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Matchers and Mismatchers: How to Work With Impossible Clients and Coworkers

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Are there people in your life who just won’t agree with you—no matter how sound your argument? Do they focus on the validity of the smaller points rather than the big picture? Do you find yourself bogged down in the details rather than moving forward towards a solution? If so, you’ve got yourself a “Mismatcher.”

As human beings, we tend to be creatures of habit. This doesn’t just apply to our behaviors, it also applies to our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes. “Meta-program” is a term used in nuero-linguistic programing (NLP)—a name that encompasses the three most influential components involved in producing human experience: neurology, language and programming.

Meta-programs are often auto-pilot programs within our brains that we use to create, control or make decisions. Examples of NLP meta-programs include the preference for overview or detail, the preference for where to place one’s attention during conversation, habitual linguistic patterns, body language and common questions we ask to solve problems.

Matchers tend, initially, to agree with what you’re saying. Their first-expressed ideas tend to meld fairly cohesively with yours and they stay within the boundaries of the mental play area you’ve established. They will find similarities in their situation, experiences and imagination.

What are the reasons for this? Part of it may have to do with their desire to be liked and respected by you. Maybe that’s part of their personal culture, or something they learned from their youth or family life. Perhaps it’s a bit of the wider culture—“go along to get along.” Or perhaps that’s just how they’ve trained their brain to work.

Depending on their personality and level of people skills, mismatchers may vary from being interesting to being annoying. More self-aware or mature people know when finding fault is helpful, and when it is useless or damaging.

A mismatcher finds (indeed, looks for) ways in which what you’ve presented is flawed. Generally the first responses they give will be the exception to the rule, the slight ambiguity in the definition you are using, the potentially false premise you are basing your point upon. They may say, “Well, actually…” quite a bit.

Mismatchers seem to want accuracy, but more often they see their response as an opportunity to show how smart they are.

When dealing with a mismatcher, you may find discussions are bogged down in details more than necessary. It may feel as if the other person is trying to prove how dumb you are—and this can derail efforts to successfully work together.

Working With Mismatchers
1. Use them as fault-finders. Everyone has their own special values, and sniffing out gaps or inaccuracies is at or near the top of the list for mismatchers. Leave them out of brainstorming activities, but bring them in once those ideas have been formed and ask them to seek out areas for improvement.

2. For polarity responders (extreme mismatchers), try using reverse psychology. Tell them to do the exact opposite of what you want them to do.

3. Phrase your requests and ideas in the negative. Add these phrases before suggesting anything:
“You are probably are not going to like this.”
“You are probably not going to agree with this.”
“I had an idea that probably won’t work, but I wanted to see what you think.”
“This may be the worst idea that I’ve ever had.”
“I don’t know if this is something you’d like to be involved in.”

Remember, the term “mismatcher” is not a simple label to slander someone with, but rather a way to better understand and ultimately better communicate with clients and co-workers. Mismatchers are some of the smartest people in our society and frequently are the most accomplished engineers, software programmers, attorneys, CPAs, economists and managers. They tend to be more analytical and very intelligent.    

Peter Montoya runs a marketing firm that specializes in serving financial service professionals. He is the creator of the MarketingPro System. You can learn more about him at


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