Years ago we had a bookkeeper that was “difficult.” (Or so I thought.) It seemed like every time I presented any type of idea to her, she found multiple reasons why it would not work or why it was not a good idea. For example, one day I was talking with her and suggested that it was probably time to hire another team member in the accounting department because we were growing and the amount of work was expanding. She immediately responded that she was too busy already and had no time to train and manage yet another person. It would be easier to just do the work herself. That is how it went with just about every conversation we had.

All of us have had at least one fellow team member or multiple patients like this. It seems like no matter what we say, they take the opposing point of view to the extent that we label them as being “negative.” If it is a patient, it is the one that no matter the treatment plan, he or she comes up with multiple concerns including why the timing is not right and why the treatment won’t work because…

The truth is that these “negative” people are not negative at all. They are just “wired” differently.

Everyone “sorts” or organizes information differently. Some people “sort” information by “likes” and some by “difference.” Those who sort by “likes” organize things by how they are “like” other things. If you give them an idea, they immediately think of all of the other things they can think of that are similar or “like” it.

Those or sort by “differences” or opposites immediately think of how things are opposite or different from what they are hearing. If you give them an idea, they immediately think of how it is different from what they know to work. For example, you suggest a new marketing idea to the team. An opposite sorting team member will immediately share the challenges and difficulties with this idea by saying things like, “that won’t work because…, I used to work in a practice that tried that and it did not work, the office down the street tried that and it was a disaster!” Having an opposite sorter in the room when you are working on new ideas presents some challenges! Presenting treatment to an opposite sorter is tough as well unless you know how.

After several years of working with the bookkeeper on our team, I realized that she was an opposite sorter. (It takes me awhile sometimes!) As soon as I came to that realization, I immediately changed my approach. I went into her office the next day and said, “I was thinking yesterday and had this crazy idea. In fact, it is so crazy, I am sure it won’t work.” She asked what the idea was. I said that that I did not want to waste her time with useless ideas that would not work, but I was thinking that adding another team member in the accounting department might lighten the load for everyone and help us be more responsive to our customers. I concluded by saying that it would probably take too much time to train and manage a new person so it would not be feasible. With that, I turned and started walking out of her office. But she would not let me leave. “Wait a minute,” she said. And then she started listing all of the reasons why it was a good idea and how we could make it work!

Because she is wired to think of opposites, she immediately took the opposing side. That is how she thinks. And it is good that she does. As an accountant, she spends her days analyzing and making sure there are no numbers out of place. If she sorted by likes, there would probably be multiple accounting errors every day.

Let’s go to the treatment room. You suspect that you have a patient in the chair that sorts by opposites. Nothing you say seems to connect. He or she takes the opposite point of view on everything you present. To make progress, just agree by saying, “You may be right! This may not work for you.” Then start listing all the reasons why it may not work. If the person is a true opposite sorter, he or she will immediately jump to the other side and start talking about how it will work!

There are few people who are “pure” opposite or sameness sorters. Most have a mixture of both so proceed with caution. But the next time you find yourself frustrated with what you previously thought was a “negative” person, remember that he or she may be sorting the information received differently than you are. The moment you take the correct approach, you may find that the “difficult” person is not difficult at all! He or she just thinks “differently” than you do!
Steven J. Anderson
Total Patient Service Institute
Crown Council

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