When I was in the darkest of moments, feeling hopeless about my work situation, not knowing what to do to get around my bad boss, a psychologist friend recommended some books to read to help me through it. She’d recently had a situation where a number of people from the one company were sent to see her due to stress, and she’d worked out that the problem was their manager. This manager had emotionally destroyed the staff working under her. My friend’s advice was for me to leave the job as soon as possible, as it sounded like my boss was a ‘psychopath.’ That word conjures up images of mass murderers so it’s not one I identified with, but I agreed that reading some books on the topic of bad bosses might help.
The three books I’ve read so far are “Working with Mean Girls“ by Meredith Fuller, “Snakes in Suits“ by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare, and “Working with Monsters“ by John Clarke. Each of these books had a very different impression on me, the first one dealing with more minor “bitchy” behaviour while the last two focus on “psychopaths” in the workplace. Working with Monsters was my favourite (and most recently read), I will review each of these over three posts beginning with:
Working with Mean Girls by Meredith Fuller
I was a bit disappointed when reading the first pages of this book, because it says it’s about exploring “bitchy” behaviour in the workplace rather than “bullying,” and there’s this weird angle to the book that implies bad women are worse for the fact that they are behaving badly to other women (mentions of betraying the ‘sisterhood’ etc). I find the frequent use of the word “bitch” in the book offensive, not because I’m really PC (I actually swear way too much) but because it offends me that this bullying behaviour is called being a “bitch” if its done by a woman where if it were done by a man they would be not be called that, and by calling it ‘bitchy’ rather than ‘bullying’ it seems to trivialise it even though its acknowledged that it wreaks all kinds of damage for the victims.
However, that aside, what was good about this book is how it defined eight different categories of ‘mean girls’ which helped to clarify the potential motivations of my “bitchy” boss based on her behaviour. The different categories are The Excluder, The Insecure, The Toxic, The Narcissist, The Screamer, The Liar, The Incompetant, and The Not-a-Bitch. The last one is a very important inclusion that I have huge respect for this author in including – it describes a person who may be difficult to work with but who is in fact just doing her job the best way she knows how, and therefore is ‘not a bitch’.
The author then gives some suggestions of how to deal with each type of mean girl, and even goes so far as to recognise that there are different considerations depending on whether this mean girl is your boss, or a colleague, or someone you manage.
I think my boss is a mixture of The Insecure, The Liar, and The Incompetent:
- She wants to control you and ensure you are beholden to her, frequently reminding you who is the boss
- She frequently interrupts you with new demands that are urgent and often unreasonable
- She wants things done her way
- Her rules must be followed, doesn’t trust anyone with a different view
- She will not be clear about her objectives, expectations, or priorities
- She turns nasty when you don’t meet her (often unclear) expectations
- She is highly critical
- She clings to what she knows even when its wrong
- She fratenises with women who are similar to her – she struggles to trust people who are different
- She doesn’t like compromise – she wants to be right, not partially right
- She is not a good listener
- She will blame others for things going wrong – whatever went wrong was not her fault.
- She is unreliable, and at first you’re not sure why you don’t really trust her
- She avoids confronting reality
- She always finds excuses for her poor work performance
- She does not take responsibility for her work, blaming all and sundry for anything that goes wrong
- She lacks empathy, sympathy, and concern for others
- She can look you in the eye, keep a straight face and tell you another lie
- She resents being cornered by the truth
- She is ruthless in pursuing her own objectives, but shows disregard for those of the organisation
- She causes you to waste time searching for files she insists were placed in your in-tray
- She has been promoted to a role in an area she hasn’t worked in before
- She makes simplistic decisions due to lack of knowledge
- She doesn’t understand the issues that are unique to your area
- She often doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. She is only interested in the position for appearance; she’s not particularly interested in doing the job
- She becomes impatient and annoyed when you try to painstakingly explain things to her.
- She trades on your professional loyalty to get you to do extra work so that she looks good
- She is suspicious of you and your intentions
- She will portray you as the enemy
- She is likely to follow the latest fad without thinking it through
- She is likely to dump the senior specialist staff who know more than she does
After examining the eight types of mean girls to find out which one describes your problem person, Part Two of this book delves into four archetypes to also consider. The be honest this section of the book didn’t work for me at all, nothing fit my situation, so I’ve ignored it.
Thinking versus Feeling
Chapter 10 “Head versus Heart” is a break through chapter that talks about Thinking females versus Feeling females. I realised that in the workplace I often work more on a Thinking basis – I am task orientated, not big on the small talk, work rationally and deal with issues with a pragmatic problem solving framework – however after a lot of thought while reading this section of the book is seemed to me that my boss might be a bit more Feeling in her approach. For example, at work when a colleague sighed “That was a shit meeting” after a really negative draining team meeting, my boss berated her with comments like “You’re meant to be on my side”, “I thought we were friends,” taking it really personally rather than rationally.
It’s possible that I didn’t respond to my bosses early Feeling friendship advances because I was focused on the work at hand, and this might be one of the reasons why she now hates me. In all our meetings she has gotten personal (as in personal attacks!) and when I’ve responded with logic and reason, she has continued to attack from another angle, without reason, until she hits a sore spot or wears me down to where I reluctantly accept blame and become submissive.
Something I respect about this book is that all along the way it asks you to think about your own behaviour too, asks you to consider if “you’ve got it right,” and gives practical advice on how to work with people who have different styles to your own. It would be too easy to blindly demonise the other person, when the reader could in fact be as much of a problem as the person at work they are bitching about.
There is some information on how to manage stress, how to get help, and how to decide whether to ‘stay or go.’
What is depressing is that it yet again seems to strongly recommend getting a job elsewhere when you have problems with a bullying boss. It even goes so far as to say “Never say anything bad about the bitch at work,” not even in the exit interview as you never know if you’ll want to work with the company again.
So it seems pretty clear that these bullying bosses get away with their bad behaviour and we shouldn’t stand up to them because we’ll just be crushed. They move on and get promoted while we lick our wounds. Depressing 😦
More book reviews: Snakes In Suits