“Stockholm Syndrome” And The Recruiter

Stockholm Syndrome describes the behavior of kidnap victims who, over time, becomes sympathetic to their captors. The name derives from a 1973 hostage incident in Stockholm, Sweden. At the end of six days of captivity in a bank, several kidnap victims actually resisted rescue attempts, and afterwards refused to testify against their captors.

What causes Stockholm Syndrome? Captives begin to identify with their captors initially as a defensive mechanism, out of fear of violence. Small acts of kindness by the captor are magnified, since finding perspective in a hostage situation is by definition impossible. Rescue attempts are also seen as a threat, since it’s likely the captive would be injured during such attempts.” [Ask Yahoo, http://ask.yahoo.com/ask/20030324.html; more information, http://www.mental-health-matters.com/articles/article.php?artID=469 ]

The inspiration for this article came from a response Danny Cahill wrote to a closing question on www.AccordingToDanny.com entitled “The Eulogy Close.” It’s a particularly challenging close when a candidate wants to accept a client’s offer, but is reluctant or refusing due to a non-compete contract he/she has signed. I won’t go into the Cahill letter here in detail, but I encourage you to visit his site and “look it up,” as my father would say. I associated the Stockholm Syndrome with The Eulogy Close because it’s aic situation that occurs incrementally more often as the issue behind the close has more fear and emotion associated with it. However it can also be a very simple occurrence that will trigger the Stockholm Syndrome within a recruiter and begin to solidify an instinct that will lead to a new recruiter’s failure in our business. This is a crucial issue that needs to be addressed, so let’s break it down tactically……

What is it, who can suffer it and why? The Stockholm Syndrome as it relates to our business happens when a recruiter identifies with the objection from a candidate or client as a result of an exaggerated altruistic feeling toward that person and/or an identification with the objection or situation. It’sically verbalized or imagined as, “I wouldn’t do THAT if I were him. I can understand his objection.” The recruiter literally talks himself out of overcoming an objection or challenge in the process. With new recruiters, the misleading altruism can be a result of a feeling that they want to “help the world” through their noble work and wanting everyone to like them — or a fear of any form of confrontation. If it’s not an altruistic cause, it’s wanting to avoid the fear of failure in working through an objection or looking like a “snake-oil salesman.” With experienced recruiters it can be as a result of not wanting to summon the emotional energy to circumvent the objection (i.e., just being tired or perhaps shall I say it? — lazy). Either way, it’s an illusion. There is no better service a truly consultative recruiter can offer his contacts than removing fear and misunderstanding from a process in order to help them succeed for the long term. Remember, we wear the multiple hats of “change agents,” “teachers,” “counsels” and “anti-fear agents,” among others.

As in the actual Stockholm case noted above, some recruiters will identify so closely with the objection that they become agitated by those trainers or managers who would attempt “rescue action” by helping them understand how to take the proper course of action. The fear or insecurity generated by the objection flips a switch within the recruiter that locks out logic and objectivity and disables the learning function. The emotional defense airbags fly out and wreck a deal, prospective relationship, source for contacts and most importantly the career of a promising recruiter.

When can it happen? On a regular basis with many recruiters almost always with those in the first few years of running a desk, but very often with those in the business for many years. It can happen at very simple times getting basic information, and it can kick in as a first reaction to a particularly difficult or complex objection.

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How is Stockholm Syndrome manifested in a recruiter? It could be a simple situation for a new recruiter trying to determine a candidate’s salary we’ve all had that time when an uneducated prospect feels that salary is “private.” The recruiter buys in to the objection without attempting to educate the prospect. It can happen and most frequently does when a recruiter is attempting to source a contact for names or leads. Upon the objection (e.g., “I don’t want to give names to you because you’ll just steal people from my organization.” “It’s not appropriate for me to give you a name without clearing it with the person first.” Or “I don’t know anyone who’s looking.”), the recruiter “owns” it himself of course, he understands why the objection is made, thinking, “I wouldn’t give names either, I know what I’ll do with them.” There are logical, mutually beneficial reasons to get past that objection. (Ask me some time at a conference or refer to Cahill’s web site that’s for another article.) It could happen with the “Eulogy Close,” when a recruiter shares the personal fear of being sued by an employer for breaking a non-compete contract. “I wouldn’t want to have to go through that either.” The emotion of the moment could prevent the recruiter from working through the complex close as Cahill describes thus destroying a deal due to perceived but not actual negatives. There are many other examples of how the Stockholm Syndrome can “infest” a recruiter and that’s literally what it is, an infestation. A great morning meeting at your office would be to role play with your colleagues in identifying red flags, situational possibilities and cures.

Speaking of cures, how can a recruiter look for his or her own manifestations of the Stockholm Syndrome? Be alert and very aware of your perceptions and emotions. Look for the fear in your reaction to objections and challenges. Be mindful of agreeing with a contact’s objections too quickly. Either while you’re in conversation with him, or even before you pick up the phone. There’s nothing wrong with being in mid-conversation and asking to put the contact on hold while you briefly recover from the fear or gather your thoughts. In my early days in the business, I used to put the contact on hold to counsel quickly with my manager or another recruiter I respected. You can even tell the contact you’ve just been paged, can you get back to him in five minutes? Better to put the situation on brief hold rather than react without the proper tactics. Remember that courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it. You can actually practice techniques that will help you master fear. Identification and action are the first steps. Seek education and role-playing from your peers and managers. Be proactive about learning. Passivity kills in this business. The Stockholm Syndrome issue is probably one of the three largest impediments to success we have. Once you’ve learned how to identify symptoms of the syndrome and techniques to respond to them, PRACTICE! Look forward to opportunities to put the techniques to work for you, and your candidate or client.

All of us come into this business with a certain set of pre-conceived perceptions. Many contribute to our long-term success. But many conversely can lead to mediocrity or failure. Those perceptions must be changed in order to provide true value to people’s lives and self-respect for what we do as professionals. This is accomplished through education. Don’t ever stop learning. If you’re reading this, you must believe in that philosophy as I do. You’ve just taken another step forward through awareness. Next comes action. The Stockholm Syndrome in our business is just another speed bump on the path to success. It’s up to you to keep moving forward to your goals. Enjoy the trip!

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