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Psychologists analyze Bill Gross, advise on avoiding his mistakes

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Bill Gross’s bad time is getting worse. Allianz reported today that there were €22bn of outflows at Pimco in the first three months of the year. There was also a 28% reduction in operating profits at the asset management unit, and – thanks to the troubles at Pimco – a 3.9% drop in profits at Allianz overall. 

The unfortunate news follows a difficult start to 2014 for Bill Gross, Pimco’s 69-year-old co-founder. In February, Gross was lambasted by a Wall Street Journal article, claiming that he’d argued openly with ex-chief executive Mohamed El-Erian (who quit) and commonly refuses to make eye contact or talk to anyone (especially first thing in the morning). Gross subsequently wrote two zany opinion pieces for investors, one which began by lamenting the death of his cat Bob and another which began by extolling the eroticism of a sneeze. If there was a hole already, Bill Gross seems to have been digging it deeper.

What is going on in the mind of Gross?

Oliver James, a clinical psychologist and author, says that behaviour similar to Gross’s is common among people on the Asperger’s spectrum. “It can be the case that people who are very numerically minded find it difficult to relate to other people. They can end up isolated and appearing to be strange,” James suggests. Alternatively, James opines that Gross may simply have been “feeling a little crazy” and that having attention drawn to his craziness would have made it worse.

Philip Hodson, a psychotherapist and member of the UK Council of Psychotherapy, says Gross’s age may be related to his recent eccentricities. “Cognitive deficits increase with age,” says Hodson. “You tend to lose some of your judgement and to become more ‘bomb happy’ and less concerned about the consequences of your actions.” 69 isn’t “old” but it’s in the “zone”, says Hodson. Alternatively, Hodson says Gross’s alleged behaviour at Pimco and subsequent columns are typical of someone who “has a high sense of their own value, coupled with a sense that others don’t appreciate that”.

Hodson says there’s an art to avoiding Gross-like mistakes at work. And that’s to think very carefully about what you say before you say it. “You have to think of your job as a communal dwelling – you can’t always express yourself in the way that you want to, you can’t always play music late at night,” he says. “You need to listen and to defer to others and to take account of the opinions of other people who may not be as quick as you – or as quick as you think you are.”

Hodson suggests a quick mnemonic to avoid Grossisms: PLANT.

P= Pause. Don’t just say the first thing that comes into your head.

L= Listen. Listen to the opinions of other people, even if you don’t agree.

A= Analyze. Repeat the argument back to the people you’re dealing with. Say things like, “Let me get this clear…”

N= Note the illogical points. Pull out any illogical points in the other person’s statement.

T= Target. Think of your target. Decide what your desired outcome is and try to reach this without alienating everyone around you.

Meanwhile, the world waits for Gross’s next investor note… 

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