Good morning. I found your website while researching another insidious commonplace office problem, “workplace bullying and mobbing”. Until I began a position with a Municipality, after several self-employed years, I wasn’t even aware that this organizational issue existed. At first I began to question myself and all of my previous beliefs and perceptions, not because they failed me in the past, but because they were so out of sync with my current situation, that, I started severely doubting my abilities and judgement. I accepted what the “lifers” were saying and how they were behaving because I just didn’t know the culture or the hierarchical structure, so, I tried my best to understand their perspectives and methods, but, what I found is that because I didn’t bring any “personal baggage” with me, and I just do my job professionally, don’t complain, don’t socialize, take responsibility for my actions, treat everyone with respect as a professional, and “assume” that this respect and interaction would be reciprocated, was my first mistake.
It took me about two years of frustration, anger, depression, physical exhaustion, utter detachment, fatigue and sleeplessness, to realize that I have become a “target” a “scapegoat” for the office dysfunction. Beginning with the director all the way down to the mail clerk. Upon further research I realized that what I thought was only my imagination, turned out to be reality, and that others suffer the same type of silent torture, endured daily, with no one to discuss this with, especially their direct superior, because the supervisor wittingly or unwittingly condones this type of behavior. I tried appealing to my Director on an emotional level, an intellectual level, a professional level, and worst of all, a personal level, that was my second mistake.
Now, after almost three years of being the office “scapegoat”, am I able to finally cope with the effects, coping is one thing, but, changing the culture or even altering perceptions is another.
Briefly, there is one coworker (a narcissistic and psychopathic bully) in particular that is constantly, scrutinizing, criticizing and running in and out of the directors office with rumor and gossip, it’s disgusting. To this day I loathe going to work to endure more of the same, whatever happened to common decency and treating others with dignity and respect, accepting differences of thought and feeling? (that’s a semi rhetorical question)
Please respond with any suggestions or thoughts you may want to share, as I am sure for me and others that accept this type of fate, would be beneficial in the daily struggle to survive this kind of abuse.
Counting the tacks on my cubicle walls…
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
Dear Counting the Tacks,
To quote Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Unfortunately, the failure appears to be coming from you. Gone are the days when a person could merely show up to work, put his head down at his desk, do his work, and expect to be left alone and treated with respect. Your lack of socializing early on appears to be coming back to bite you now. You’ve been singled out as the “weakest of the herd” and as such, an easy target.
However, your early mistakes are now water under the bridge, and we cannot turn back the clock. What we can do is reset it moving forward.
You did imply in your letter that there are others like you who suffer in silence. Hence, your first step is to begin building alliances with these individuals. In most office politics situations, there is safety in numbers. Simple gestures like going out to lunch, walking, breaks together, or a simple conversation can begin building bridges. This does not mean you have to “bring your baggage” to work. I’m assuming you have hobbies, interests, family and/or friends, or other points of safe conversation.
The second challenge you have to face is some self assessment. You mentioned you had spent twelve years as a self-employed professional. That’s quite an extreme to go from a long-term self-employed individual to working for a government entity. You might ask yourself if your specific problem is not so much a case of office politics gone awry as it is a bad fit to a specific culture. Being self-employed, I understand how we can become accustomed to the “lone wolf” mentality; however, organizations don’t work that way. Allowing yourself to become part of the team is challenging, but it’s a necessary step in the workplace acclimation process. As part of the strategy I mentioned above, you might also try to find some points of commonality with some of the more “astute” politicians in your office.
Next, you have the issue of the office bully to handle.
1. Your disdain for this person is loud and clear in your letter, and I’m wondering if you are giving off similar cues when you’re in his or her presence. I’ve seen people physically bristle and stiffen up when they’re around people they visibly do not like (I know I do it, if I don’t make a conscious effort to do otherwise). If you’re giving off these cues, you’re giving this person the permission and power to keep pushing your buttons and giving you further reasons not to like them. You may want to give a conscious effort to soften your stance around them (and others in your office).
2. The behavior you described appears to be more of an office gossip than that of a bully. The difference is engagement. A gossip uses passive activity and does not actively engage their targets; rather, the gossip goes behind backs to do damage. The bully, on the other hand, uses direct conflict to his or her advantage. There’s an open threat, either stated or implied, and it is generally delivered directly from the bully. The strategy for mitigating both a gossip as well as a bully is to rely on documentation and less on hearsay. Both rely on word-of-mouth and divide-and-conquer to gain power, and if you are able to maintain objectivity through written documentation, it takes away power.
3. You mentioned this particular bully is narcissistic; hence, ego and self-esteem appear to be motivating factors. Bullies, at their heart, are cowards with no healthy outlets, meaning that they do have a fear of something (my guess based on your comments is your bully has a fear of an undermined ego). You may use this information for good or for evil (I’d recommend the former over the latter). Try finding one genuine, professional thing that you can compliment this person on, and comment on it without forcing it. Then try again. If this person is getting strokes from you, then s/he may not be as inclined to attack you.
4. The scrutiny and criticism feed into #3 above. Try thanking the person for his or her input. Perhaps even trying to go to them proactively and ask for input (but take them your best work so they don’t have too much ammo to use behind your back). If this person is a total snake who is simply out to find fault, this may not be the best strategy; however, if s/he is simply looking for an ego buzz, this could be a helpful strategy.
Finally, you mentioned that all of this is affecting your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. No work environment should be oppressive to that point. It may be time to consider an exit strategy. You might look for something that is a better fit for you. Three years is too long to endure that kind of environment, especially if there is no sense of change on the horizon.
I hope this helps. Thank you for writing to Office-Politics.com,
Timothy Johnson, Author
Timothy Johnson is the author of the newly released Gust: The “Tale” Wind of Office Politics (Lexicon, 2007) as well as Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable (Tiberius, 2006). As Chief Accomplishment Officer for his company, Carpe Factum, Inc. (Latin for “Seize The Accomplishment”), he also is a dynamic speaker, providing keynotes and workshops on the accomplishment-oriented topics of project management, creativity, process improvement, systems thinking, and (of course) office politics. His consulting clients have crossed multiple industries and have included Wells Fargo, Harley-Davidson, ING, Teva NeuroScience, and Principal Financial Group. In addition to writing, consulting, speaking, and coaching, he is also an adjunct instructor for Drake University’s MBA program in Des Moines Iowa, teaching classes in Project Management, Creativity for Business, and Managing Office Politics.