I reckon people can be a bit like the four elements of water, wind, earth, and fire. And like these natural elements, these can combine nicely for a pleasant day out, or get whipped up and be dramatic and damaging.

The four elements at play in people stuff are:

EMOTIONS (water)



THINKING. (wind)

And when combined, they can be DEVILS:

Devil #1. The FIREBUG

Firebugs have ATTITUDE problems. Negative thoughts combine with an unhelpful attitude, and all of a sudden you have someone setting the house on fire, just to stir things up.

Firebug attitudes range from apathetic, to disgruntled, to the most extremes of envious and angry.

Devil #2. The STORM DRIVER

Storm drivers have THINKING problems. Negative thoughts (wind) stir emotional reactions (water), and all of a sudden you have an intense and active critic on your hands.

Storm Drivers can be negative, critical, pessimistic, and resistant to change.

Devil #3. The WATER BOMBER

Water Bombers have EMOTIONAL problems. Unrestrained emotional reactions (water) are expressed through unconstructive behaviour (earth). They leave an energetic wake in their path that soaks all around them. A tsunami of yuck.

Water bombers lack resilience and are pushed around by their emotions. They might shut down, ruminate, sulk, or be reactive and volatile.


Tectonic Splitters have BEHAVIOUR problems. A negative and resistant attitude (fire) wants an outlet, and finds it in unhelpful actions (earth). This can have a slow burn effect, or it can be more dramatic like an earthquake with its explosive fires. Their impact is divisive.

Tectonic Splitters can undertake backbiting and white anting. They can be blank-faced or two-faced, making it hard to unearth their damage until too late.

If this is your team, you need to take action to get the elements under control. After all, we CAN have positive attitudes, thinking, emotions, and behaviour!

Here’s my prescription:

  1. Teach ‘people map reading’. People have behaviours that you can read like a map. Understanding how people prefer to operate, why they like certain styles and not others, will do huge wonders for increasing both understanding and empathy.  When we understand behaviour, emotions ease and attitudes back off.

  2. Practice ‘emotional aikido’. Emotions are energy that can be re-directed, like an enemy is disarmed (without doing harm) in Aikido. When we know how to identify, observe, and redirect emotional energy, we become masters of our personal state.

  3. Beware of ‘brain bugs’. Our paleolithic brain is ill-equipped to deal with the rate and volume of stimulating inputs. It’s one of the reasons we jump to conclusions, make snap judgments, and otherwise trip ourselves up. We need to interrogate our thinking and our thought processes if we are going manage the mess of what we’ve created.

What devils do you have in the workplace? What are you doing to prevent the conditions that stir up the storms?