“You’re pompous” – a wake-up call

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“You’re pompous!” was the accusation from two of my staff that prompted me to improve my communication skills. The journey took a while but one week in particular caused a step change which profoundly altered my relationships – personal and professional. I was attending a course run by business consultant and psychologist Peter Honey. He opened my eyes to a variety of interpersonal behavioural skills, two of which I adopted immediately and practiced diligently until they became second nature.

To take a step back, I’d had a number of computer programming, analyst and data processing manager roles. I was a few years into my management career when the fateful staff discussion took place. Like many people in IT, I’d climbed the ladder on the rungs of my technical abilities, not because of any inherent management skills. Although the department was running smoothly, I was aware that my interactions with my operators were not as smooth as with my programmer so I sat them in my office and asked what the problem might be. They looked at each other, smirked, and the older one said bluntly, “You’re pompous.”

While shocked, I thanked them for their frankness. (Years later, I reflected that the pomposity was probably me wearing what I hoped was a ‘boss’ mask and they saw through it.)

The die was cast, I needed to learn more about people and how to interact with them. This led me to join a major computer company as a trainer in the team leadership skills department. I figured that this would keep the good ship Tebbo (wife and two children) afloat while on my voyage. After being taught to teach and then a year or so of very enjoyable training of other people, I was sent on the behavioural skills course.

Two things in particular enthused me; each involved parsing behaviours and reacting appropriately to others or using the right behaviours in the first place to bring about the best interactions from others. One was built around transactional analysis which identified the five principal behaviours we use in our day-to-day lives. The other explained how people react to different verbal behaviours in business meetings. I determined to put these new insights to work immediately, in all areas of my life. It came as a bit of a shock, a pleasant one, to my wife and children and removed a lot of me-generated friction. I’m sure it made me a better trainer and, as life moved forward, a better manager, magazine editor and writer than I would otherwise have been.

The change was immediate but interpreting other people’s observable behaviours and choosing the right ones from my own repertoire required constant effort and alertness. For a while, anyway. It also became clear that the techniques could be put to both good and bad use. They were, after all, manipulation skills. I tried to use them for good although my third child caught me out once as I tried to persuade him of a particular course of action. I doubt he was even ten years old at the time. He actually said, “You’re trying to manipulate me, Dad.” That was sobering.

The chart at the top of this article shows how I’ve changed. The right-hand side shows how I use the different parts of my personality today and the left-hand side shows how I think I was using them at the time I was accused of being pompous. We all use all elements, it’s just the balance that changes. The steepest change in each element happened in the very early days but I suspect subsequent life experiences have rounded off some of the edges too. I was very surprised at the rise to prominence of the nurturing side of my personality – perhaps family life, dog ownership and 21st century social networking & collaborative working environments have had their impacts. The critical (‘bossy’?) side of my personality was the element I was most aware of diminishing from the off.

You can get your own profile and personalised assessment anonymously at Discover Yourself if you’re interested. It takes about ten minutes. In itself, it won’t change your life. The real value comes when you learn about how to recognise different behaviours and use this knowledge to choose how you behave and, in so doing, change how others around you react. The end result is more effective and satisfying business and personal meetings of all kinds.



  1. I’m flattered to get an honourable mention in this blog. Thanks very much for making an old man happy! And many congratulations on all your good work. I’m biased (of course!) but I believe that helping people to learn/behave more effectively is the most important thing you can do.

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