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HUMAN RESOURCES

5 people problems and how to solve them

By Lynne Curry bio

We can’t guess all the challenges facing us as office managers in this new year, but we can assume that we will be dealing with an old one: people and their personalities. Whether working together virtually or in-person, chances are good you will be dealing with people problems. Here are five common problems and strategies for dealing with them.

  1. Stopping a bully senior manager without losing your job

Question:

I face a situation that has no easy answer and no easy solution. As the office manager and human resources director, I supposedly enforce our corporation’s code of conduct and oversee the human resource issues. I report to the report to the chief operating officer, a bully who runs roughshod over any employee unlucky enough to cross his path.

If I keep my mouth shut, I turn a blind eye to what he’s doing, but he’s my boss and, according to the five senior partners above him, a “leader who gets results.” Can bullies change their ways, even when they’re on top of the organization pyramid?

Answer:

Bullies can change—though often they won’t.

Bullies can turn on or off bullying behavior. In many organizations, bullies kiss up and kick down, presenting a charming, often subservient facade to senior managers and displaying attacking or intimidating behavior toward peers. In some marriages, a bully abuses his spouse, yet treats his children well.

Bullies don’t bully those who gratify their egos, who can give them something they want or help them succeed or those who are extensions of the bully, such as their children. In other words, bullies choose who and when to bully.

You can’t expect a bully to change his ways of his own volition. What bullies do works for them, though not for others. If you turn a blind eye to the bully’s behavior or wait for a bully to change, you give up all power to the bully.

Senior management has the power to convince a bully to change when they say, “We value you as a hard-charging manager, but we won’t let you cost us other key professionals or stomp on our code of conduct.”

By making a business case that bullies actually reduce bottom-line productivity and create higher turnover, HR professionals can convince an organization’s leaders to step in. This isn’t easy. Although bullies damage morale and productivity in the long run, many bullies produce great short-term results. This leads some senior executives to embrace bullies as bottom line-oriented taskmasters, claiming, “Say what you will, they get results.”

Your strategy: Use two tools to convince your organization’s leaders that your COO has correctable flaws.

First, exit interview your predecessor and any professionals who directly reported to the COO and recently left the company. Many individuals willingly put candid, critical information on the record once they’ve secured solid positions with other employers. By collecting and presenting this information, you may shock your senior managers into realizing they need to take action.

Second, talk your COO and partners into the benefits of a 360-degree review. They might find the 360-review process intriguing—a company’s leaders are often curious about how those under them view them. Further, those in high positions and particularly bullies believe those under them will praise them because they’ve managed for years to intimidate anyone who might offer negative feedback.

In the past several years, I’ve used 360-degree reviews to assist three organizations to address highly placed bullies who produced great results—on the surface. In two instances, the organization’s chief executive officer contacted me because of “confusing” information received from the organization’s human resources officer or other trusted professionals.

A 360-degree review surveys seven to 11 individuals about a manager or professional and asks questions such as, “How would you describe this individual as a leader?” and, “What can you tell me about how this person handles conflict and those with beliefs other than his own?” In both cases, the neutrally compiled responses stunned the CEO.

In the third instance, a CEO and attorney contacted me after 13 women in an organization signed a petition documenting a senior manager’s problematic actions which had crossed the line into sexual discrimination and harassment. They sought a 360-degree review to learn whether the problem situation was resolvable.

In each case the 360-degree review documented the collateral damage the bully wreaked. In all three cases, the CEO asked me to work with their Darth Vader and send them back a kinder, gentler Darth. Each bully, presented with incontrovertible feedback, realized he had only one option: change. All did.

Here’s what I learned. None of these bullies initially believed they needed to change. Bullies, however, operate according to a risk/benefit ratio. If you can convince a bully they risk more than they win by bullying, they may choose to stop—or leave for a more bully-friendly environment.

None of the bullies knew how to change. Each had learned in childhood how to push others’ emotional hot buttons, with fear, guilt and intimidation, until their targets gave them what they desired. They didn’t know non-bullying strategies to get what they want. When presented with proof that they needed to make a 180-degree change and learn new skills, they stopped bullying.

Can bullies change? You have only to look at the evidence of bullies you know who kiss up and kick down to realize that bullies choose who and when to bully. If you want your COO to change, work with your organization’s senior management and convince them to give your bully an ultimatum.

  1. Find your bully’s weak spot

He’s smug, arrogant and has bullied you for months. Before you he bullied a string of good people, each who had the good sense to quit before he destroyed their work lives.

You’ve thought about quitting but don’t want to. That leaves you one option. You need to know how you can take him down before he takes you out.

Here’s what you need to know: Bullying rests on psychological power. Bullying causes psychological harm to the target and those who witness it but feel powerless to intervene. Those targeted feel their bully has all power and they have none.

That isn’t true—every bully has an Achilles Heel. For example, narcissist bullies can’t take criticism and when you criticize them, they lose their cool and react. Angry, aggressive bullies thrive when others fear them but often back down when others stand up to them in the right way. Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde bullies maintain their power by hoodwinking the managers above them as they kiss up and claw down, but their façade can wear thin. And bullies of all stripes forget that while they rule the world in their workplace, they don’t rule the outer world, where employees have legal protection. When bullies cross the line through criminal assault or by attacking their targets in legally protected areas, such as discrimination against age, race or sex or in the exercise of protected rights such as safety, they hand ammunition to their targets.

That’s what happened in Raess v. Doescher when an employee sued a doctor at an Indianapolis hospital for assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress after the doctor aggressively approached the employee with fists clenched, screaming and cursing. The employee won $325,000 when the trial court refused to instruct the jury that there is no “workplace bullying” and the jury decided there was such a thing.

Or in Hahn v. Davidson when a Dallas jury awarded a nurse $348,889 against the physician who bullied her—along with a $1.08 million verdict against the physician and his medical practice for sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and retaliation.

At trial, Nurse Hahn described a hostile, threatening work environment and told the jury how she’d sought help from her organization by filing a complaint with the practice’s human resources manager. After that, the physician called her into his office after business hours to prove he hadn’t screamed by demonstrating to her and an office manager what screaming was.

When Hahn then protested to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the practice fired her. Left with no workplace recourse, the nurse filed a lawsuit alleging assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and retaliation. Hours before the jury announced its verdict, the Clinic settled with Hahn, paying her $440,000.

Your job? Collect ammunition while you keep your cool. Your bully can’t smile smugly if you guard yourself and give him the sense that the punches he wants to land go nowhere. By rattling his cage, you increase the chance he’ll react and make mistakes, potentially big enough ones to catch the attention of the managers above you.

  1. Don’t let pessimists who take your energy down

Pessimists come at you with negative words such as “You’re wasting your time” or “That will never work.” If you’re not careful, this onslaught can snuff out your enthusiasm, leading you to give up on ideas, adventures or opportunities that might power your career or work life forward. Here’s how to avoid letting a pessimist’s negativity drain your optimism.

Plug the drain

Negativity can be contagious. If you work with a pessimist, remember that they don’t see the whole picture, but instead focus on what’s wrong and anticipate the worst. As Oscar Wilde once said, a pessimist complains about the noise when opportunities knock.

If you work alongside a relentless pessimist, don’t tie yourself in knots trying to persuade him things are better than he thinks, just get to work and let the results you achieve do the talking.

Don’t give pessimists excess power

Don’t let the pessimism in another person awaken the pessimist in you. Once you’ve heard what a pessimist says, remember that pessimists rarely accomplish anything. Instead, focus on what you believe in, what’s going right and what you’d like to make happen. Remember what’s important and why it’s important and let the outcome you want to achieve inspire you, and ultimately others.

Seize the value

Don’t so overreact to a pessimist’s aggressive negativity that you shut your ears to the value her comments offer. A pessimist might speak the truth that you don’t want to hear or see but need to. If NASA had listened to those who warned that the Space Shuttle Columbia wasn’t ready, the seven astronauts who perished would still live.

If you strip off the outside negativity that cloaks a pessimist’s concerns, you might learn you’ve made false assumptions or need to revise your game plan.

Forgive them

Few pessimists realize the negative effect they have on others; they’re just sharing their worldview. Many have become pessimistic because they’ve been knocked down once too often, been passed over for a promotion without understanding why, or feel safer pointing out what’s wrong because so little in their life is right. Train yourself to differentiate between their draining comments and behavior and the insecure persons they are underneath. Don’t, however, feel you need to fix them or their thinking. You’re not responsible for their negativity nor do you need to turn them into an optimist.

If you’re the manager

If you’re the manager of a team hobbled by a pessimist, don’t let their negative comments linger or to go unaddressed. Negativity can kill a team’s momentum and team member motivation. Instead, ask the pessimist to clarify what her comments mean and listen to her. Once you’ve heard her out, ask “What can we do to make sure that this works?” or to come up with a better alternative to the strategy she has panned. In other words, pull her from her nay-saying bystander position and invite her to join the team.

You may be able to learn

Finally, if you’ve tried all of the above and there’s a pessimist in your work life who continues to drain you, ask yourself “how come I let this person impact me so severely?” You learn a lot by analyzing the feelings another inspires in you. Perhaps you’re not as sure of yourself or your ideas as you’d like to be and this person senses that and nips at your insecurity. Maybe you expect everyone to climb on the bandwagon when that’s asking a lot from those who don’t instinctively agree with you. Once you identify why other’s pessimism bothers you, you dismantle its power over you.

  1. He’s just not into you

The problem is he’s your boss, not a guy you’re dating or a friend with whom your relationship has faded. If he was a guy or friend, you could date or befriend someone else. But when the person who doesn’t connect with or even like you is your boss and you want to keep your job, you can’t run or hide. You need to fix the problem—if and that’s a big if, you’re reading the situation correctly.

While the signs your boss doesn’t care for you may be subtle, the seven actions below signal major trouble.

  • Your boss micro-manages you and only you.
  • Your boss demonstrates indifference to your professional growth by never giving you mentoring guidance.
  • Your boss treats you poorly, occasionally publicly shaming you, and you’re the only employee subjected to negative behavior from him.
  • Your boss never asks your opinion. Instead, he loses patience when you’re talking and ignores your views when you voice them. He shuts down every idea you pitch.
  • You’re left out of key decisions integral to your sphere of influence.
  • Your boss avoids you, while you notice he talks with your coworkers about their kids or hobbies.
  • Your boss gives off negative body language, such as eyebrow raises or eye rolls, when you speak or are around.

Any of the above may signal a problem boss and you can document the situation and route it to HR. However, if you choose not to and intend staying in your job, try the following.

Examine yourself

Decide if you create part of the problem. If your boss micro-manages you and not others, ask yourself if your work habits and performance have led him to do so. Before you complain that your boss talks with coworkers about their hobbies or kids, ask yourself if you’ve ever initiated informal interaction with him. If your boss appears indifferent to your professional growth by never offering you feedback, think back to the last time he gave you constructive criticism. Did you listen or respond with defensiveness?

Notice whom and what your boss values

Do you work alongside a peer your boss favors, who gets all the choice assignments or is given other perks? While you can speak up and demand equal treatment, you might get further by observing how she handles her job or interacts with your boss. No one said a boss can’t have more than one favorite. When you strategically assess your boss’s favorites to see what they do, you can emulate the behaviors you feel comfortable with. For example, if your peer or boss works more than a standard 40-hour week and rises above challenges, but you tend to offer excuses for low productivity, change your ways.

Build a better relationship

You can grieve what you don’t have or build what you want. Given how important your relationship with your boss is, you win when you invest effort into creating, maintaining and enhancing a positive connection. If you’re an employee who interacts easily with coworkers and treats those in authority positions with skepticism or distance, stop shooting yourself in the career foot.

A first step toward connection—ask your boss for coaching or at least clarity. You gain both information and relationship by asking your boss important questions such as “What would you like to see more of or less of from me?” and “What are your priorities for my work?” If you know what your boss expects, do to best to deliver it and work on improving yourself, you improve both your current position and your long-term career success.

Avoid landmines and traps

You may feel tempted to commiserate with or vent to coworkers. Don’t—it wins you nothing and could lose you much. Not only might your coworkers secretly think less of you, but your boss may hear and consider you a real problem.

Finally, don’t trap yourself by remaining in a job situation going nowhere. If you’re not getting what you need from your boss, seek out mentors and develop relationships with those who occupy key positions in your company’s hierarchy. But don’t in place. The job you occupy isn’t the only game in town. Start searching for a better situation before you let your current status eat away at your sense of self-worth.

  1. The workplace jerk

You’ve met him. The co-worker with an attitude. Who mutters nasty comments under his breath and takes pleasure in being unhelpful.

You avoid him when you can, but your job places you in direct contact with him. Some days you can handle it. Other days he gets to you, cutting your job satisfaction to zero.

On days when you have had enough, you talk with your boss, who acts as if you’re making a big deal out of nothing. You wonder if that’s true even as your morale nosedives. You like most everything about your job other than “Jerk,” but start looking for a new job. Here’s what your manager needs to realize and what you can do.

Jerks come with a high price tag

Your manager makes a mistake when he brushes you off. Not only will he lose you, but you may serve as the canary in the mine who warns of additional workplace problems.

Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) “The Price of Incivility” documents the productivity damage toxic individuals cause. Some stats: 80% of those on the receiving end of incivility lose time worrying about it; 78% said their commitment to their employer decreased and 66% said their performance declined because of continued rudeness; and 63% lost work time avoiding the problem individual.1 Others surveyed concerning their reaction to incivility admitted to intentionally decreasing their work effort (48%), work quality (38%), the time they spent at work (47%) or to taking out their frustration on customers (25%). Some, like you, ultimately resigned.

Out the jerk

Out the jerk. Tape his comments (if your company policies and state allows single-party consent) for taping. Keep a record of his email exchanges. Document what he does that creates problems. Provide it to your boss along with a copy of HBR article.

When he makes a nasty comment and there’s anyone nearby, ask, “Could you repeat that?” If he answers, “Can’t you hear?” respond, “I thought you said ‘x’ but didn’t believe anyone would say something like that and thought I’d misheard.” Keep your tone neutral so you don’t reward him by letting him know he got under your skin.

By outing him, you take back power. If you stay silent, you let him get by with it and feel slimed in the process.

Teflon yourself

We coat pans with Teflon so cooked food rinses off. The next time someone treats you rudely, Teflon yourself with this truth: “The rude person indicts himself, not you.” Resolve to waste no more time on “why does he” or “how could he”; instead, rinse off his rude comments or treatment.

See past
If you’ve ever played a compromised CD, DVD, or tape, you heard static or other distortion, but underneath, words or music. When someone treats you poorly, don’t let his incivility consume your job satisfaction. Focus on and handle the issues and later raise your concerns so you won’t face future disrespect. If the problem is chronic, and from a boss or long-term relationship, this might mean you walk away.

Use the energy

Does the jerk’s behavior stick with you? Use it and let it power your next physical work out, whether you kick-box (you guessed it, use them as an imaginary target), run the on the treadmill or swim in the pool. Anger can help you run or swim a mile further, and then, it’s out of your system.

Respect and self-care

Temporary rudeness from someone who doesn’t care about your feelings means little. How you treat yourself and them matters more than how they treat you. Treat them with respect, because that’s part of your fabric. Treat yourself with dignity and care, because that’s the feeling you take home with yourself.

 1https://hbr.org/2013/01/the-price-of-incivility

 

 

 

 


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