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Business, Diversity & Inclusion, Leaders, STEM

Leaders: Beware The Master Interloper

Party Crasher (with permission by Mike Melnote Photography, melnotte.zenfolio.com)

Party Crasher (with permission by Mike Melnote Photography, melnotte.zenfolio.com)

I recently reconnected with a professional colleague who I met on an assignment a few years ago. As we were both reliving some of the more interesting highlights of the project we worked together on, the incident with the roving interlopers came up. That’s interlopers, not antelopes.

Interlopers are those folks that make a habit of showing up uninvited at family gatherings (and they may not be family), weddings, funerals, office parties, and just about any place else where complimentary food and beverages are being served.  My recollection of the incident involves a potluck meal with co-workers. Three males smelled their way into our meeting room and started serving themselves at the buffet table. After a few odd stares between each of us, it became clear that no one knew these folks. We had just been invaded by the free-meal interlopers.

Interlopers can be found just about everywhere.  Sometimes they are strangers, however, more often they are people you know or have a professional relationship with.  You have already crossed paths with the interloper types, but you may not have recognized or experienced them being their true authentic selves. Once again, that’s interloper, not antelope.

First, let’s define interloper. According to Dictionary.com, an interloper (noun) is:

a. a person who interferes or meddles in the affairs of others;

b. a person who intrudes into a region, field, or trade without a proper license.

They may come disguised as your neighbor, co-worker, softball team member, volunteer or committee member, alumna, etc. They can be found just about anywhere.

Don’t confuse them with a nosy person. While pesky, nosy persons ask lots of questions, rarely cross personal and professional boundaries, and are on the outside looking in. Master interlopers are intrusive. Without an invitation, they will insert themselves into your life and proceed to rearrange things according to their liking or preferences. They could also be called master opportunists, and they want a friendship or relationship with you on their terms.

Dealing with a master interloper is always problematic, however, to the unsuspecting person, the results can be devastating. Beware the master interloper!

Here are some tell-tale signs that you are dealing with a master interloper:

  1. They are pretend-friends.

They pretend to be your friend by offering to help you. In doing so they ask a lot of questions to gain more personal knowledge about you, your real friends, allies, and family. They want to know more about your activities, outside involvements, and most important – information about you that is held close to the vest or not readily available as public knowledge.

A master inteloper is often someone who previously would have never given you the time of day, and all of a sudden, becomes very interested in you. Please note that someone suddenly becoming interested in you is not always a bad thing. In fact, it may be a good thing! However, couple this with someone who also breaks the boundary rules (see Item 2), and you have trouble on your hands.

These individuals definitely want something from their new found best friend (NFBF). It is your job to figure out what that is – and sooner, rather than later.

  1. They do not respect personal or professional boundaries.

Like master party crashers, master interlopers make a habit of self-inviting themselves to boldly graze and roam into your personal and professional affairs where most others would never think of going. Once inside, they make a quick assessment of your situation and status. Why? Because they need to know what page you are on, so they will know what page they are on. They also need to determine what their best angle or approach is for getting a piece of your pie.

They self-appoint themselves as your agent or representative, advisor or mentor, usually without your knowledge or consent. Then they proceed to rewrite the rules and guidelines for what should or should not happen according to their wishes, desires and ulterior motives – and again, most of the time without your knowledge. They throw caution to the wind because they anticipate that the environment, culture, and the people involved will allow them to do so.

Don’t be surprised if they want to claim half of your pie. I am pressing the envelope on this one, because some master interlopers will claim ownership of the whole pie. They seem to have the right words for why that should be. Besides, they have already justified ownership of your pie in their minds.

“You’d never miss this pie,” they tell themselves. “In fact, you really don’t need it, and you certainly would never eat it all by yourself.” I am not embarrassed nor am I apologetic in admitting that I can eat a whole pie all by myself! Maybe not in one setting, but all by myself.

Here’s the other thing you need to know: It’s my pie, and I can do with it whatever I like including tossing it in the garbage disposal.

  1. They assume they are smarter than everyone else.

Like unknown guests at a funeral repast or a wedding reception, these folks show up to get whatever they can as fast as they can. They study any available content and data beforehand, and quickly chat up other guests to learn unique and interesting things about the deceased, the new bride and groom, or other family members. In their minds no one has been harmed by their uninvited presence. Besides, we are all here to have fun, and a jolly good time is to be had by all, especially the interloper.

Master interlopers, however, are looking to establish a relationship with you and often exhibit self-serving, brown-nosing, sycophant behavior. Their plan is to stick around for a while and feed on your gravy train. They are one-way wonders – everything flows from you to them and is at your expense.  They only move on after they have bled you as dry as a turnip and there is nothing else to get or take.

They will spend the time necessary to gather enough data on you, your research, project, or idea. Don’t be surprised if you hear later that they have taken full credit for your work. They claim to be only interested in making sure that you get proper credit for what you did, however, they never state how much credit they intend to take for themselves. This is when you find yourself tripping over their good intentions.

They speak as experts on topics of interest to them. Here’s the ringer: they may or may not be, but an expert they claim to be. You, I, and others are never expected to know more than they do. They give themselves permission to speak for you, and to make decisions on your behalf. You may never know what they have pre-committed you to do, or worse, opportunities that were passed-over because they are now attempting to call the shots for you.

A key point to remember: Their hear-say carries more weight than your actual experience. They will negate your comments or those of others, and restate the facts with words that justify their self-serving behavior.

The master interloper believes that she is smarter than everyone else. Now, if that is true, why does she need to take credit for your or someone else’s work, idea, or opportunity? A good answer is provided by a financial analysts in commenting on China’s slowing economy and recent currency devaluation: When you cannot create growth for yourself, you have a tendency to steal it from someone else.

  1. They will never be a true friend.

“If we say we are friends, that means you don’t lie to me; you don’t steal from me; and you don’t disrespect me.” This definition of friend is attributed to Dr. Phil McGraw in his book, Life Codes.

Will they lie to you? Trust me, they will lie to you and everyone else. Will they steal from you? Trust me they will. Will they disrespect you? They absolutely will disrespect you. In fact, they will do each of these more than once, more than twice, and they will continue to do so if you allow it.

As I have shared in previous posts, I don’t use the word friend casually when referring to someone I know. Coupled with Dr. Phil’s definition of friend and friendship, the tell-tale signs of master interlopers in Items 1 thru 3 above clearly do not set themselves up for a meaningful relationship between two people.

Pretend friends are fake people. Crossing professional and personal boundaries without someone’s permission is a no-no, and it doesn’t matter how long you have known the other person. Another thing, even if a friend is smarter than the other, they aren’t braggadocios about it, and they would never take advantage of the other person.

A true friend believes in helping you with no strings attached. Just as iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27:17 – New Living Translation (NLT).

  1. They are immature, selfish, and difficult people.

Assuming that you eventually find out about their self-serving behavior, when you approach them and call into question their words and deeds, they plead the fifth – denying that they know anything of which you speak. Another typical response is for them to explain that they are only trying to help you, the ingrate. It would also be much too easy if your encounter with the master interloper ended here.

Instead, the master interloper usually digs in his heels, cases your territory, marks his desired trophies, and spray paints any undesirable deterrents of which one of those is you. You are now fighting for what belongs to you, and you are going up against a very difficult and deranged individual. As Donna Flagg writes in Psychology Today [Ref 1]: Learning to deal with difficult people is like learning a foreign language…It helps to think about it this way: drama is a childhood phenomenon.  So whenever you are faced with hysteria, irrational thinking or out-of-control emotions, know that there is simply a child in the room – a fully-grown adult child, but a child nonetheless.”

Now that you are onto them, expect more trouble ahead, especially if they are not ready to move on. As Flagg puts it:

“See, underneath difficult personalities there is an unhealthy, undeveloped, unsatisfied ego who is acting out. Since these egos are remnants of childhood, normal, rational thinking does not apply.  They live to ensnare you into their reality when something has happened to make them feel insecure.  But, it’s a time warp.  Do not go! If you do, you’ll end up mired in another person’s emotional environment that is rooted in the past. 

Of course, not being privy to that past, you have no idea how the person is allowing his or her ego to distort the present.  All you can do is manage it from your perspective the best you can.  The key is to stay steady and not get drawn in.”

Beware the master interloper!

Sources Cited:

  1. Difficult People and How to Handle Them: What to say to the folks who drive you crazy at work, Donna Flagg in Psychology Today, August 25, 2013, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/office-diaries/201308/difficult-people-and-how-handle-them
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About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.

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