How to Manage People Successfully – The Alfred Hitchcock Method

How to Manage People Successfully – The Alfred Hitchcock Method




Alfred Hitchcock sat down with writer Samuel Taylor to discuss the script of the movie Vertigo.

Within the very first moments, Taylor knew that there was no way he could stray from Hitchcock’s vision for the film. Hitchcock was an outstanding storyteller. His description of the idea and scenes were so vivid and sharp that one could feel they could experience them in real time.


He was so certain about his narrative and so confident about his story that the only task left to the scriptwriter was to choose words that could match harmonically with Hitchcock’s concept.


When the script was ready and the shooting commenced, the stage was transformed into the most elaborate acting place. Lights, camera positions, blocking, and dimensions were carefully arranged in order to allow a smooth and rigorous shooting.


Hitchcock’s directing style was meticulous yet calm. While most filmmakers are energetic and oftentimes aggressive, yelling at their crew and barking out orders, Hitchcock’s attitude was characterized by serenity and patience. He would sit in his chair and he would sedately monitor and supervise the set; oftentimes even apathetically.


His actors could get annoyed and even frustrated, but eventually, they would come to realize that his attitude is infectious. In the course of time, everybody would play by his rules and his films would be produced in a way that was transgressing the principles of ordinary filmmaking.

The secret to Hitchcock’s attitude wasn’t his special character or his high intelligence. It was his obsession with planning and control. Nothing was left to chance and every detail was planned explicitly.


Hitchcock wasn’t an ordinary director. He was a director, a strategist and an expert in human nature. His ability to subtly impose his needs and likes was astounding and everyone would play by his rules one way or the other.


A great example of his influential character was highlighted in an argument he had with actress Kim Novak. When the actress refused to wear a gray suit in Vertigo because she felt it made her look washed out, Hitchcock told her he wanted her to look like a woman of mystery who had just stepped out of the San Francisco fog. How could she argue with that?

To me, Alfred Hitchcock represents the quintessence of the socially and emotionally intelligent person. He is a man who managed to transcend the regular and become a strategic warrior in the battlefield of life – because whether we like it or not, sometimes it feels like a battlefield out there.


Despite our most gentle intentions, the sheer structure of society and the complexity of our emotional and social world make our life conditions difficult to manage.


The greatest masters in the fields of emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and influence, were and still are well aware of this undeniable fact.


In the midst of this battle, people can only survive and thrive while staying detached and managing their interactions with patience and class.


As Robert Greene very elegantly states in “The 33 Strategies of War”:

“Our successes and failures in life can be traced to how well or how badly we deal with the inevitable conflicts that confront us in society. The common ways that people deal with them—trying to avoid all conflict, getting emotional and lashing out, turning sly and manipulative—are all counterproductive in the long run, because they are not under conscious and rational control and often make the situation worse. Strategic warriors operate much differently. They think ahead toward their long-term goals, decide which fights to avoid and which are inevitable, know how to control and channel their emotions.”

This mindset is the only way to help one be in control of his environment and most probably the catalyst that can lead to successful people management.


People management


People management is considered one of the most important skills for future workers according to the World Economic Forum.


I have already discussed Critical Thinking, Judgement and Decision Making and Negotiation.


That should come as no surprise. Moving towards the future, I foresee that small and agile teams will keep gaining popularity over big and rigid ones.


A small team, whether this is a startup, a small business or a team within a bigger business, will always work more effectively. Small teams can work faster, communicate better and make sharper decisions.


The success of a small team, however, relies on how good the connection between the members is and that’s where people management comes into play.


People management is the most critical element apropos team building and successful tribe creation.


In this article, I don’t want the focus to be solely on business-related people management, but also to branch out to every single social instance where people management is required.


With the lessons extrapolated from Alfred Hitchcock’s personality, I endeavor to create an all-encompassing strategy that can prove invaluable whenever it comes to managing others in one’s personal environment.


A person aware of this strategy will be able to go places, bring equilibrium to his inner world and lead a harmonious social life.


Since I usually favor structure over abstraction, I will suggest four pillars that, according to my worldview, are the cornerstones of effective people management.


They are as follows:


1. Expectations


It is borderline cliché how often I hear or read people expressing their dissatisfaction towards expectations and others.


“The secret of happiness is low expectations.”


“Keep your expectations high on achievement and low on people.”


These are some of the most common quotes one can find online while googling the term “expectations quotes.”


I truly believe that it is a personal responsibility of every self-respectful person to reframe this approach.


A deliberate strategist realizes soon in life that each individual is an amalgamation of biological, cultural & social influences.

That combustive mixture suggests that it is almost impossible to find individuals that can align in every single decision-making instance.


The idea that we tend to idealize our expectations and hope that the individual narrative of others won’t interfere with our personal propaganda is naïve and irresponsible, to say the least.


This is a clear symptom of a character that voluntarily denies growing up and accepting the responsibilities of adulthood. You see it all over the Internet nowadays where the environment feels more like that of a nursery than a place where adults can exchange insightful views and ideas.


In my opinion, high expectations should only be established on a purely personal level. Expecting a lot from yourself and managing to craft a plan that can help you reach those expectations is a sign of a mature and emotionally healthy individual.


Constantly expecting a lot from others and showcasing your dissatisfaction towards the non-achievement of those expectations, is an ill obsession.


Alfred Hitchcock never discussed expectations with the members of the set. His choices were strategically planned and once he decided on the players of the game, he only manipulated his moves in order to regulate the behaviors and reactions of each player.


He didn’t waste time and energy in negotiating the rules of the game and the capacity of each individual. He could properly identify the strengths and weaknesses of each actor and, according to what was at play in a given moment, he knew how to strategize his approach.


2. Ego


Consciousness is irreducibly subjective.


The personal experience that we refer to as life is predicated on how our individual construction is manifested.


That is Homo Sapiens’ greatest achievement but also his greatest weakness.


Since the establishment of our species as the dominant force on our planet, we are on an omnipresent struggle to reconcile individualism with collectiveness.


This struggle has led to innumerable fights, wars, and atrocities. However, it has also led to innumerable lessons that if augmented can lead to the reengineering of the way we coexist.


And this is the state of affairs we find ourselves in the present day.


In my experience, the closest I have come in achieving the perfect balance between individuality and togetherness is when I realized that the idea of self is an illusion from a neuroanatomical perspective.

Sam Harris in one of his interviews has stated:

“The sense of being a subject, a locus of consciousness inside the head is an illusion. It makes no neuroanatomical sense. There’s no place in the brain for your ego to be hiding. We know that everything you experience – your conscious emotions and thoughts and moods and the impulses that initiate behavior – all of these things are delivered by a myriad of different processes in the brain that are spread out over the whole of the brain. They can be independently erupted. We have a changing system. We are a process and there’s not one unitary self that’s carried through from one moment to the next unchanging.”

This profound statement can have a galvanic but also catalyzing effect on the way one perceives the idea of ego and self.


Because when you understand that self can be transcended and self-experience can evolve to a more holistic understanding of external phenomena, then the way you approach and manage others changes too.


3. Psychological Safety & Empathy


In an article published back in February 2016, the New York Times approached a very interesting topic: Google’s quest to build the perfect team.


Based on a research conducted within Google that aimed to identify the key to successful team building, the major finding was that a combination of ‘‘conversational turn-taking’’ and ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ is what helps a team stay strong.


Conversational turn talking refers to the ability of the team to allow each of the members to express their opinion about a topic.


Average social sensitivity refers to how easily it is for members of a team to intuit how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions, and other nonverbal cues.


The combination of these two strategies fosters what could be colloquially defined as effective interpersonal risk-taking – that is the ability of individuals within the group to take risks while knowing that they have the support of the rest of the group.


That should come as no surprise. I remember that since I was a kid the major concern I had to face was how to take risks and knowing that I can have my family to back me up. Whenever I wasn’t assured that my actions would be supported, my confidence dropped and my overall emotional state suffered in return.


This clearly meets common ground with the argument about the feeling of belonging we all want to experience within social groups in modern society. It is unquestionably connected to the fear of ostracism and its symptoms can affect all levels of our relationships.


Ergo, when it comes to strategic people management, being able to evoke psychological safety by making others feel included becomes paramount.


Additionally, the idea of empathy should be unambiguous when trying to exercise it.


The key to effective empathy is to illuminate that you are there to support feelings. That is to showcase your ability to step into the other person’s shoes and understand their emotional world.


To me, empathy is tantamount to therapy. Just like a therapist listens and comments, the same way an empathetic strategist uses the same approach.


Even five minutes of just listening and offering empowering advice can yield tremendous results in a relationship and reinforce connections.


4. Candor


The idea of honesty has been discussed in this blog ad nauseam. Nobody can deny that being honest, especially with yourself, is an essential element of a meritorious persona.


But the fact is, there are often good reasons not to be honest. When it comes to interacting with other people in a work environment, for instance, there are times when we choose not to say what we really think.


This creates a dilemma. On one level, the only way to get a grip on the facts, issues, and nuances we need to solve problems and collaborate effectively is by communicating openly, but not withholding and misleading.


The main reason behind this ubiquitous conundrum is self-preservation. We withhold information to protect ourselves from what is perceived as a frightening and outcome dependent reality.


There can never be a strong dynamic of trust within a group without the cultivation of the idea that self-preservation should be marginalized, at least to some extent.


To be honest, honesty is quite a heavy word because it is associated with a lot of responsibility and this responsibility is what it usually makes it prohibiting.


As a thought experiment, I would like to attempt and replace the word honesty with the word candor. Candor means frankness or forthrightness. Candor highlights the ability of the individual to demonstrate not just truth-telling, but a lack of reserve. It is closely related to assertiveness and it can be considered as the quintessential tool for self-exploration.


The subtlety with regards to candor is that it entails a level of dynamism that is extremely liberating.


Candor is also very sophisticated. It is not honesty for the sake of being honest. It is honesty with a purpose.


One can be honest for many reasons. For instance to express dissatisfaction or to complain or to manipulate. Those are all justifiable to some extent, but they do not offer any advantages, especially with regards to people management.


Candor offers the chance to the individual to be honest for the right reasons.


In a world that constantly oscillates between victimization and injustice, speaking our minds and speaking the truth – the reasonable and moral truth – is the most legitimate expression of justice and empowered individualism.


In closing


Successful people management has always been this elusive aspiration that will probably trouble us in perpetuity. The thing is that when it comes to complex conundrums, one needs to employ unorthodox approaches and deviate from the norm.


The four pillars suggested above can act as a substratum for refining one’s approaches and strategies towards others.


A great way to improve your people skills is via the “30 challenges – 30 days – zero excuses” project. Many challenges suggested are from the social-skills plane and allow room for different social approaches to be honed.


p. s. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get my articles in your inbox the moment they are published. It is thought-provoking, free, easy to unsubscribe and some great resources will wait for you once you confirm your subscription.

Adrian Iliopoulos

I am the founder and main contributor at "The Quintessential Mind" - A unique personal blog that offers a holistic approach to self-development. I am striving to create high-quality content by investing in a reality-based form of self-help, informed by a deep understanding of psychology, philosophy and my own personal experiences and social adventures.
Adrian Iliopoulos