My buddy Kevin (Dude) sent me three of these last week. I decided to harvest my own inbox and expand the list. Note: These interpretations are my own and in now way reflect my employer, co-workers, etc. If any of my colleagues recognize the use of these phrases, well, that’s on you.
“I have attached this slide deck to assist you in understanding…” You are so stupid, I prepared supplemental material with pretty pictures to make it easier for you.
“Per my previous email…” You clearly didn’t read or understand what I wrote you before, so now I will repeat it.
“Per our agreement…” You violated something you agreed to, now I must explain to you what it is.
“I suggest a face-to-face meeting…” We need to stop firing these idiotic emails back and forth. Let’s sit down so I can call you ‘asshole’ to your face.
“I am copying in (Name) for his perspective.” We’ve already met and agreed you are an asshat. I’m copying him as written proof of that diagnosis.
“It is imperative that we…” This is important and it is embarrassing to all of us that I have to explain that to you.
“I’m circling back to you on…” You didn’t respond to this last time, so now I have to nag your sorry-ass about it again.
“I’m curious as to your thoughts on this…” Make a decision – ANY decision. Just take a stand for Pete’s sake.
“To reiterate…” I am repeating this…again – because apparently you are slow.
“Moving forward…” Don’t ever bother me with this shit again.
“Respectfully submitted,” The exact opposite. “Hatefully submitted.”
“This was helpful.” I wish you had sent this to me weeks ago when I asked for it.
“Sorry to bother you again on this subject.” I’m sorry you chose to blatantly ignore me.
“Thank you for your explanation.” Receipt of your lame excuse is acknowledged.
“I’m not sure my last message was received…” Oh, it was received…you just didn’t respond. I’m not going away dickhead.
“I apologize for the misunderstanding…” I am deeply and sincerely sorry that you are an asshole.
“It is difficult to find a time that works for both of us…” It’s not my fault you can’t manage your calendar.
“As I understand it…” This is reality as I know it. God only knows what you think.
“I look forward to our meeting.” There goes an hour or more of my life flushed down the toilet.
“Thank you in advance…” You have a to-do item – just fucking do it.
“I hope you don’t mind…” I don’t care if you mind – do your job.
“I realize that you are busy, but…” I don’t appreciate you ignoring me in the last four attempts to get you to respond.
“Your comment on _____ is fair…” Okay, you made your point – I made a mistake. Thanks for bringing it up again just to make me feel bad.
“Just a friendly reminder…” I presume you have the onset of early dementia, it makes it easier for me to cope with you not doing what you need to.
“Let’s action this…” Stop replying to the email string and do some actual work!
“You may not be aware of the history…” Your decision was stupid, now I have to explain to you why; complete with historical context.
“It might help you to know the background…” You are about to do something stupid, so let me explain why you shouldn’t.
“No action required.” I am sending you this to cover my ass. Just play along and now one will get hurt.
“I understand your role…” I LOVE you mansplaining to me what you do.
“I included you on this email string to make sure you were in the loop…” This is part of your job – so stop whining about me emailing you about it. And the only loop I want to see you in is a noose.
“Brilliant!” You actually responded correctly and on-time. You get a star.
“With all due respect…” Prepare yourself for my explanation as to why you are tragically wrong.
“FYI” I am covering my ass here.
“Please advise…” There’s a button on the email called, “Reply.” Give it a try.
“According to the system…” I hear what you are saying, but the data says something entirely different.
“Just to clarify…” I will use smaller words this time since the big ones clearly overwhelmed you.
“Any updates on this?” I’m not going to let this slide, douchebag.
“I’m sure you are already aware of this…” I’m sure you are completely blindsided by this…so allow me to be the bearer of bad news.
“I’d like to point out…” Let me explain just how wrong you are.
“Don’t hesitate to reach out to me on this…” I am pretending that I will give you the time of day to re-read this email to you.
“Per our operating model…” We put together a mysterious and complex process, didn’t involve you, didn’t communicate it, but expect you to follow it.
“We need to give this the appropriate level of due diligence…” You might actually have to read this.
“Great!” You finally understand…it sure took long enough.
“I want to make sure we avoid this in the future…” I know that you are prone to repeating the same mistake that led to this email, as such don’t make me kill again.
“This is a high priority…” This is a high priority for the next hour or two, then I will be distracted by the next thing that is a high priority.
“Apologies for me not…” You caught me! I’m impressed enough to admit it.
“It has been a pleasure…” Clearly I am into S&M because this has been torture.
“Thank you for your valuable input…” You’ve made your point, please shut up
“I want to make sure we are on the same page…” Frankly, I’m not sure you’re reading from the same book.
“I was hoping we could collaborate on…” I need someone to do the work so I can claim credit for it.
“I don’t want you to feel like you’re being excluded…” But you are.
“I thought you might want to see this…” Someone is screwing you over and I’m willing to bet they haven’t told you.
“Would (insert day) be convenient?” You need to get this done before that day or I swear, I will come after you.
I had a boss once brag that, “I don’t have stress – I’m a carrier.” When he boasted that, it took a monumental amount of restraint to not say, “Actually, you’re a douchebag.” Stress is a reality of work. As such, it was finally time for me to tackle the subject…in my usually snarky fashion. Strap in and prepare for the ride…
I was going to lead off with the traditional causes of stress at work… you know the usual culprits:
Things I want to do but can’t.
People’s values and actions clash with my own.
Things don’t meet my expectations.
Yawn. I almost put myself to sleep. While quasi-accurate, these reasons are too high level and lack the kick necessary to detail true sources of workplace stress. As such, here is my attempt at a comprehensive list – in an unranked order. These have come from a lot of different sources, friends in other organizations, etc. Don’t try and attribute these to my current employer…
Project managers with no sense of reality. “Seriously, do you own a calendar?”
Deadlines that are just pulled out of someone’s ass. “Why November 13th?” “Why not?” “It’s a Sunday.” “I don’t care, that’s the date I chose.” “I understand, you’re a dick.”
Colleagues that cook food that reeks in the office kitchenette. “What is that smell, garlic roasted lizard scrotum?”
Mandatory social events after hours. In fact, mandatory-anything contributes to my stress level.
When IT staff uses technical lingo for the sake of using technical lingo. “Stop creating acronyms to sound intelligent!”
People that use shared workspaces and leave it in a mess. “What did you do here – surgery?”
Individuals that swap out a defective office chair for mine.
Anyone involved with stocking office supplies. “Are you a time traveler from the past? A dozen three-hole punches? Three-ring binders? Ledger sheets? I need a binder maybe once every ten years. How about stocking some pens, paper, and maybe a thumb-drive?”
Technology people that blame problems on end-user ignorance. “It works fine, you’re just too stupid to use it or realize how great it really is.”
Any conversation about internally branding anything. “I could seriously go the rest of my life without hearing the word ‘branding.’
Project teams deliberately set up in five different global time zones. “Our team call is at 5am because we don’t own a globe or access the internet.”
Co-workers who schedule meetings without consideration for anything I have in my calendar. “You do see that I am not available in that time slot, don’t you—moron?”
Managers who make arbitrary decisions about people’s careers without discussing it with them. “I’m moving you to Dawn’s team – surprise!”
Leaders who reorganize more than twice a year. “You know, after fifteen of these, it might dawn on you that the problem isn’t how the team is structured – it’s the fact you keep shuffling them around that is the problem.”
Individuals that say, “You own your own career.”
People that only try and put a positive spin on things. “Some honesty would go a long way here.”
Any steering group. “That’s all I need, another group giving me conflicting directions…”
Budgeting. “I resent you asking me what I need, then cutting it by 34.8%. It’s not ironic, it’s irritating.”
Anyone asking for my feedback and ignoring it.
Smoking areas that are the entrance to buildings where we non-smoker’s must wade through.
People who think Sharepoint is a solution to any problem. “Sharepoint is the origin of many problems.”
People who ignore me when I say, “I wouldn’t do that shit if I were you…”
(This one is totally mine.) People who critique my business writing. I’m not perfect, but I’ve had a little bit more writing experience than you.
IFAC—Idiots from another company. Consultants or brand new employees who brag about knowing a great deal on a subject, but have no idea how your organization works. This makes their expertise less-than-useful.
Anyone exposing leadership to a buzzword/acronym program. Management is drawn to a buzzword program like vultures to dead possums. I still have scars from TQM in the 1990’s.
Anyone with unpredictable explosive temper. “Seriously, that was the thing that set you off?”
Any implemented improvement that makes it ten times worse.
Coworkers that take up smoking to avoid spending time at work.
Performance review discussions where we are going to talk about my career.
A mandatory meeting that doesn’t have to be mandatory at all.
Required learning with a test at the end that no human could pass. “Please pick the second least desirable or inaccurate response…”
People who are off sick, but posting images of themselves out having fun on Facebook. “Gee, you don’t look feverish at the amusement park.”
Processes put in place just to make a team seem more important than they are.
Team leaders who attempt to apply Agile or Six Sigma principles on teams that have no idea what they are talking about. “No one cares about your black belt. In fact, we may strangle you with it. We have a plan…”
Individuals that trash the office bathroom. “Seriously do you just throw paper on the floor at home? And what you did to the toilet could only be described with the phrase, ‘war crime.’”
Any theme day in the cafeteria. “I just want a hamburger for God’s sake. I don’t care that it is Festival of Bolivian Afternoon Snacks Day.”
Rules that only seem to apply to me.
Requests for feedback from people I barely know. “I don’t even remember you being on that project. In fact, who are you?”
People that invite the entire world to every conference call.
Managers that think learning, all by itself, is a solution to a managerial issue (or lack of leadership). “You presume that I am ignorant. I am not. I’m just ignoring you. Big difference.”
Skype for Business.
When someone asks for my opinion then spends an hour trying to tell me that I am wrong to have that opinion. “You lost me at the word ‘wrong’…”
Assigning me a task when I wasn’t even invited to the meeting. “Really? What if I say, ‘no’?”
Status reports for people who won’t or can’t read.
Contributing to any dashboard.
Namedroppers that think I care. “You’ve mentioned Bob’s name three times. I know who he is. I’m not just impressed with your argument.”
When someone randomly insists on using video conferencing and I’m wearing my Captain America tee-shirt at home. Honestly, I don’t even try and explain it anymore. One person asked me once, “what’s that you’re wearing?” My response: “My uniform. I fight crime starting at 5pm.”
Any PowerPoint slide that uses more than five conflicting graphic elements or is so confusing that it disrupts space-time one foot from the computer where it is being shown. “Go to the next slide – holy crap – you’re warping the space here in the conference room!”
Any solution involving, “throwing more bodies at it.” “You can’t put nine pregnant women in the room and have a baby in a month.”
Not starting meetings on time. “So, you don’t respect my time.”
Not ending meetings on time. “So, you don’t respect other people’s time too. What a douche!”
Scheduling a meeting for something that could have been handled in a short email.
Forced volunteer work aimed at making your organization seen more hip. “So, you want me to go and plant trees? So mental and emotional punishment isn’t enough, you want the physical kind too?”
Any business trip through Newark International Airport. “EWR’s Motto: We top 3% on-time arrivals and departures most months of the year!”
When my manager refers to me as “evil.” True story. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
Team building activities after hours. “If it is so important we all get along, why not do it during work hours?”
Anyone asking for a deliverable that requires time travel. “My time machine is for personal use, not because you can’t manage your project.”
Coworkers that, by default, assume everyone is more stupid than they are. “That sir, is my job!”
Fear and speculation of layoffs, RIF’s, right-sizing, people being made redundant, etc.
Any project that has a misleading code-name. Example: Streak, Lightning Bolt, Fast & Furious, Slam Dunk.
Anytime the company seeks to “improve” the employee benefits.
People that show up late to the meetings and stop the gathering so that they can be brought up to speed.
When a new technology tool is implemented that really doesn’t solve a problem.
When everything at work is a high priority or “Priority One.” “You do realize that when you do that, you’re not really setting priorities – right?”
Co-workers that text during meetings. “Put the fuc*ing phone away.”
When management says one thing and does another.
Email message addressed to everyone that should be addressed to a handful people.
People whose entire job is to enforce pointless rules.
People who take meeting calls from Starbucks or Panera. “Dude, I can hear the Barista in the background.”
Leaders who add requirements to a project three weeks before the unrealistic deadline. “You are not being ironic, you’re being an ass.”
Any crisis that isn’t. I learned how to identify real crisis’s early in my career. Apparently I am on my own in that regard.
When routine technology fails.
When someone assumes a level of ignorance on my part that isn’t there.
Security overkill. “Why do I have to change my password every two weeks?” “Why not? Are you hiding something?”
When a leader tries to force a new technology on you because they think it’s trendy.
The annual performance review process.
When management sends out a message to save money by cutting travel costs – while they are at an out-of-the-country meeting. “Clearly I am the problem…”
When I volunteer to do something and am told no. “Why did you ask for volunteers in the first place?”
Managers who get survey results and spend hours tearing them apart attempting to invalidate them or convince me that a low number is actually a good thing.
The battery on any device. “Crap – my Bluetooth just died.”
Weekend or late-night meetings.
Any meeting that kicks off with the person who called the meeting saying, “So why did I schedule this meeting?”
When that thing you have worked on for the last year of your life is cancelled three weeks before it was to be completed.
Anyone who says, “We don’t need to get the senior leaders on-board with this concept.”
When my routine business expense that I have submitted the same way a dozen times is rejected. “This is Einstein’s definition of insanity.”
People who misuse the word “risk.” “You keep using that word – I do not think it means what you think it means.”
When real life clashes with work life. Technically it is when work attempts to override my real life. “Oddly enough I do not live to work – I work to live.” In my case, couple this with, “My life outside of this place is infinitely more interesting and entertaining than this cubicle-padded mental hospital.”
Leaders that make up facts. “Our people are buried in surveys.” “Um, we do two a year. How exactly does that constitute buried?”
When the annual promotion list is put out. Three letters and a question mark sum up my reaction to at least 20% of promotions…WTF?
When individuals misuse the word “strategy.” “If you change it every six months, it isn’t strategic – it’s tactical.”
When someone ignores my expertise, experience, and skills because they perceive themselves as smarter. “You don’t want to go there and force me to explain why you are less-intelligent or experienced as I am.”
The cancellation of meetings with no notice – even worse when they are at 7am or earlier. “There is a special hell for you robbing me of 20 minutes of sleep. It is dark, deep and filled with evil…”
The annual goal setting ritual. “Light the candles and put on the robes…it’s time to make some stuff up.”
Watching someone else kiss butt with upper management. “Why don’t you two get a room?”
People with no sense of humor. If you made it this far, I think you qualify with having a sense of humor.
I’m sure you have some of your own – so add them to the comments list. And don’t forget to purchase my book – Business Rules.
When a team is tanking, the first place I look is not the team members, but the team leaders. Most team leaders look downward at their teams – and they are wrong. I have discovered a breed of incompetent leader out there. For lack of better words, the asshat leader. Probably with those two words I have conjured up images of several of your colleagues at work. Welcome to working in the 21st century.
Just to help you narrow the field, here are signs of an asshat leader:
The use cryptic methodologies (Six Sigma, BPR, matrix management, ITIL, or whatever acronym/fad de jour they mystically bond to) when the team members don’t use that methodology.
The asshat leader blames the failure of the team on the members not having the right attitude.
An asshat sells out team members to senior leadership as scapegoats for their own abysmal failure. “Welcome to the undercarriage of the bus!”
Asshats attempt to micromanage other professionals in their field of expertise.
Asshats don’t listen. This stems from not caring.
When documenting the team activities they do so as to shunt the blame to others. The asshat will never put their name to anything that is not viewed as stunningly successful. They have no issues with putting other people’s names to questionable work or output that might raise the ire of others.
In desperation, an asshat leader tries “teaming activities,” as a way to identify new targets of their abuse.
The asshat leader puts their name on other people’s work. Yes, if you lead a team, you contribute to the output – but the asshat assumes that the output of the team is due to their sheer and dazzling brilliance, and steals the credit from the others.
This type of leader assigns work according to how they operate, not what is most optimal for the team.
Asshats provide feedback that is inconsistent, not timely, not-actionable, or subject to the erratic neurons firing off inside their tiny little brains.
The asshat expects you to mimic their behavior – that their way of acting is the only one that is acceptable. Anyone whose personalities don’t mesh with theirs is potential target.
Asshats play favorites. The people that kowtow to them are their favored employees, the rest “just don’t get it yet.” It’s like 4th grade with that douchbag teacher that didn’t like you for no reason.
Asshats are focused on their next job, assignment, or promotion. They care little for their team and more about what’s in it for their career growth.
They exhibit paranoid behavior with anyone that doesn’t immediately obey their orders. Anyone that doesn’t “play ball” is painted as conspiring against them.
Asshat leaders talk about “Me” and “I” rather than “we.” The only time “we” comes up is if blame is leveled by senior leadership directly at the asshat in question.
The asshat will talk down to team members, as if they are the elementary school teacher in a classroom of “special needs” children. This comes from this brand of leader’s belief they are superior to everyone else. “I must be, I’m a leader!”
An asshat will ruin other people’s careers to preserve their own. While they never will acknowledge this behavior, it is their default setting when issues arise. They are infallible while the morons that work under them are grossly incompetent. Some even maintain a running list of team member’s personal and professional failings – like Nixon and his enemies list. Yes, they are so bad they are taking leadership lessons from Richard Fuc*ing Nixon.
Asshats are junkies for data that supports their inane reasoning. They live for spreadsheets, PowerPoint decks, etc., that validate their thinking – or can be twisted in some way to support their perception. The only data that they love more is whatever they can use against their team members to snap them back in-line. Data is the asshat’s Meth.
Asshats are not open to suggestions outside of what they want to hear. You are more or less expected to tell them only what they want or good news. The harbinger of bad news or data that doesn’t fit their expectations is ridiculed and immediately painted a target.
The asshat does not demonstrate professional respect to those on their team.
Asshats don’t respect other people’s time. They schedule meetings at weird hours, and invite people who don’t need to be there, because of what they want, not what the team needs.
The asshat leader does not illicit the requirements for success from the team but dictates them.
Asshats are aggressive to hide their insecurities. In fact most will claim to have strong skills in the very areas where they are weakest.
Asshats are never wrong…well, they never admit to being wrong. Where a good leader owes up to mistakes and moves on, the asshat leader levels blame and fault at others.
These “leaders” spend most of their efforts and energy managing up, rather than leading those below them.
They don’t acknowledge the successes of those on their team. The only successes that matter are those that they claim as their sole effort.
An asshat will favor an under-performer/achiever who behaves the way they want, over a productive team member who chaffs at their management “style.”
They are prone to temper tantrums. Yes, it’s immature, but they do it. They confuse these tantrums with leading the team.
Asshats rely on bullying tactics to get work done. Asshats never see themselves as schoolyard bullies, but they are.
When cornered, the asshat leader will lie to save their own worthless skin.
An asshat will find a high level leader/sponsor and whisper in their ear the failings of everyone on their team, rather than extoll their team members successes. This senior leader needs to be easily manipulated or focused only on the results, not the body count along the way, for the asshat to have what they need for success.
Asshats play team members off of each other rather than attempt to bring the team together.
An asshat leader generates unreasonable expectations of the team.
The asshat leader circumvents official employee performance mechanisms to implement their own.
An asshat sees team members often as inferior children and treats them as such.
When faced with resistance, the asshat leader will seek to replace team members with those that are more pliable to their evil whims.
An asshat leader will not change their style to fit the team and the objectives. They know best, so why change?
Usually the asshat has a string of failures in their past but has somehow managed to convince leadership that it wasn’t their fault.
The asshat never allows people to demonstrate what they can do. Instead they dictate and dominate.
Asshat leaders have egos that must be constantly fed from the crushed souls they leave in their wake.
Upper management often sees asshat leaders as “results oriented,” or, “driven.” They overlook the emotional and long-term repercussions of the asshat’s actions for tangible output.
An asshat is more worried about their career than they are about their current project. Everything they do is framed around how this work might reflect on them long term…”Will this prevent me from getting that promotion?”
Asshat’s always have a few weak-minded individuals that kiss their ass to ride their coattails. These minions often lack a will, mind, or heart of their own.
Beating the Asshats At Their Own Game
First – study the list. Know your enemy. Understanding the asshat in its natural state is critical to your sanity and well-being as well. Understanding how the asshat leader reacts and behaves will actually give you an upper hand in dealing with them. You’re welcome!
You’ll be tempted to ask to not work on the team. Remember, the asshat leader manages up and your attempt to bail on the project is going to be reflected to senior leadership as validation that you were part of the problem with the team. Running from bullies rarely works. I can also tell you that battling bullies also rarely works either. As my grandfather used to say, you don’t wrestle with the sow – you both get dirty and the pig likes it.
So how do you beat an asshat leader at their own game? First, you refuse to play that game. This isn’t about beating the asshat (though that has a great seductive appeal). This is about manipulating the asshat to do what is right. While I know you were hoping to savor some sort of sweet victory, with the asshat’s head under the heel of your boot; you’ll have to settle for something less-Deadpool-ish.
Asshat leaders are ego-centric…it’s all about them; their desires; their petty little feelings; their career aspirations. Going to battle with them plays right into what they seek – identification of resistance leaders. If you want to take them on in a straight-up battle, you simply paint a target on yourself and it makes your efforts, however morally correct, the focus of their unrelenting abuse.
You have to take that ego and use it to your advantage. You need to position yourself positively with the asshat leader. You want to make sure they and the project are successful. That’s the message that must be conveyed. You’re not the valiant leader of the resistance movement against them, you are a trusted ally. You may need to play to their ego from time-to-time. “I know you’ve had more experience than me doing this, I really am curious, what do you think about Z?” Yes, you will throw up a little in the back of your mouth each time you do it – but suck it up.
This is hard to do – trust me, I know. You have to walk a fine line so you are not ratting out your co-workers and team members. You have to always frame issues you raise as, “I’m telling this to you only because I want this project to be successful.” The asshat is used to minions trying to ride their coattails – and they love it. They will see you as a possible minion and eventually will confide in you. They will see you as being on their side (against everyone else). That’s how you have to play it with an asshat.
This does not mean that you should become a mindless minion in their thrall. You need to become a conduit for them to obtain information. Remember, asshats are information addicts. If you can, position yourself to be one of the places they turn for data. This can put you in a strong position to sway the decisions since you have to be there when they get the information they are so addicted to. Example: “I did a quick survey of the team and they seem to want information about X.” “Who said that? They don’t need that?” “Well, the survey was anonymous but the information is useful to you. If we could provide them with some of the less-sensitive information about X, that should allow you to hit the deadlines you’ve been asking for without any excuses on the team members parts.”
Controlling the data flow that goes to the asshat, or manipulating it, gives you the ability to control them. Often times they are so hooked on information that they overlook the motivation of the person giving it to them. As long as what you do is for the betterment of the project or the team, it can be wedged into your moral framework. You see, you’re there to guide them on this journey to a successful project.
Which brings up another good point – how you communicate with the asshat. You have every reason to hate these idiots and to minimize your contact with them. In fact, you’ll prefer to send emails as to meeting with them. Sorry, but you have to do the exact opposite. You need to make sure you have live meetings with them (virtual or otherwise). You need to be there to control how information is interpreted. Avoid sending emails or things that can be held against you in some way. Besides, if you’re going to stay in the good graces of the asshat (which you have to do) live interactions are best.
Asshats will try and manipulate you against the others on the project. They will “confide” in you about others. They are doing the same thing with others, talking about you. Let it go. Sometimes what you can do is be a buffer between the asshat leader and their victim. “Why don’t I pull Bob aside and see if I can get to his motivation for speaking out in the meeting.” It’s a shitty role to play, but by being that filter, you save people from frustration and the low morale that could impact the project. (I didn’t say that this was going to be easy…)
Another role you can adopt is that of cheerleader. With asshats, it’s all about them. A cheerleader function is one where you make sure that the asshat acknowledges the contribution of others. You can do this off-line of big meetings. “You know, if might be good to let Mary know in a short message that she did a great job.” Asshats will never think of this kind of positive reinforcement on their own, since they are the known centers of the universe. In other words, you are that person that is the conscious (which they lack), that can remind them to do what is right. You are that person whispering in their ear, “Remember thou art mortal.”
Get a network together for support. There are mental and moral burdens heaped on you when you work for asshats. You need a safe person or persons you can vent to, bounce ideas off of, or just ask, “Am I freaking nuts?” A support network of friends and colleagues who can identify with your plight and at least validate what you are going through is important for your own mental state of mind. If nothing else, they can testify for you at your trial if/when you lose it and kill the asshat in question. “Your honor, that woman tortured my friend on a daily basis – she deserved decapitation.” Legal disclaimer – As a member of the Corporate Overlords I cannot condone acts of violence in the workplace. They are wrong. Especially if you don’t film them (wink).
Ultimately working with an asshat leader is something we all do at one point or another. Eventually they move on, get promoted (what in the fu*k is with that?) or are exposed for the corporate frauds that they are. Patience is critical, and a good thick skin to deflect the slings and arrows of the asshat’s attempts to consume your soul.
A part of me is a little embarrassed to post this. I realized however that there are probably others like me that have been treated horribly at work. It’s rarely physical – but a form of psychological warfare that ignorant, weak-minded managers use to intimidate others in the name of achieving their goals.
I used to believe that workplace bullying was mythical, the product of overly sensitive individuals attempting to file lawsuits to profit from their employers. Then it happened to me. I admit, it took me a while to define what was happening. I had been bullied as a kid but to experience it as an adult was something entirely different. When I was a kid the bullies were more defined, more blatant. In the workplace it is more of an issue of abusive torment.
My abuser was female, which made it all the more emasculating at the time. Having only been bullied by males in my life it never dawned on me that a female might exhibit such behavior. (In fairness, I only assume she was a female – it was hard after a while to think of her that way, let alone human.)
This contemptible harpy-from-the-infernal reaches didn’t just mess with me, she unleashed a never-ending barrage of abuse and degradation on most of the members of her team. Demeaning others was her drug of choice and she was more addicted than any Meth dealer ever was. She threatened me, my job, my co-workers, and in turn, my family and career. She did it for grins…I think she wallowed in others anguish. Her sick, twisted mind-games filled my days and destroyed my sleep. This satanic-demonspawn-summoned-from-the-Ninth-Plane-of-Hell reveled in my misery and sought to make me want to leave my job so that she could simply bring aboard one of her faceless/spineless minions.
I know, you think I’m exaggerating or joking around; I’m not. On almost every level conceivable, this individual personified and embodied Workplace Evil. She was not just abusive, she was sinister and threatening. That was how she “motivated” her team. She was like a female Lex Luthor and Loki rolled together. This witch tried to play off people who had worked together for years, just for grins. Her depth of psychological warfare made water-boarding appear benign as a stroll in the park. Our counterterrorism folks could learn a great deal from her as a case study.
Her place in the corporate food chain was all that mattered. Position, power, dominance, authority…these were what she fed upon and drove her actions. The depth of her deformed insecurities boggles my mind. She didn’t see people in shades of gray, only black and white. You were either a pawn for her to use, or were a target for her to minimize or eliminate. I have no doubt that she kept a list of people with little coded check-marks next to the names. Like Richard Nixon, I’m sure she maintained an enemies list and I am sure I was pretty high up on it.
I have had a career (outside of my writing) and I’m proud of. I have done some remarkable things and met some fantastic leaders along the way. In the months we worked together she shattered (and stomped on) my confidence and belief in myself out of the pure thrill of the cruelty she inflicted. The CIA should have used this crazy witch as a means of torturing others at GITMO.
As you may have guessed, she’s left me with some pretty deep emotional scars.
There were physical problems too. I broke out in pimples for the first time in decades. I got hives for no reason. Sleep? Forget that. I tossed and turned for months. I started working longer hours, on weekends, foolishly thinking that would help. This hell-spawned succubus ripped my life apart.
Friends and colleagues told me to go and get another job and I did go on a few interviews. Ultimately I hated that. Why should I leave a place I have worked for decades at; a place where I have great friends and have accomplished many things I’m proud of? Why should I screw up my retirement and alter my career for someone I loathed? I hadn’t done a damned thing wrong. Why should I do what she wants me to do? I refused to walk away because that’s exactly what she wanted. Her lust for power over me would have been complete. No – this was going to be a bloody fight to the bitter end.
I prevailed. An important lesson she never mastered: Never screw with someone who has a Masters in Human Resource Administration who is willing to go the distance. I had nothing to lose, and you never want me in that kind of mental state because I become fucking dangerous. I knew the law, the policies, and had our organization’s values as my shield. I documented every twist of the knives stuck in my back. I informed senior leadership (something that I felt I was risking my career doing) and HR. I made it clear, I would not go down without a fight. It took long months but eventually matters were set straight. My organization did what was right.
There was no parade. No apologies. Just a return to the work that I used to enjoy doing.
That doesn’t mean I don’t bear the mental and emotional scars of the battle. A month doesn’t go by where I don’t have some sort of anxiety attack as a result of her prolonged abuse. The moments are less frequent over time and are triggered by little things. Usually after them I realize what happened, why suddenly I was gasping for breath and unable to control myself. She is dead to me, but her evil poltergeist still occasionally rips through my psyche. In some ways it mirrors PTSD, but I struggle to adopt that label out of respect for men and women that have faced battlefield conditions. I don’t want to be thought of as a victim, I want to be remembered as a survivor, a person that fought the good-fight and won. Yet I struggle through those times when my anxiety flairs, straining to get back in mental control. I hide it from most people pretty well, mask it with an awkward joke or two.
I learned that beating a workplace bully comes with a price. While I vowed I would never let some other bully pull this kind of shit with me again, I knew that every such conflict was going to take a piece of my soul. I promised myself I would fight the good fight, but that mantra means I have to wade into battle now and then.
I found that a lot of people out there face the same things I did. When I was girding my loins for battle with this black-hearted succubus. I prepared a list of things that helped me maintain focus. (I toyed with putting them to music like a Gregorian chant, but let that slide for the benefit of mankind). When things got darkest, I would pull up this list and use it to galvanize my thoughts and calm. I thought I’d share it with everyone out there that has faced workplace bullying.
I am the target of a workplace bully.
This is not something I caused or invited.
The person abuses me uses intimidation and threatens my job to demonstrate his/her power and control over me.
This person’s own deep-seated insecurities and inadequacies are reflected in his/her verbal and mental abuse.
This person is not just threatening me but my family since I am their provider. I must be strong for them.
This person gives me contradictory feedback and directions that set me up to fail. I know to watch for it, and document it.
This person uses misleading questions to test me rather than educate me.
Ultimately, I believe he/she hopes that I simply kowtow to her or leave the organization. I will not grant him/her that satisfaction.
He/She will not beat me. I cannot be defeated unless I allow it.
I will document his/her attacks and my responses without emotion – keeping to just the facts.
I believe in myself.
This is not about brains or expertise but is about professionalism. I AM more professional than him/her.
I have a proven track record both as an individual and a manager. It is my sword in this struggle, my weapon in battle.
I cannot out produce him/her to make this make this go away. If I worked 24×7 he/she would still find fault with me and torment me for his/her own sick satisfaction.
I have fostered a network of people to encourage and support me on those days when he/she has pummeled and abused me.
I have let others know what he/she is doing so that, should I waver, I will not be the lone voice against my abuser.
I have contacted others he/she is bullying and am there to support them.
I provide value to the organization each day I work here.
I have the values of the organization on my side. Her behavior is against those values. They are my shield against her attacks.
I have let leadership know there is a problem and I trust that leadership will do the right thing. This is my armor.
He/She will attempt retribution – I will fight not bow to intimidation.
I will maintain my stand on the moral high-ground. I’m not doing anything wrong and don’t deserve this.
I do not want her to be defeated – I want the negative unproductive behavior to change.
I recognize that the issues with a bully extend beyond the workplace. His/Her issues are not me or our team but deep-rooted in his/her persona and psyche.
I will recognize verbal traps and do what I can to avoid them.
I am the master of my emotions. I will not give her the satisfaction of making me react.
Time is my ally.
He/She will never see herself as being in-the-wrong. He/She will never offer a sincere apology for her words and actions and I will not seek one from him/her. I will not waste time hoping for him/her to realize the errors of her ways.
I will not respond to abuse when I am weakest — when he/she’ is unleashing her abuse on me.
This person does not care about our corporate culture or our history – they are Machiavellian in their actions…believing that the ends justifies the means. I will not corrupt my organization’s culture to make things easier for this person.
This individual will lie and deceive to advance their cause. I will rely on the truth.
He/She can only win if I let him/her win. I will not do this.
I decided after several years now, to publish this. It’s my hope that it helps others out there that have dealt with workplace bullying. To my virtual colleagues that are facing these issues, you are not alone – you will prevail.
This all started with a simple question: What if organizations were designed using real-life descriptions of their activities?
When I was working on my master’s degree I loved my course on organizational design and form. It’s part science, part art, a dash of common sense, and all office politics. In other words, it’s challenging and unrewarding all at the same time. In my job I have helped mange a LOT of reorganization efforts over the years. It’s one of those competencies that is useful to know but a bit of a buzz-kill at a party. “Yeah, I do reorganizations…” Watch the people flee.
I started to wonder, just for grins, what if we named organizations after what they were really known for? Example: Information Technology Security in many organization would be known as “The Department of No” since that is what they usually say way you ask for something. It’s their job to say “no.”
I have formulated some of the more humorous ones I’ve considered using over the years into the list below, for your amusement. Any attempt to link these to my current organization would be pure folly on your part because most of these come from previous employers (you know who you are!) These are purely for fun – so enjoy!
Oh, if you enjoy these, check out my book, Business Rules or Cubicle Warfare. I am required by a lack of discretion to shamelessly plug my books on corporate culture. Go buy them both on Amazon.com!
The Underachievers. This is often confused with The Unaccountables. These teams usually sit near each other and share staff.
The Limitless Travel Budget Group – aka The Miles for Points Team. You know them, they are always going to meetings in other cities/countries/galaxies.
The Agency of Scheduling Meetings at Inconvenient Hours. This group works eight hour days, just not aligned to your twelve hour days. That’s okay, you can flex your calendar. You didn’t need a private life anyway.
Team Humorless. These guys/gals are already posting that this blog entry is stupid and they are going to turn me in for ratting them out.
The Team of Perpetual Planners. These folks wallpaper their offices with MS Project output. They often don’t provide any real help or guidance on a project, but they do produce a highly complex project plan which generates the illusion of organization…so I guess that counts.
The Lost Boys/Girls. These aren’t vampires (well I don’t THINK their vampires) but rather a cobbled together department/group made up of people with uniquely specialized and unrelated skills. They are refugees and survivors of dozens of other reorg efforts. Sometimes we call these folks The Terminally Disenfranchised Cluster.
The “Point the finger at the other guys” Services Team. This group usually doesn’t actually produce anything other than blame.
Professional Bootlickers League. “Gosh, have you lost weight? What a nice dress!”
The Easily Distracted. You can spot them in a group easily. Hold out your keys and jingle them. The people that stare at your keys…they work in this group.
The Department of PowerPoint Enthusiasts. This is often confused with the Department of Amazingly Beautiful But Workless Graphic Image Creators.
The Departmental Scape Goats Unit. I worked in this department once – it sucked.
Team Just on the Verge of Going Postal – Kick a dog enough, you’ll get bitten. Never sit this team near the emergency exits, it prevents your fleeing when the inevitable happens.
The Department of the Obliviously Ignorant. Why do these folks seem to attract each other? It’s like some sort of weird stupidity gravity.
The Reason We Can’t Have Nice Things. Your mom warned you about these folks.
Instigators Anonymous. Author’s note: I’m a founding member of this elite team!
Virtually Unavailable. Everything relies on their approval and they are never around.
“Special Projects” This is a favorite of mine. It’s the place they put people who have failed just enough to where we can’t fire them, but it’s recognized that they don’t quite perform. They get their own special short yellow bus.
The Analysis Paralysis Team. Their motto: “We can’t come up with a motto until we get more data…”
The Department of Abused Children and Animal Torturers. I was going to go with Future Serial Killers, but I think that’s implied with this group.
The Trending Worthless Data Office– aka Dashboards Anonymous
Intangible Methods in Motion Team. These folks have a process for everything. They are worthless processes with no basis in reality – but they have them.
The Operationally Dysfunctional…Too weird to promote, just productive enough to avoid being fired. In fact – that’s their motto (they have tee-shirts with that on it.)
The League of Approvers of Other People’s Work. This is a great group to work for because it doesn’t produce anything but generates the illusion of work.
The Disinformation League. Also referred to as the Miscommunications Group or The Propaganda Ministry.
The Regionally Arranged Geographic Team Based on a Map on the Back of a Placemat at IHOP Department. Also known as the Terminally Geographically Challenged Team. Who knew that Brazil was in the same geographic team as Vietnam?
The Party Planners Group. They are responsible for an average of 2.3 cakes left in the break room every month. The Trending Worthless Data Department has charts to prove it!
Anonymous Old Farts (AOF) aka The Graybeards. Don’t mess with these guys, they know where the bodies are buried…BECAUSE THEY BURIED THEM THERE…
The Branch of Things Beginning in the Letter E. This one is from my current employer, because for years we named everything technological starting with the letter E. Now we use the word “One” as the prefix to stuff we deploy. Go figure.
The Perpetual Whiners and Moaners Work Cluster. Their first reaction to this department title is to complain that it doesn’t actually describe them.
The Psycho-Hose Beast Directorate. I don’t have a description for this group – but I just liked the sound of their name. Go figure.
The Station of Teflon Career Management. Not to be confused with The Workgroup with Dirt on Other Team Leaders, though they often have a dotted line to each other.
The Team of Semi-Reformed Stoners. They would complain about this blog post, but it would require getting up and their chairs are very comfortable.
Dip Sticks Who Live At the Office (also known as the Department of Far Too Many Plants and Crap In Your Offices)
The Island of Misfit Toys – a group on an org chart that is cobbled together of random people that no one knows where else they belong, so they are lumped together.
The Team of Crushed Souls.
The Directorate of Moron Control. Hey, someone’s got to do it.
The Abused Children. Survivors of every horrible manager and previous reorganization. They have been so battered, so horribly career-abused, they are immune to just about everything. Also known as the Branch of The Walking Dead and The Survivors/Refugees of Six Previous Reorganizations
Q-Level Division. Not quite a C-Level Executive, Q-Level sounds very impressive and has a hint of James Bond to it, don’t you think? These folks have all the new tech toys when the rest of us work with an abacus.
The Commission of Administrative Black Hole Ops. Things go in, nothing ever comes out.
The Department of Future Lawsuits (This comes from my time at one of the big three auto companies where all of the individuals who were HR nightmares ended up working in the same department, for manager who was generating more grievances then work at the time. HR must have thought it was easier to have all of these folks on the same team.)
The 10-3 Team (this reflects their actual hours of work) We all know the team I’m talking about (ever organization has one) where we rarely see them or when we do, they are working for roughly three hours a day then they pack up and head home. What’s up with that?
The Department of Stall Tactics and Obstructionism (Why oh why do these people seem to gather in one group on every org chart?)
The Department of Dark Side Operations. Usually this is named after one particular manager who is ruthless, mostly-evil, and someone who is known to annihilate his opposition. His team are blindly following minions who do his bidding.
The Bureau of Open Arrogance. You can always look smart when you stand next to people that aren’t. That doesn’t make you smart, just less-stupid.
So the next time you are doing a reorg, feel free to pick organizational titles from the list above.
Cubicle Warfare, the breakthrough book on office politics, is now available on Kindle format for the first time ever! This book was a game-changer for me. It was my first true bestseller, in the days before Amazon.com dominating the bestseller lists. I did a large number of television and radio interviews about the book – getting to meet Bill O’Reilly and a host of others. Why all of the attention? Well, let’s face it, office politics is a highly sensitive subject that all of us have had to cope with at one point or another. Cubicle Warfare was the first book that took on the subject.
I have to admit, I enjoyed the publicity, though I found myself being the unofficial speaker on a subject that people loathed. Fast Company did an interview with me – making me something of an expert on workplace culture. I realized then that writing wry humor about the workplace, and being blunt about what really happened in offices was something that people wanted to read. If nothing else then to confirm they are not alone. I have long-suspected that writing the book hindered my professional career, but that is more paranoia than reality. I pitied my boss (just a little) each time I was on the TV talking about backstabbing at work.
The book has never been available in digital format until now. I had to update remarkably little in the book. As it turns out, office politics is a timeless subject. I did make some updates in this new edition to make it a little more current – factoring in some changes in technology like webcams.
Social networking, for better or worse, is here for the next few years. I saw a poll last week that indicated that access to social networking tools from work (in the UK) was considered a “right” and would influence a young-person’s decision to work at a company. I have no doubt that younger American employees feel the same way.
Organizations can smell this desire and of course want to harness this for purely evil purposes, that is to say, work. So, one of the latest trends in the past few years is for companies to attempt to capture the experience of social networking at work. This is not intended for anything social as it is another guise for “collaboration.” These behind-the-firewall social networking tools are deployed with the hopes that people will invest the same time, effort, energy, and enthusiasm they show for applications like Facebook or Twitter only at work – about work. It’s an insidious concept, slightly evil, so I respect it. “Maybe if we put up a tool that looks and smells like Facebook, they’ll use it to get work done!”
Or not. Realistically most of these efforts fail. There’s a few reasons for this:
1. People go to social networking sites to get away from the real world and work. The moment you try and make social networking an aspect of work, it ceases to be “getting away.” Most of us talk about work around 8-12 hours a day as it is. Many don’t want to squeeze in posting about it.
2. Organizations struggle with the freedom that social networks offer. Let’s be honest, any idiot can post just about anything up on social networking sites – and they often do. Move that into a corporate environment and you run into problems. Companies only want certain things on their private social networks. They hire people to monitor (snoop) and curtain activities they deem non-productive (or worse). Suddenly there’s the feeling that Big Brother is out there, so employees begin to avoid the company-sponsored social networking site.
3. Few people understand how they can use social networking at work, to get work done. It’s a confusing concept and without some guidance that makes sense, it is often seen as just another tool that none of us have time for. Most people have at least a dozen software tools/applications they have to utilize to get work done. Toss in one more optional tool, and well, it gets ignored.
4. In public sites, people get to choose who they are connected with. On work-based social networking sites, you are forcibly connected to your peers and colleagues. Let’s face it, a lot of them are not your friends. Like most people, you are unsure just how much of what you should share with these people.
5. The office is a competitive environment. On Facebook, people can post garbage (like this blog entry). You can look at the 236 photos of Bob’s pet cat dressed as various superheroes, or you can ignore them. No harm is done. But at work, you are in competition with others for raises, bonuses, promotions, positions, etc.. This drives a certain amount of self-editing and inhibits sharing. Why should I share my shortcut process with you, when you might use it to get a promotion? Yeah, we don’t talk about the competition, but it is out there.
The bottom line is this – social networking is a tough nut to crack in the workplace. Often times it is not worth the time, effort, or consideration. If you don’t have a clearly defined strategy, good goals and guidelines around usage, and the willingness to let employees be free with their posts – it is probably not a strategy worth pursuing.
Interested in more? Check out my book, Business Rules.