The less astute
observer may tend to confuse the Impersonal player with Warriors, but you can
see the important differences. The Impersonal player is a breed all his own.
The road to
success with this method is to play with a total lack of interpersonal
sensitivity. The trick is in maintaining a complete absence of any telltale
signs of the social graces. It is all business at all times.
Dr. Arnold views
the system as a machine and people and problems as annoying irrelevances.
Consider for example, “The problems with the most recent version of the
policies and procedures not withstanding.” The issues are always with the
people and not with the instructions and most certainly not with the designer
of the system. It is the function and purpose of people to behave in those ways
defined by the designer – Dr. Arnold. Failure is always a problem of the
Part of carrying
off the method is to be abrupt and too busy to get involved. For issues from
minor to major, the effective player does not have time to deal with anything.
He works it in later if absolutely necessary.
my busy schedule, it will not be possible for me to meet with you and your
group . . ..” Of course, if there are problems later, the player’s
response is, “You should have consulted with me about this. You should
have given more stress to its importance instead of bringing it up as a routine
If the argument
is, “I did stress its importance,” the player responds, “The
problem is you present everything as important. If you were a better manager
and set priorities more carefully, you would not have this mess to work
Look at Dr.
Vincent Arnold’s clever way of discounting a problem. “I understand how
important you believe this issue to be.” For those who hear the words you
believe and read between the lines, it is obvious that the good doctor does
not think it is important at all.
The essence of his
style goes even deeper, though. “I will have fifteen minutes to discuss it
with you at 7:00 on Thursday morning. . . . Specifically, two points will
require complete clarification.”
Please play it
back one note at a time for the thoughtful reader. The master makes it look
like something perfectly reasonable. First, he makes it clear that no matter
how important the problem, it only justifies fifteen minutes of his time. Score
one for Dr. Arnold.
Next, he sets a
time when no one wants to meet: 7:00 a.m. Score two for the doctor.
Next, he sets the
agenda and requires a thorough presentation in fifteen minutes. Score another
point for Vincent.
Here comes the
capper. He demands that his two points receive complete clarification within
the fifteen minutes. Is it just possible that there may be no time left to
discuss the problem itself? Score a fourth for Dr. A. He pulls off a complete
shutout. The problem will never get discussed.
Dr. Arnold also
shows how a world class Impersonal player handles another tricky situation.
Sometimes administrators are maneuvered into actions and behavior that are
later criticized. To avoid this trap, it is necessary to put the responsibility
for those actions onto others. Dr. Arnold needs to appear to be in charge while
being able to dump off any repercussions onto his subordinates. It is good work
if he can pull it off, and pull it off he can.
“What role or
part do you expect me to fill in the process? As Chief Executive Officer, I
look to my assistants for guidance about these types of irregular
involvements.” The small slight of word “irregular involvements”
is the key. Is it possible that any involvement with his staff is irregular?
Sure. And any problems are due to the bad guidance he gets from his subordinates.
Dr. Vincent also
shows there are other advantages attendant to positions at such heights as his.
“Based on my experience, this is a personnel variable that fluctuates over
time.” From his perspective, Dr. Arnold is the best judge of staff issues.
He best understands the problem, its causes, and the best response to the
issues. That makes it easy. Everyone simply needs to quit complaining and get
down to business, the doctor’s business.
Whatever is going
on with the staff is a system issue and need not be considered or dealt with in
interpersonal terms. “People problems” only need to be managed and of
course managed by someone other than the doctor. Given that other people do the
managing for him, Vincent does not have to do anything. This gives him more
time to further perfect his techniques.
staff seem to be selfishly putting their feelings and perceptions on a par with
or above the goals and interests of the system. The need is for all involved to
put the problem into proper perspective and do what is necessary to accomplish
the mutual objectives.”
Dr. Arnold is not
only an executive, he is a philosopher, perhaps even inspirational. Individual
needs, feelings, and interests are subordinate to the goals and interests of
the company as those goals and interests are defined by Dr. Vincent Arnold. This
has the advantage that he never has to take anyone or anything into
consideration beyond his needs, feelings, and interests. The outcome is
eliminating any competition for the starring role, for the honored place at the
center of the universe.
implementation of the Impersonal-player methods and techniques, Dr. Arnold is
consistent with the main requirement of the general method. He shows a total
disregard for and disinterest in the human or feeling side of anything. The
machine is central, and people are a necessary but not very important variable.
“This is to
acknowledge your receipt of the Psychologist-of- the-Year award from the
Psychological Association. This will be duly noted in your personnel
record.” The perfunctory way in which this individual matter is handled
gives testimony to Vincent’s complete mastery of impersonal technology.
“This is to acknowledge” and “will be duly noted” are the
clues to his play. The action is completely impersonal and may as well be
handled by his assistant. In these days of computers and word processors, it
can be handled as a form letter. This is a pure example of the “cold
Dr. Arnold can
articulate his philosophy as system policy while including a flavor of condescending
instruction. “It is not good practice to make exceptions or give
individuals special consideration.”
Notice the policy:
individuals do not get special consideration. Of course, this means that no one
gets special consideration. As a rule, it could be stated, “Do everything
by the book or pay the price.” This is true even though “the
book” is in a constant draft mode. The best part is that the book says
whatever Vincent says it says today.
At another point
in the illustration, Dr. Vincent Arnold succinctly explains the scope of his
philosophy. “The primary responsibility of the MH&MR system is to be
in complete compliance with the requirements of outside regulatory
Now it is clear
that his approach can be generalized. It can be applied to any organization
having responsibility or accountability to some organization or entity outside
itself. At a more micro level, it can also apply to any department within a
larger organization. Only the naive think that the MH&MR system is primarily
responsible for its staff. Only those who are totally out of touch with reality
think that the primary responsibility is to the system’s clients. A skilled
player like Vincent Arnold never lets something as important as responsibility
reduce to anything so human and unpredictable as staff or clients.
Perhaps the most
subtle point is that Dr. Arnold is not the responsible party either. He is also
subject to the outside regulators. Neat? It surely is. It lets everyone know
that whatever he does, he is only following outside instructions. This makes
him only incidental to the process.
By using this
gambit, he has a process devoid of any concern about people – the goal of the
ultimate Impersonal player. To be successful with his techniques, Vincent has to
be sure others in the organization do not stray from the required pattern. At a
minimum, people cannot deal with each other and especially not with him in
emotional or irregular ways. Everything has to remain impersonal.
“Your lack of
professionalism is unacceptable. . . . I expect all employees regardless of
rank or position to follow common rules of courtesy.” It is a parent
saying to a child, “Never talk like that to me again. I demand respect and
total deference. Do you understand young man?” If anyone ever starts
dealing with others as people or in feeling/emotional ways, Vincent’s iron grip
begins to slip. He is too good at being an Impersonal player to let this happen
The range and
depth of Dr. A’s skills are mind-bending. His ability to verbalize his approach
in complete and comprehensive terms is inspirational. “Your request for
relaxation of the time and other expectations may not be considered. . . . Each
person must do his part as laid out in the ongoing planning process.” This
can be paraphrased as, “Your request will not even be considered because
you are dumber than dirt.” This is enough to dissuade even the most
zealous associate from bringing problems or requests to Dr. Arnold.
There is also
another subtle technique deserving attention. “As laid out in the ongoing
planning process,” is a classic example of The Frustration Factor. The
message is, “As laid out in the plan that of course is continuously being
revised.” This makes it impossible for anyone to know what is expected.
The plan is changing, and those who cannot keep up are out of luck. This takes
“putting everything in writing” to a new level. The book can be
rewritten without notice and is in typing if someone happens to have the last
version. It is the moving target ploy. The motto is, “Always keep them
An extension of
the guessing game comes with, “Detailed explanations are not necessary. .
. . I have determined this action is in the best interest of the MH&MR
system. Further agitation on your part on this issue or persistent questioning
of the decision will be counterproductive.” Asking questions is agitation
and counterproductive, while explanations are superfluous. It sounds a lot
like, “sit down and shut up.” No one may question the actions of the
king. It is like a game with unfamiliar and changing rules where the decisions
of the self-appointed judge are final.
the techniques and methods of Dr. Vincent Arnold concludes with a summary of
his approach directly from his mouth to your ear. “We are proud of our
record of evenhandedness and treating all programs, services, and people
alike.” It is a sign of the uninitiated to argue that programs, services,
and people are different and should thus be treated differently. The
experienced Impersonal player knows that this is the road to disaster. The
trick is to keep the target moving, disregard the people, and never get
personally involved. All things considered, Dr. Arnold may be a viable
candidate for the player of the year award from FFSI.