Posts Tagged With: Workplace bullying

Butting Heads (3rd incident)

The Third Incident, the third rebuke from my bullying boss, was admittedly partly my own fault.

Matt and Jack are consultants whom my boss holds in high esteem.  They are from out of town and were booked to work with our team in our office for a limited time, so I had left my schedule fairly open on the day to be flexible around them and their meetings with other team members. They kept putting me off until the end of the day – at which point I had only 20 mins space for them before I had an important meeting set up with another person.

Prior to this meeting I had spoken to Jack several times in person and by Skype about the topic of the meeting (and we seemed to be on the same wavelength), and had one joint Skype meeting with Matt and Jack together. I had set up a shared Google document for us to use to brainstorm and converse on the topic – which neither of them had contributed to or commented on.

I sat down with them and proceeded to bring them up to speed. It was clear neither of them had read my correspondence, however more alarming was the change in tone I saw in Jack under Matt’s influence. Where previously Jack was every bit as excited about what I’d told him as I was, today he was following Matt’s lead. And Matt was being incredibly patronising, egotistical, negative, trying to tell me what to do (in a field that is not his expertise, when he hadn’t read the briefing documents I’d sent, etc). Jack followed Matt’s lead and took on a patronising tone, treating me like a child.

I could not believe what they were doing. More interested in listening to their own voices, in their own egotistical sense of  ‘authority’, than having an intelligent informed discussion – I simply couldn’t believe what was happening. In a flash of anger I called them on it, and told them to stop being so patronising. Matt told me he found me incredibly rude. I said I found his patronisation to be rude.

Due to them delaying our meeting till the end of the day I only had a short period of time before I had to get to my next meeting – so I had to excuse myself before we’d solved the issue. I said we’d have to talk about this more another day.

Later that afternoon as I was getting ready to go home, Jack pulled me aside to apologise. He said he realised that he and Matt had come at things the wrong angle. Equally, I apologised for losing my temper, and assured him it was all water under the bridge. While I would love his and Matt’s help on my project, if they didn’t want to be part of it  (for example, were worried about workload) I could proceed without them.

The next day my boss called me aside for a ‘talk.’ By this point I’d come to realise that meant something bad. She went straight on the attack, saying that Matt and Jack had made a complaint about me. She said that she’d already had to speak to me about being ‘rude’ (see Second Incident), that Matt was extremely important to the project, that I needed to be better at ‘making friends’, and that I had to apologise. I asked her: didn’t she even want to hear the other side of what happened?

When I had originally told my boss about what I wanted to do she had been excited by my ideas and asked me to involve Matt and Jack. I told her that Matt had categorically rejected these same ideas, without even listening. That ultimately if he didn’t want to be involved he needn’t be, however it wasn’t his position to tell me not to proceed when this was my core role and expertise. I wasn’t telling Matt how to do his job (I respect his opinion within his own expertise); he had no right to try to tell me how to do mine.

I relayed to my boss what Matt’s opinion was as to what I should do – a simultaneously stupid and boring idea that had my boss rolling her eyes and exclaiming “Boys!”

I agreed that I shouldn’t have lost my temper, and pointed out that Jack and I had already made up of our own accord (that Jack said himself they had been wrong to approach me the way they had).

My boss seemed to see a bit more sense about this. Still she rebuked me, said that I had to work on getting along with people like Matt, that I needed to ‘listen’ to his wisdom, and that I needed to apologise to Matt officially. I agreed to do so. I certainly felt ashamed for losing my temper. Matt had pushed all the buttons my big brother used to push when I was a kid, made me feel small, insignificant and powerless – and I hated that I’d given into my emotion in the moment and given him that control and ammunition.

I sent Matt and Jack a long email of apology. It wasn’t a complete suck up email: I politely and diplomatically apologised, re-explained the position I was coming from, the seeming misunderstanding, that they needn’t be part of it if they didn’t want to, that I would appreciate their input if they cared to share it, and that I was sorry for losing my temper and having to cut the meeting short to get to my next meeting.

Neither Matt nor Jack so much as acknowledged the apology.

And a few months later, after I had taken their advice on the topic over my own better judgement, when I presented to the team the outcome… They hated Matt’s idea, thought it was stupid and off topic, and made suggestions in line with my original ideas that had since been discarded at Matt and my boss’s insistence.

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Outcast

The Second Incident with my bullying boss led to a crisis of confidence. She’d really rattled me. The power of the manipulation was such that I started thinking that I was the problem, rather than seeing things for what they really were.

She’d planted a seed in my mind that I was not doing a good job, that other unspecified team members found me rude and had complained about me, and this turned me into a cautious emotionally distant worker. I tip-toed around people, bit my tongue when I had a different opinion, felt a sense of betrayal that other team members acted nice to my face yet had apparently said something else behind my back, and felt like an unlikeable outcast who didn’t fit in.

It didn’t cross my mind to question what my boss had said on this level. Why would she lie about such things? She’d tapped into my deepest insecurities and the emotional wound festered.

She started making me report in to the newly promoted Program Manager (Leonard). At first I was relieved because he was more approachable than my boss. However it soon became clear that ‘reporting’ to him meant extra work, at times micromanagement, other times he didn’t read or respond to the stuff he’d directed me to do, he was a Yes Man who wouldn’t stand up to our boss, and if I made the mistake of raising the issues I was facing he would turn it around on me and suggest that I was the problem.

From a purely ‘work’ point of view I could logically see that my boss’s arguments didn’t add up: she had told me that my strategy was ‘wrong’ and that I was being pessimistic, yet the underlying research I had done, including what other team members had relayed to me, all indicated it was correct. I had offered solutions to the problems that she considered ‘pessimistic’, yet if she wouldn’t acknowledge the problem there was no way I could work to solve it.

I felt stuck not knowing how to go forward with my work when the underlying principles had been rejected by my boss, and also unable to give her a version that she would accept. Leonard kept telling me to ‘leave the past in the past’, and ‘move forward’, with no understanding that if the underlying strategy is rejected it means going back to the beginning.

I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, feeling disempowered and confused, trying to do my best while feeling very small.

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Is Your Bad Boss Killing You? [INFOGRAPHIC]

Thanks to Arjan De Raaf for posting this infographic about Bad Bosses.

Infographic List

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Autonomous ESP (2nd Incident)

After that first rebuke from my boss (see post Blame Game) things seemed to settle down for a time. My boss likes to say she gives us a lot of autonomy, and that’s certainly how I like to work  – just get in and do the job – and during this time she gave me ‘autonomy’ to hire some people.

However I should add that ‘autonomy’ in the context of my boss is Orwellian for “do things by E.S.P,” “make sense of her contradictions,”  and “don’t expect any clarification from her on anything.”

This was my first time working in the Public Service and there are all kinds of rules and red tape that unnecessarily complicate the hiring process. This was made all the worse by my boss giving me some of this information one day, then another day she’d give me another piece of the puzzle, a week later she would contradict what she’d said earlier, and all the while I was trying my hardest to get a straight answer from her so I could do it without overstepping the invisible rules.

After a month of negotiating the confusion, I had quotes from three contractors. I submitted my recommendation to my boss, gave my reasons for my preferred contractor, as well as all the documentation related to the quotes. This should have been a fairly straight forward ‘hire’, as per one of my earlier hires.

My boss called me in to have a meeting about this. She had the brief I’d written (for them to quote on) up on the screen so we could look at it together. And she immediately went on the attack, accusing me of hiring someone to do my job for me. From what she was saying she clearly didn’t understand the brief, had misread it, however when I attempted to correct her she got angry at me for ‘talking over the top’ of her and ‘not listening.’ I had to sit in silence while she scolded me, waiting for a moment when she’d give me the opportunity to explain.

Once she gave me an opening to answer her accusations, I rationally and logically explained why I’d written the brief the way I had (I wanted this contractor to understand where his work fit in with everyone else’s, and had clearly labelled which elements he was quoting on versus what elements other people would be doing). For every clear rational answer I gave her, she would sling another accusation at me, interrogating me about anything and everything including things not related to this issue, saying my work was wrong (even if it was something she’d previously been happy with), I was wrong, I was rude, that ‘people’ had complained about me, and so on.

I have to say I was in absolute shock as this unfolded. In hindsight I can sit here and pull it all apart and reassure myself that her behaviour was appalling and that she is a bullying boss, however in that moment I felt like I had done something terribly wrong, that my work was substandard, that my colleagues didn’t like me… It was such a hostile onslaught that I was totally unprepared for it and didn’t know what to make of it.

The pattern of behaviour for this meeting was:

1) Boss aggressively attacks with an unfounded claim

2) I offer reasoned explanation, try to find solution to placate her

3) Boss attacks with another claim – not necessarily at all related to earlier discussion

And so we went round in circles covering all kinds of  unfounded accusations completely unrelated to the topic of our meeting, her attacking, me apologetically defending, until finally she hit a sore point and I felt my eyes blinking back tears trying not to cry. The sore point?

I’d been having trouble getting the information I needed from some team members, this clique had made a blanket ‘no meetings’ ban so all I could do was email them or set up a discussion point on our intranet and hope they would respond – which they hadn’t been doing. It’s rather difficult to “communicate” to the public when you don’t have the information yourself. I had been finding this very difficult, was frustrated to say the least, and had raised the problem I was having to the Project Manager (who had done absolutely nothing to help the situation).

My boss mined this, saying that I should have a good think about why these people wouldn’t talk to me (i.e. my own fault). That ‘people’ had complained about me being rude.  That maybe I was unapproachable, and needed to work harder to be nicer.

In that moment I felt awful. It hit one of those deep-set insecurities we all have: the desire to  be liked. I thought it must have been me that was the problem.

In that moment, where I tried not to cry, and apologised categorically, explained the trouble I’d been having with this clique and how I would do anything they suggested to fix the problem – that I myself was out of ideas because I had tried everything I could think of and it had failed to make a difference – that was the moment when my boss softened.

Pattern emerging: It was only when I was submissive, responded emotionally, accepted ‘blame’, that my boss eased off.

Interestingly (but not surprisingly), when we got back to the topic of the meeting – which contractor to accept – every single thing that my boss had raised as an issue… When she actually looked at what I had already done  and was documented  in the quote (tasks broken down into packages, itemised, prioritised, scheduled,  deliverable dates, etc) she accepted my recommendation without any changes necessary.

So what the fuck was the hour long ordeal really about???

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5 steps to getting your boss sacked without consequences

Thanks to No Ingenue for this blog post about how to deal with a bad boss. I’ve been doing the first bit No Ingenue recommends – journalling issues – reasonably well, though sometimes it’s not clear that there will be an issue until long after the fact. My bullying boss is hot and cold, completely unpredictable!

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Blame game (1st Incident)

Photo via a2gemma http://flic.kr/p/3cYhVz

Seeing as I’ve failed to identify the one ‘inciting incident‘ to my workplace bullying ordeal, I’ve decided I will instead write about the series of incidents that led to it – and perhaps one of you who has the benefit of perspective will be able to pinpoint it for me.

The first time my boss unfairly reprimanded me:

I’d been on the job for about two and a half months. I work in a communications role and it’s my job to oversee the blog and social media (amongst other things). We had an item to promote to get some people involved in our project. I took the information given to me (which had already been emailed to various people) and posted it to the blog and social media. My boss asked me to repeat this process for another item, and forwarded the information to me (which had already been emailed out to other key people). I did just that. So far so good, right?

That evening after work I had an email conversation going back and forward with her because she noted there was something incorrect in the blog post. We were offering flights to people to take part. I assured her I would correct it on the blog and mentioned she might like to let the rest of the team know about it too as this was the information they were communicating in their email out. She said she didn’t know what email I referred to, so I forwarded on the email that she had earlier sent me (including her instruction to put it on the blog). Silence from her after that…

…Until the next morning at the office. She pulled up a chair by my desk, and said we needed to talk. She told me off for putting the wrong information on the blog. She said it was my job to make sure the information was correct, and I should have known better – that we would never under any circumstances have offered to pay for flights. Someone higher up had seen it, and it made us look bad, like we were throwing money away. The email with the information that my boss had forwarded on to me had been written by someone else (Tom), had apparently not been signed off by her, and Tom was also in trouble.

I approach things with a problem-solving framework: I work out the best solution going forward (blog post corrected) and analyse the steps leading to the problem to work out what went wrong, identify how we can change things to ensure the problem doesn’t occur again, and take necessary steps.

So, I spoke to my boss about the steps that led to this incorrect information getting onto the blog post. I mentioned I’d overheard her and Tom talking a couple weeks earlier about this EOI and that my boss had seemed to agree to pay for flights. She countered that this was a different situation, and things had changed, and Tom should have known that. I suggested that this could be where the confusion arose, an innocent misunderstanding. But my boss didn’t accept that, she said we needed to take responsibility for this mistake. I said I could only work with the information given to me, and I didn’t see how I could have done anything differently given the circumstances (overheard Tom and my boss talking about flights, my boss forwarded an email with this information to me and asked me to put it on the blog, and I did exactly as requested). She didn’t accept that.

Ultimately she just wanted me to accept the blame. It was stand off, there was nothing more I could say, other than apologise and promise to do better next time. I did just this.

I felt relieved when she then eased off, softened up, and confided in me the challenges she was having now that Barry had left – that no-one was helping her with her work. I nodded sympathetically, feeling kind of odd that she was now reaching out to me in this way. She seemed kind of needy and helpless, and it was kind of flattering that she was confiding in me in this way. My boss said we should talk more often as she realised I was working by myself (while others had their ‘teams’), and she set into our schedule a weekly one on one meeting. It felt like a barrier had been broken, and while I was still confused about the incident (being blamed for something that clearly wasn’t my fault), I thought that working closer with her would ensure that we didn’t have a repeat of this incident.

FYI, those weekly one-on-one meetings that were meant to bring us closer together: lasted total of 2 weeks before she went back to being ‘too busy’ for such things and became her usual distant, hard-to-talk-to boss.

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Thank You Hater!

I wish I had the energy and imagination to do something like this to my bullying boss:

(Comedian Isabel Fay made this song and dance video response to an offensive YouTube troll)

Does make me think though: maybe I should make a bit of a game about this. The nastier my work problems are, the more to smile and say ‘thank-you.’

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Inciting Incident

Image via Lost in Scotland http://flic.kr/p/ccXPA5

I have a friend who is a screenwriter, and he has asked me to identify the ‘inciting incident’ to by bosses bullying (film speak for the moment when things changed, point of no return). I wish life was so clear-cut that you could divide events up into a three act hero’s journey structure (sorry more film jargon!) with a clear protagonist, antagonist, storyline, theme, and resolution. But life is more muddled. Unfortunately I can’t help but think that if life were a movie I would just be an ‘extra’ in someone else’s film.

I can’t pick a clear ‘inciting incident’, however there were hints amongst the honeymoon period that all was not so glorious. The Office Co-ordinator, Naomi, is one of those people who wears a permanent sunny smile and is happy to help out in any way she can. Yet my boss would make snide comments about her, roll her eyes, insinuate that she was incompetent. I am ashamed to admit that while I noticed this with a sense of unease, I never spoke up. I didn’t want to see the negatives, I wanted to love my job, part of me knew it was wrong for my boss to behave like this, and another part of me wondered if there was a history there of Naomi indeed being bad at her job.

We would have team meetings with all present except Naomi. One day when Barry wondered if we could get Naomi in to take meeting notes my boss rolled her eyes and said she really wouldn’t be capable of it. My boss would blame Naomi if the meeting room wasn’t booked properly, if refreshments hadn’t been ordered in preparation of meeting guests, if Naomi was not at her desk to answer a phone call, she would say that Naomi had access to a file or information that I needed and to get it from her – yet Naomi would tell me that she had no knowledge of what our boss was referring to.

At the time I thought that Naomi was a lovely person but perhaps not particularly skilled or good at her job.

Later when I found myself on the receiving end of our bosses bullying behaviour, I realised that Naomi was in fact set up to fail. She couldn’t book a room for a meeting our boss hadn’t told her about. She couldn’t give me a file she had no access to. She was doing the best she could, with a boss who had fired two Office Co-ordinators in a matter of months before hiring Naomi in the role. Naomi is a bloody hero for being able to put up with my boss for as long as she has, and do it with a smile.

I, on the other hand, do not find my own behaviour befitting the ‘hero’s journey’. I feel like a coward. And even when I do imagine standing up and making a difference, it is only in my own head. Writing this blog, with the bold proclamation to be about ‘beating the bully boss’, when in real life I don’t see much likelihood of that happening. Life is not a movie. The good guys don’t triumph. The only thing we can hope to do is minimise the damage.

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Learning to trust your instincts

Tom and JerryI’m a pretty logical person, I guess you would say I often lead with my head, which you would think (considering that I’m fairly intelligent) ought to make life easier than for those people who run around ruled by their emotions. But it’s times like this where I realise that it’s actually a hindrance .

See I’m one of those leftward leaning, liberal minded, bit PC  people who hate to offend anyone, try ridiculously hard to please and bend over backwards to be fair and non judgemental even to my own detriment. So when I meet someone and don’t get a great ‘feel’ on them, I often dismiss this. I don’t listen to gossip or hearsay. For me to dislike someone I must personally witness them acting in a clearly “bad” way, and even then I might rationalise that they’re just having a bad day or are stressed or it was a misunderstanding. I need proof beyond reasonable doubt for me to make a judgement call.

On one hand this is what our society values, in the court of law as well as things like employment processes that aim to focus only on the facts at hand and ignore all else. This is the way we combat prejudice, racism, sexism, biases.

However, on the other hand, our sense of unease can be our animal instincts trying to warn us. We might not be able to logically explain why we don’t really trust someone, yet our subconscious can be picking up on micro expressions, body language, inconsistencies and coming to a justified realisation that this person is not trustworthy.

In hindsight it is always clearer. I have never felt ‘comfortable’ around my boss, even in the honeymoon period when I thought she was great. I never could get a clear ‘read’ on what she was thinking or feeling. I didn’t feel trust, or at ease.

There are three people in my life experience who have figuratively speaking ‘screwed me over.’ I’m not merely talking about working relationships gone bad, I mean people who in hindsight had ulterior motives which involved using me, who pretended to be nice while lying and manipulating, who didn’t care if what they were doing was unfair, damaging, hurtful, unethical and even borderline illegal.

Initially, on first glance, I did not ‘like’ these three people (in so much as I got a weird gut feel about them) – yet I ignored my instincts. I led with my head, and on the surface all three of these people seemed nice, helpful, good people to be associated with, and with one of them I even developed what I thought was a really good strong friendship. I ignored the niggles. I rationalised minor issues away, choosing to believe the bigger picture they presented to me. I recommended them to other people. And it was only after much stress, confusion, damage and hurt, that the truth of their manipulation and lies became too obvious for me to not notice.

So it comes to this: once again realising that I should have listened to my gut rather than my head. Don’t be so trusting. If you don’t feel comfortable with someone, run the other way.

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Working With Monsters

Of the books I’ve read and reviewed on the topic of bad bullying bosses, Working With Monsters by John Clarke is my favourite so far. Where Working with Mean Girls was orientated around “bitchy” behaviour, and Snakes in Suits  was about hardcore workplace psychopaths – and both of these books gave a very grim portrayal of being able to do anything about bullying bosses – Working With Monsters works on multiple levels to give what seems a very reasonable, balanced, realistic point of view with also some helpful advice I hadn’t seen in either of the other two books.

While Working With Monsters focuses on ‘psychopaths’ in the workplace, it also makes the point that calling someone a ‘psychopath’ is not necessarily helpful in a workplace environment and it may be more productive to phrase it as ‘bullying’ behaviour. Similar to Snakes in Suits the author explains what a psychopath is, how they behave, how they manipulate others and get away with it. However in Working With Monsters the author goes another step and identifies four different types of psychopath: The organisational psychopath; the corporate criminal psychopath; the violent criminal psychopath; and the occupational psychopath. The Organisational Psychopath is the one relevant to my workplace bullying situation.

Organisational Psychopath

  • manipulative behaviour
  • unethical behaviour
  • intolerant
  • unpredictable behaviour
  • undependable and failure to take responsibility for behaviour
  • workplace bullying
  • seek increased power and control in the company
  • create conflict between organisation members
  • deceitful/devious/frequent lying
  • intimidating behaviour
  • displays no remorse or guilt for their behaviour
  • rapidly shifts between emotions to manipulate people or cause high levels of fear
  • accuses a person of making mistakes or not completing work when the accuser knows what they are saying is unfounded
  • refuses to accept responsibility
  • uses the threat if job loss, disciplinary action a s a way of intimidating others
  • sets unachievable tasks for employees to set them up for failure

The reason why its important to recognise the difference between types is that they are motivated by different things and as such behave and respond differently.

In the 1970s an American researcher trained three groups of people (non-psychopaths, criminals who were not psychopaths, and criminal psychopaths) to perform a specific behaviour in order to avoid experiencing a negative event. There were three possible negative events; an electric shock (physical punishment), the experimenter would say ‘wrong’ (social punishment), and the loss of money (the experimenter would take away some money that had been given to the subjects for every incorrect response). Non-psychopathic subjects learned the behaviour very well in the face of all three negative events. Non-psychopathic criminals did not care about the social punishment, but learned quickly when the money was taken or they were physically punished. The psychopaths only responded to the money being taken, not to the physical or social punishments. 

While Snakes in Suits talked about how organisations could try to minimise psychopaths in the workplace by better hiring practices etc, Working with Monsters goes the step further by discussing how an organisation can motivate changes in psychopathic behaviour by understanding underlying motivations. Psychopaths have in likelihood had a lifetime of being rewarded for their bad behaviour (if they bully and intimidate others they get their own way; if they lie and cheat they progress up the ladder and earn more money), so an organisation that suspects they have a psychopath in their midst can restructure rewards and punishments to ensure that bad behaviour results in loss of benefits while good behaviour towards peers is rewarded. 360 degree reviews ensure that people who interact with the psychopath at every level (above, equal, and below in the hierarchy) gives feedback on performance for a well-rounded perspective that minimises ability to manipulate and deceive.

This move (restructuring the reward and punishment cycle)  is done alongside changes to provide all staff with the support they need. An anti-bullying education program, life coaches, team bonding exercises, stress management, providing employees with the support they need to identify, report, and gain moral support when they see bullying practices.  The author gives examples of where this has worked. It doesn’t change the workplace bully into a lovely person, but it reins in their bad behaviour whilst also protecting and fortifying the wellbeing of the team working with the psychopath.

For me this was a much more constructive and positive outlook than that offered in Snakes in Suits. Working With Monsters goes into details of the ‘cost’ of psychopaths and bullying, how victims are affected whether they realise it or not and how this affects the organisation.

The Human Cost of Workplace Psychopaths

Victims are often paralysed by the following feelings:

  • shock and disbelief
  • anger
  • fear and anxiety
  • stress
  • shame and embarrassment
  • fear of not being believed
  • guilt and confusion
  • feeling powerless, out of control, or ‘going crazy’
  • lack of trust and a fear of people
  • flashbacks
  • sleep disturbances and nightmares
  • relationship problems
  • depression

The way this information is structured clearly conveys why every business should think about the topic and also provides clear step by step information about how to hire an independent assessor to conduct 360 degree evaluations to ascertain if these problems exist in your workplace – regardless of whether there is a ‘psychopath’ there may be unnecessary stress and division and protect against it. I feel like giving this book to my boss’s superior! Maybe I should highlight some bits and send it anonymously and hope she takes the hint. This book offers suggestions that are more practical and realistic than “I hope they fire my boss”, when reigning her in would suffice.

Also worth noting, Working with Monsters, like Working with Mean Girls, warns against unfairly ‘labelling’ people as a psychopath or problem person, and identifies a number of different situations where a person isn’t a psychopath even if you have difficulty working with them.

This a balanced, well researched, informative, helpful book that I highly recommend.

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