I am a seasoned pharmacist from the midwest, married and relocated to a New York city state research hospital. I grew up in several countries as the child of a multinational corp. employee and am considered very well read, travelled, outgoing, and sweet.
My Dept supervisors like my work. But the “tenured” administrative support group is very tight knit, and has made my life and work hell. They were very pleasant at first and picked on the other orthodox Jewish research pharmacist, and foreign-born american tech. Now it is my turn.
I have talked to my superiors asking for clarification. The Asian female pharmacist director is worshipped by this group, and does not do anything to help me in this matter. She is helpful teaching me my duties as the new member of the group.
The other superior, a more administrator type person, has told me to be brave because these women are from another country with a different culture, and have no concept of professionalism. They treat him the same way despite 20 years of working together. He has no problem with my work, and feels they are jealous. I know him not to be a racist person, so I tend to believe what he says. I have been nice to them but it’s not working. I do not expect to be in the “in crowd”, but when they undermine my work, I worry.
I have tried nice. I have tried conflict resolution. And complaining to superiors. None of which worked. I even plain out asked these women if I offended them unknowingly, and that I apologize. They said nothing. I have asked my Jewish coworker, and he said to lay low, and that I can talk to him if I need help with some projects which these women are supposed to do.
Do you have any seminars on New York city office politics for people coming from other parts of the world or US?
Do I need to attend one of these, or use another approach?
Where can I get help? My husband from New York says I am too nice and should learn to be equally mean and tough. It is not me. I am not a doormat, but am very polite. Any suggestions?
Also, I don’t have any friends here. Can you recommend a place where I can hang out with other professional women mentors etc. I have been a mentor and mentee for so long that I can not imagine there is no such group in NYC. Help!!!
Odd Girl Out
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN
Dear Odd Girl Out,
We start with that salutation, not to say you are “odd” or a “girl” versus woman, but to relate your not uncommon workplace experiences to a friend’s book, Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons. Simmons, a brilliant and hilarious researcher and speaker, has documented the ways that teenaged girl bullies torment their unfortunate victims in ways more covert and psychological than their boy counterparts. We’ve discussed how the patterns of sabotage amongst young girls puts them on a clear trajectory towards exercising the exact type of exclusionary and mean-spirited abuse you are describing. But take heart in the knowledge that you are ahead of their game and functioning skillfully in many ways:
1) “IT AIN’T ME, BABE!”
(OK, we’re dating ourselves with an old Turtles’ rock and roll hit song). You are not alone and not an isolated victim, so you needn’t take their treatment personally. When it’s one individual with a target on his/her back, we become more concerned than in your type of problem, since becoming a lone “odd person out” really signals more irreparable harm and vulnerability. After all, look at all the other victims they enjoy, so at least you are not disliked by anyone except this obviously needy, insecure gang who themselves may have been the victims in the past. Usually bullies are punks inside, with low esteem themselves.
2) ESSENTIAL NETWORKING.
You have done lots to minimize the pain by developing a mini-network of supporters, some of whom have born the same brunt of their treatment, and others who are perhaps more powerful, informally or formerly, so rest more easily knowing that you have practiced one of our book’s suggested skills of Essential Networking, which is your safety net-work. Are we correct in reading your situation as meaning you are protected from these women causing any true job stability danger, since there are several supervisors and more senior people who are coaching you, empathize, and even have themselves received their abuse (the Asian researcher is their idol but has assisted you technically, another supervisor who even received their hassles has advised you, etc.). So it seems that the pain is limited to the kind you can “rise above.” Keep building a wider and higher network of people who know your positive work and competence, so that the “gang” can never truly jeopardize your position, but merely be a pain in the rear.
3) MAZEL TOV (CONGRATULATIONS!) ON YOUR PROACTIVE EFFORTS.
Pat yourself on the back also in the knowledge that you have done your homework and not merely played helpless victim or surrendered without trying many tactics, many ones we’d have suggested. Remember you can only control YOUR half of any relationship and you’ve handled yours well, with nobility, tact, communication skills, even political savvy of attempting to help them save face by pretending to take ownership if you’ve done anything to cause their disdain. It’s clear you will not change the Hitlers and Stalins of the world, so we sure as heck cannot expect to change their more petty, less worthy versions. Just turn to the Serenity Prayer for some peace of mind: “Grant me the courage to change the things I can, the patience to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Now regarding further steps…
IS SOMEONE IN THE GANG’S POCKET OR IS THIS MERELY A DYSFUNCTIONAL COMPANY CULTURE?
If people like these power-drunk hasslers are in higher positions of power, we usually see a pattern of misbehavior and dysfunction excused due to “concentrated power,” where there are no coincidences or accidents–– where some powerful person is getting away with murder because someone higher is excusing it or others fear the person’s value or connections at some level. So you should either feel reassured by knowing these administrative level unpleasant associates (nicer term for now) are probably NOT such power holders but might hold informal power through their years of service and/or someone’s fear about their filing a discrimination suit if they are confronted or held accountable (since you referenced their all being foreign, yes?). Our point is to do some detective work to uncover why they are being allowed to lower company morale, productivity and results through their time-wasting, performance impacting attacks? Or is it merely a function of management being too busy or simply too incompetent to handle this commonly handled discipline issue? If you really have approached the right people in power to appropriately clue them in on what’s happening (last resort after first trying many of your tactics), and superiors are still not insisting upon a change, it either may mean that this seemingly low level group carries more power than one would think, as suggested by the fact that you describe them as “tenured,” so possibly untouchable. There are rarely mistakes. Are certain people around who protect them for some reason? If so, you may not be able to touch them through direct management lines.
SHOULD YOU PLAY “HARDBALL?”
Your husband says play tough back, others say just let it slide. Reasonable people could disagree. It all depends on the group’s true power and your level of tolerance, which we’re hopefully raising. A few things are likely if you “raise the stakes” by acting against this “gruesome grapevine group:”
~ It will get stickier and their abuse will increase. So far, they tend to shift their spotlight from person to person, so you might wait it out and not let them know they get to you, meanwhile decreasing your emotional triggers. If you DO act to pull in higher management, just expect greater tensions, time drains, and hassle. So weight things carefully.
~ You could become viewed as a thorn in the company’s side, since others have put up with their abuse and distractions to company output. So either expect to become seen as a complainer or whiner, at least don’t be surprised.
~ It will take skill and connections to have success against the group, especially if they are connected and/or protected in some way as we say above. So document your accomplishments carefully, maintain and increase your own informal power base and connections, and commit no acts that could have people fault you. This does NOT mean don’t act. It means do your homework by strategizing, weighing the rewards and risks, consider worst scenario outcomes (if you had to leave do you have good references and economic freedom to do so, etc.?).
~ You may have greater success if you imply to Human Resources that some discrimination may be occurring. Sometimes companies act only to protect themselves. If they are prejudicial against Jewish people only, you’d perhaps have a better case, but if they are all of one ethnicity and other groups are being hounded without retribution, you might receive action from HR. Still, remember this would single you out more, anger them, and amount to a virtual court injunction internally restricting their interaction with you. Assuming you are a smaller unit, this sounds unrealistic to expect.
~ You will have greater success through “strength in numbers.” If you take action, try to enlist others in your support as mutual victims of their hassles, abuse, and gossip. Consider prewarning the group as a last resort, but again, remember that they may retaliate versus backing down as some bullies do. You never know until we diagnose their true informal power.
You should certainly Google support groups for business people in NYC from other areas, and women’s support groups, but it sure does NOT seem like an issue of your not understanding the rules for fitting into U.S. or NYC culture from your skilled reactions and efforts. We suggest WOMEN Unlimited as a resource in the area (the Women’s Organization for Mentoring, Education, and Networking), which offers a year-long series of leadership courses, mentoring, and networking, but of course, your company may not have the budget or see you in that light. But they might refer you.
Also, there are “Women on Wall Street” forums and associations to explore and various extension courses at universities, as well as Learning Annex courses in a wide range of “dealing with difficult people” topics. Definitely get a copy of our book, Survival of the Savvy to learn more on corporate politics and give our office so that we can provide you with a free administration of our online Organizational Savvy Self-Assessment. Unfortunately, we do not offer public seminar, open enrollment workshops, only business to business seminars for many companies. If you’d like, urge your HR team to reach out to explore an in-house intervention. Contact the Editor of this website for our contact information since we don’t normally “comp” this resource, but we’d like to help in any way possible. Purchase Rachel Simmons’ Odd Girl Out even though it’s for dealing with teenage bullying. Lean on friends and sympathizers and rest on the self-satisfaction that you are a valuable asset to your organization and to your friends.
We wish you well.
Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.