The death and rebirth of a bully
Thursday, Jul. 24, 2008 at 3:43pm
Q: New management came, saw the abusive director of our department and let her go. Hooray! Now another woman - not coincidentally, the one most often on the receiving end of the abuse, is acting out - calling herself the boss when truly she has not been given that title or responsibility. And now she is manipulating and trying to sabotage those of us who won't acknowledge her "authority."
I have to work fairly closely with her, and she routinely won't inform me of things I need to know, will email everyone in the department but me, etc. I seem to be doing well under the new management, and that makes it worse. Finally, I asked my actual supervisor for clarification on this woman's role, and am waiting to hear. But in the mean time, I fear a nasty verbal attack and/or backlash when/if she gets spoken to about her behavior.
I seem to be the target of her anger, and while I don't think she'll come at me physically, after four plus years of the emotionally abusive director, I really would rather avoid another verbal lashing... any ideas on how I might diffuse it? Thanks!
A: What a fascinating development. An old bully suffers a well-deserved career death. Then the spirit of that bully, freed from its master, floats around the organization until it finds a willing host in which to house itself. That new, possessed entity goes forth to carry on the spirit of meanness, brutality and stupidity that was the signature of the former manager. Incredible. And not totally unheard of.
There are companies that foster bullies. When a department lacks one, all the necessary components are there to fill in the gap. Your bullying colleague is operating under a false, former paradigm, however. New management may have other psychoses and quirks, but they don't seem to be intent on rewarding this particular kind of loser. They saw a problem in the old boss and got rid of her.
And my guess is that, at least after a time, they will recognize the same qualities in the self-appointed heir to the nasty throne and heave her out as well. It's not surprising, by the way, that it's the very person who suffered the worst for years who is now channeling the source of her unhappiness. Weirdly, in corporate life we often become the very thing we hate the most. I know many, many senior managers who complain of the exact same kind of treatment from their bosses that they routinely inflict on their own subordinates. Guys who get screamed at scream at others, who are worked on the weekends do the same to their cohorts, who get stiffed for raises are equally penny-pinching with their own charges. I don't know why this is, but it's not uncommon.
Your challenge here is to outlive the new and unimproved version of yesterday's officer. First, I must say that you've made a mistake. I'm a big believer in using lack of clarity to your benefit in these kinds of situations. You've now run a risk, by asking management to step in, that they will simply target the biggest butthead as management material and bless her style. Then you've got an even bigger row to hoe. In general, I think it's best to fight these things out mano-a-mano. And in this case, I would suggest polite, Zen-resistance to an authority that has not been earned, and an overall aspect of kindness and diligent attention to duty.
Bullies who have real power are bad enough. Bullies who use their style to GAIN power, sucking the life out of every room they inhabit, are unconscionable. You don't beat them by fighting them directly. You beat them by pretending they don't matter. And after a while? They don't. In the meantime, carry on your "doing well under new management" thing. It's working for you.
Q: In your book, Throwing The Elephant, you remind us that we are not elephants. So is the key to corporate happiness to give up on trying to become that leader and accepting our lot in the Universe, or is there some other way to make ourselves bigger and grayer?
A: First, I'd like to thank Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) for all the cool advertising messages that accompanied this Gmail, including offers to buy/sell elephant ivory (is that legal?!) and information about elephant TV programs and T-shirts. Of course, my thoughts on the matter have nothing at all to do with actual elephants, but I do like them and just might just check out the Elephant Cam, which promises to let me see what elephants do all day.
Beyond that, your question is a good one. I think, as always, there are two answers. First, it is important to realize that no matter how huge an elephant a person might be, he or she still has a bigger elephant stepping on his head. Everybody has a boss. So the problems attending our lot in the Universe affect us all, since we all must live here, wherever that is.
The management of Authority is the central question of every person's career, whether they work in the seventh sub-basement of hell or occupy a corner office in a tower that reaches to the sky. And the key to happiness, when dealing with that Power, lies in the eradication of Self and the pursuit of emotionless Duty. We do our jobs. It's business. It's not personal. Since our Self is not engaged, we cannot hope, we cannot hurt. We are above and away. And in that distance lies our own Power to survive and manage bigger animals than we.
The second answer is: of course. It's always good to be a bigger elephant. Ironically, the tactics described above also work for that purpose also. Hopefully, when you succeed, you'll be a better elephant than the big, honking beasts that make your life miserable. You think you can do that?
Q: With due respect I humbly write to solicit your cooperation and assistance in the transfer and investment of my inheritance fund USD$17M from my late father who died last year. I am therefore contacting you to assist me in channeling the funds into a productive investment venture and I seek to make this investment discreetly under your asset management arrangement.
I believe that you can assist me, work out the possibility of placing this fund with you, for management either in your existing establishment or other venture to be undertaken at your discretion under terms to be agreed upon by both parties I shall be expecting your response in order to furnish you with details of the funds. All replies in response of this mail shall be directed to my private email address.
A: How many of these stupid things are in YOUR e-mail box? Isn't there something that Google or AOL can do about them? How many people in Nigeria are sitting around hammering out these moronic communications on old Kaypros? Is there anybody out there who doesn't know they're scams?
A few years ago, I answered one of them to an e-mail that was provided, in response to an appeal from a person who claimed to be the former wife of the now-dead President of Sierra Leone, or something like that. I wrote, "Does your mother know you're a criminal?" I thought it was kind of funny. My volume of similar requests literally quadrupled! So don't even go there! Come on, flitter dudes! Give us a hand!