How to turn a tiger into a vegetarian?

Threats, passive agression and emotional blackmailing aren’t always as clear cut as you’d expect it to be. And when you do realise that someone is playing dirty tricks on you, you may be puzzled what the most appropriate response is.

Here are some thoughts on how to turn a hungry tiger into a manageable cat.

A writer I know well contacted me concerning her latest book. The collaboration is not going well. After a first popular book the writer was paid to write a sequel around a new theme. For the new theme she contacted a specialist in the field to deliver content. And it’s this specialist who is causing trouble.

The specialist has missed a couple of deadlines allready which has cost my client time and energy. And now this specialist has demanded the writer to change the outlooks of one of the characters in the book. Given the fact that this book is a sequel, changing characters is not that simple. Persuaded by some strong arguments the writer is nevertheless convinced that giving in to this demand makes sense. The publisher, though, is not convinced and argues that the alteration will confuse readers.

My client is in the midst of all of this. As a writer she cares about the experience of her readers and reconsiders the alteration of the character. After notifying the specialist she receives an e-mail from him insisting that the alteration is ‘essential’ adding that the original character is ‘in conflict with his values and moral compass’. The specialist requests the writer to pressure the publisher into another point of view.

The writer knows that that won’t work and urges the specialist to let go. Instead she receives a following e-mail saying:

Collaborating on this book is my Life Work, for which reason I can not concede. If the alteration is not granted then I will be forced to withdraw from this project.

My advice to the writer as an expert on conflict resolution:

If you give in to it, this will not be the end.

The characters were known to the specialist long before collaborating on this project. Insisting on an alteration now is out of proportion and is intolerable in a professional context.

Had the writer and the specialist been in a meeting face to face and had he raised his voice or slammed his hand down on the table, or had he sent a written sommation from his lawyer after the meeting was over, the agression would have been clear cut. But don’t let the talk about values, integrity and life work be misleading. This too is a threat.

If the writer gives in, she is feeding the tiger more meat. Don’t fool yourself thinking that a hungry tiger will stop growling afterwards. The only way to stop the agression is to draw the line.

Confronting the specialist with his behaviour (missing out on deadlines, not being flexible and receding to threats) is the only thing that will help. It is even more powerful is the writer has this conversation face to face without the use of agression, strong words or personal insults. This way she draws the line and is changing the game.

It will be clear to the passive agressor that the writer is not sensible to threats and having de-escalated the situation, both will be able to get back to work.



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