight. I get snowed-in at Cleveland.
My proposal is late, and because of that you end up not getting a

With a wave of
disgust, Karen ends the conversation. “You’ve got that one right.”

Faultfinders focus only on what
is not going well

By this point, it
is probably clear to you that focusing on the problematic and negative is the
stock-and-trade of faultfinders.

“Please type
a draft of this letter for me.”

A couple of hours
later, “I’m getting tired of errors in the things you type for me.”

The typist says,
“I did it in a hurry. I thought it was a draft and you wanted it in a
hurry.”  Sorry, no win this time.

“I expect
that even a draft will not be full of errors. 
need to remember if something is worth doing, it is worth doing right.”

To herself, the
typist thinks, “I don’t think you would think anything was right.”

This is a
perceptive typist. The faultfinder will always find fodder for his cannon.

Faultfinders are not proud of
the achievements of others

Suppose Karen and
Bill both get promotions.

Karen says,
“Wow! Don’t you think it’s great I got that promotion? I’ve worked hard
and deserve it.”

Bill says,
“It’s terrific! I think it’s terrific for me too.”

Karen responds,
“Sure it’s nice for you. It isn’t that big of a deal for you, though.
You’re a man so you can expect promotions almost automatically.”

Faultfinders expect others to do
as well as they sometimes do

If there is a
major player around and especially if he is in a position of authority, it does
not pay to be exceptional. For example, a salesman has an unusual week. He hits
on almost every call and ends up the week 60 percent over his solid but not
outstanding average.

His sales manager
says, “I knew you had it in you. You have been holding back on us. This is
more like it, more up to your potential. This is the kind of work I’ll be
expecting from now on. No more of this shirking. You are a great

Of course, this is
like expecting a baseball player to get a hit every time he comes to the plate
or your child always to get A’s. Nonetheless, it is the stock-in-trade of a
first class faultfinder. Their motto is nothing but better will do for everyone

Faultfinders place the blame
squarely on the person who did not get the job done

“It is your
fault. We were counting on you, and you let us down.”

On the surface,
this may not seem like a technique for faultfinders. It is best to hold the
responsible person directly responsible. The twist is that the faultfinder is
literal about this. In the example above, Bill should not have been late with
the proposal. He should have known it snows in Cleveland in the winter and made
contingency plans. It was his job to get the proposal in on time, and it is his
fault that it was late.

The technique is
probably becoming clearer to you by now. The idea is that, no matter what,
there are never any extenuating circumstances or mitigating conditions. The
expectation is absolute and unconditional. Either there is success or there is
a person who failed. The trick is for the player to use the technique while
avoiding its being used on him.

If the player was
the responsible person when things went awry, the best trick is to say, “I
did my part. My part of the project went fine. It did not work out because
there were several parts that had to be done right. There were a couple of the parts
for which I was not responsible that went wrong.”

Suppose the
project is putting in a new light bulb. Joe is responsible for light bulb
replacement. As a first class faultfinder, he says, “It is not as simple
as just putting in a new bulb. Nothing around here is so simple. The problem is
that John forgot his keys, and I let him use mine. I can’t get into the closet
without a key. By the time he finally got around to bringing my key back, there
was insufficient time to install the fixture. The problem is that there is
inadequate coordination of facility access. We have some big problems around


Faultfinders like
to throw their weight around, if they have any weight to throw. Carol’s
criticism of Henry at his classroom door is a classic example and the work of a
master player. Mrs. Markowski, in one short burst, puts Henry in the position
of student with her as teacher. She threatens to have his contract non renewed
. Additionally, she gives him what the
students would call an after-school detention. Finally, she lets him know she
can and will tear his lesson plans into little bits. Given the opportunity,
faultfinders like to get people into trouble – a natural for the school
principal. It also is an effective way to put the president of the union in his
place while she is at it.

“There is
probably no hope for any of them.” This tidbit from Carol’s thoughts is a
telling sign of her qualifications as a faultfinder. She is always ready and willing
to be critical of anything and anyone. The successful faultfinder never forgets
that the world is full of things and people to analyze and criticize.

faultfinders have made a giant step once they simply assume people are going to
screw up sooner or later. It also helps if the eager player believes others are
doing it just to give him a bad time.

Doris gives you a
good example of the technique. In the middle of saying something else, she
says, “It’s just a few who are making us all look bad . . . .” The
point is that any time Doris looks bad, someone did it to her. This is what
advanced faultfinders call a position of perfection. No matter what they do or
do not do, they do it well. Any problems are someone else’s fault.

The teachers
provide many examples of The Frustration Factor. Carol Markowski just shakes
her head and thinks, “It’s understandable why education is going downhill
when you have to deal with people like that.”

“People like
that” is a key to her success as a player. It is obvious that she puts
most people into the category and changes the definition of like that as she
goes along. She does this even if sometimes the people are only twelve years
old. Intolerance and an unwillingness to accept people as is make it much
easier to be critical.

For those who
elevate faultfinding to an Olympic-class sport, it is necessary to be stingy
with praise. Skilled players keep the focus on problems, negatives, and things
going wrong. This includes anything from the important to the trivial, from the
essential to the irrelevant.

Henry shows you
how to use the play with style. He does not even need to have an opening.
“I don’t think six and nine is anything to brag about.” Henry has as
much potential as Carol Markowski, given more experience and practice. He comes
straight out of left field.

A close look
clarifies the technique. Pick something, anything the person may value that is
not going well, e.g., Greg’s basketball team. Pounce on that since it will
hurt, and then stress how it is as bad or worse than the problems the
faultfinder is having. “You are worse than I am.” That is Henry’s
point. The underlying game is to play one up even if the player has to admit
some shortcomings.

Ilene, the special
education teacher, demonstrates a related technique with style. Even her
efforts to compliment have a backhanded quality. They are the type of
compliment that makes the recipient say, “Thanks, I think.”

She says,
“With no more experience than Greg has, I think he is doing all right.
That goes for Henry too. He’s a teacher and can’t be expected to know anything
about running a union.”

Two phrases tell
the tale: With no more experience than Greg has and he’s a teacher and can’t be
expected to know anything. Her point is that were Greg more experienced or
Henry not just a teacher they would function more competently. It would not be
surprising to see her walk over and pat each of them on the head and say,
“It’s all right. I know you’re trying.”

Doris is not to be
outdone as a first class faultfinder. “It’s time to put the responsibility
directly on the people who are causing the problems. We all know who they are
too.” It is certain enough to take to the bank that who they are excludes
Doris and probably everyone else in the room, unless someone leaves. If someone
walks out, they can count on joining Doris’s who they are group.

seldom pursue their game on a face-to-face basis. Behind-the-back makes it much
easier to avoid anyone’s directly contesting or rebutting what they have to

Henry wraps the
faultfinding demonstration up in style. It is no wonder he qualifies as a
faultfinder complete with professional credentials. Listen to what he says.
“I know people have bad days but that’s no excuse. They have to do it
right every time.” Henry is the keeper of the standard, the last supporter
of perfection. From that perspective, it is easy, nay unavoidable for Henry to
be anything other than faultfinding. He is just doing what comes naturally for
saints like him and Carol Markowski.


Carol Markowski,
principal of Lake Run Elementary School, is making her morning rounds to be
sure her staff and students are in their classrooms and working. She will
repeat the process this afternoon, knowing that only through her constant
vigilance can things run smoothly. Her reputation as a strict disciplinarian is
a source of pride to her.

As she makes her
inspection, she cannot help wondering to herself, “What is the world
coming to?” Her teachers are as bad as the students, from her perspective.
“There is probably no hope for any of them,” she thinks as she stops
to observe a classroom through the window in the door.

As it turns out,
her lack of faith receives support. Her attention turns to a half dozen or so
sixth graders who are standing around a table in the back corner of the room,
doing something. Mostly, it looks like they are only fooling around. This is
not the first thing to register with her, though. The two boys at the end of
the table look to Carol like they are trouble looking for a place to happen.
She just shakes her head, thinking, “It’s understandable why education is
going downhill when I have to deal with people like that.”

As her gaze covers
the room, the main problem quickly registers. “Where is Henry Allen,”
the teacher?

Almost in the
middle of her thought, Henry interrupts, “Hi Mrs. Markowski. Are the
troops working on their projects?”

Mrs. Markowski
asks, “Why are you not in your classroom? It looks like your class is
taking full advantage of your absence.”

Henry steps closer
so he can see through the window. Glancing back at the principal, he says,
“They are in groups working on projects they came up with themselves. The
deal is that they can work on whatever they want so long as they keep working
and cooperating. I don’t even know what the projects are. We were talking about
accepting responsibility. I stepped out of the room to give them a little
experience with working together without someone looking over their

Mrs. Markowski
turns to face Henry. Her voice is low enough to communicate only with Henry but
cutting enough to convey her unspoken message. “I have no idea what they
are teaching in the colleges these days, but it is surely not about children.
You are here to teach them and running around the halls is not teaching. I
think you and I better go over your lesson plans for the month so I can give
you some instruction in teaching. This will have to get straightened out before
your contract comes up in three months. Please be in my office immediately
after school.” Giving Henry no opportunity to respond, the principal turns
and walks down the hallway, continuing her inspection.

Henry watches her
walk off and slowly shakes his head. She is always a little testy but today is
ridiculous, even for her. His impulse is to do something, although he is not
sure what. His choices seem even more unprofessional than the principal’s
behavior. Instead of giving into the impulse to lash back, he shrugs his
shoulders and returns to his students.

A couple hours
later Henry walks into the teachers’ lounge during his free period. Two other
teachers, Doris and Greg, are already there.

Doris is saying,
“It’s their fault down in that office. They always get things fouled up.
If I were running this place, a few heads would roll. We work our tails off and
they can’t get anything right.”

Picking up on the
assault, Greg says, “Do we ever get a thank you or how do you do? Not a
chance! I don’t know why our so-called union doesn’t do something about that
stuff we have to put up with.”

Henry, who is also
the president of the teachers’ union, tries to chalk it up to one of those
days. It is just in the air, he thinks. Despite his effort to stay out of it,
he reflexively rebuts, “The union can’t do it all.”

“That union
is about worthless,” Greg says, turning the attack to Henry.

“The union
does many good things for us,” Henry replies, trying to put things onto a more
positive note.

Doris joins in,
“The point is what have you done for us today? The only way we little
people get anything is by hitting you big shots over the head with the
problems. Just about the time it looks like something is going right, something
else gets screwed up.”

Henry says,
“I think we can be proud of what we have accomplished.”

Doris gets herself
another cup of coffee as she says, “I’m just not one to get all sloppy
about covering up the problems. Give your type a compliment or a little praise
and you think you’ve got it made. That’s the last we hear from you. You’re as
bad as some of those students I have. I’ll ask you again. What have you done
for us today?”

Not to be outdone,
Greg adds his two cents worth. “You’ve done a few things, Henry. I’ll give
you that. The problem is what you have not done.”

Not waiting to see
if Greg had more to say, Henry interrupts. “I’m glad to hear we are at
least doing a few things right. What about that basketball team of yours, Greg?
I don’t think six and nine is anything to brag about. You expect the union to
win every time. If anyone held you to that, you’d be out of here.”

Greg is hot under
the collar now. “If you think you can do any better with that bunch of
so-called jocks I have to work with, you’re welcome to them.”

Ilene Stuart, the
special education teacher, comes into the lounge and into the middle of the
fracas. Quietly she says, “It sounds like you want blood. I think Greg is
doing all right. Those kids are only eleven and twelve and two of them are my
kids. With no more experience than Greg has, I think he is doing all right.
That goes for Henry too. He’s a teacher and can’t be expected to know anything
about running a union. It’s what we all have to put up with around here. We all
have to take on things we don’t know anything about. It’s not our fault things
are in such a mess.”

Doris is quick to
come to Ilene’s side. “You can say that again. It’s about time we start
calling them like they are. It’s time to put the responsibility directly on the
people who are causing the problems. We all know who they are too. It all comes
down to the person who did or did not do whatever. It boils down to the person
who is responsible, the person who didn’t get the job done. It’s just a few who
make us all look bad and make it impossible for us to do our jobs. We’re all
good teachers but that doesn’t matter around here. We spend all our time trying
to straighten out the details, the little things other people haven’t taken
care of.”

Not to be upstaged
and feeling like things are turning more to his liking, Henry says, “I
know people have bad days but that’s no excuse. They have to do it right every
time, including the little things. Taking it out on us is intolerable. It is
professionalism we are talking about and the students are the ones to suffer in
the long run.”

Everyone nods at
the profundity. Ilene says, “It’s attitude. It is our responsibility to
keep things on a positive note, no matter how we feel. I do it and don’t see
why everyone else can’t do it. Henry is right, it is a matter of