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Am I too nice? Staff are yelling at me!

Dear Office-Politics,

I work at a doctor’s office… and I am one of the doctors so automatically this puts me in an authority position over the staff. There is another associate doctor and above the two of us is the owner (a doctor also).

I have kept out of office politics for quite awhile. I separated myself from gossip yet at the same time I had become somewhat of a therapist/friend for some of the staff. I was the “nice” doctor, never told on anyone, I would buy gifts b/c I felt sorry for staff, I even went so far as giving one of them my old car (worth $5000) …

Because of this my authority position had been lowered and recently one of the staff took ME into MY office and proceeded to shout at me. The shock of it surprised me and I remained stunned the whole day b/c I was being accused of tattle-telling on this particular staff member…which I did not. When I had time to think about this incident, I had time to realize that I do not want to tolerate this behavior b/c no matter what, as the doctor of the office, I should not be treated this way by a staff member especially for something I did not do. Let me also say the person responsible for the actual tattle-tailing was the manager who so happens to be “good friends” with this particular staff member. Because the manager did not want to admit SHE was the one who told on her friend, she shifted the blame on me.

I admit I see a lot of wrong things going on in the office, but I chose to stay closed-mouthed about it b/c I did not want to get involved in something like this. But b/c I was disrespected I had no choice to bring it up to the owner and this opened up a can of worms….

The manager of the office will act kiss up with the doctors and then behind their backs tell the staff what was said in a meeting and say derogatory remarks about them. She will stir up tension between staff by telling each staff what the other said about them, she will give preferential treatment to specific staff members such as leaving for long lunches, leaving early, extra days off, covering up for them… and the other staff members see this and become frustrated because there is no one to turn to. They cannot tell the manager because she IS the problem, they cannot tell the owner b/c the manager will find out and make their lives hell… and so I became Don Quixote and relayed all of this to my higher up, the boss, the owner.

He then decides to fire this staff member who yelled at me… I did not encourage this but just wanted him to make things known to him because I need to demand some boundaries and respect from staff. Let me say that this staff member brought this upon herself, she had numerous patients complain about her in the past. The next day, the manager who is close to this staff member, begins to bully and bother all the others for information when she was specifically told not to discuss this with the other staff. Eventually she convinces the boss to let her stay.

What do I do? Do I tell my boss the manager is discussing private matters again with the staff or do I stay quiet and stay out of it. All I want is respect from the staff members but b/c I never flexed any muscles in the past, they seem to think they can get away with murder. I don’t completely trust my boss either, he seems to be fooled by this two-faced manager, I can’t read him…please help….



dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Doctor Drama,

If you ever decide to write a movie script about your workplace, please let us know so we can invest as partners, OK? What would the movie be called… “Medical Maniacs,” “Hideous Hospital,” “Sabotage Central,” or (uh, here comes the core of the problem, dear writer…)… “Dr. Do-Little?”

Yes, we have a bit to say about the immediate choices you have, but the biggest issue we want to comment on relates to the broader context for your problem, which is one you already recognize in your closing sentence (“b/c I never flexed any muscles in the past, they seem to think they can get away with murder…”). Our dear Dr. Doormat, we are kidding around with you by calling you that and “Dr. Do-Little” instead of the more famous movie title, “Dr. Doolittle,” because you unfortunately HAVE done “too little” to ethically enhance your power image, draw lines and boundaries or create a reputation deserving of respectful treatment.

The Price of Nice
It will be obvious to other readers as it is to us that you have been actually training staff, managers and others doctors to not take your authority role seriously. We can only guess at how much of a push-over you are from the few examples you do cite: giving away gifts (even your car) and “…never telling on anyone” and “nice”

To us, this posture can equal being a passive, submissive, doormat who does not hold others accountable for your rightful boundaries and performance expectations, which includes manner of treatment. No matter what your official position power is, you cannot buy respect through gifts. You may even be reinforcing disrespectful behavior if what you “broadcast” and project to people is an aura of not having boundaries.

Nice people often overreact from fear of being disliked
“Nice” often means lack of needed candor, needed limit-setting, and needed managerial lines being respected. We often find “nice” people we’d love as friends, since they are good, decent, caring people, but they overreact from fear of being disliked, launching into silence when “straight talk” is required about job behaviors, performance feedback, issues of accountability, and sometimes, as in your case, treatment. We hope that if someone dropped an axe on your foot, you would not apologize for getting blood on his carpet! Seriously, the “Price of Nice” can be ulcers, lack of peace of mind, deadwood floating in the team, others not respecting your managerial authority and resulting poor performers, results sliding, feedback being withheld, etc.

Candor Versus Cop-Out or Crass
People both desire and fear greater candor at work. They know they’d be more productive and satisfied if they could really say what they think, but they fear the repercussions of opening Pandora’s Box. You seem to fear being Bruising, but have over-compensated by Bailing, and we suggest a middle ground of decent “Boldness” so that you fairly and firmly state your position –– regularly, non-emotionally, and maturely.

Business literature is filled with calls for workforce candor. Jack Welch, the former Chairman and CEO of General Electric and outspoken business leader, has made the case that Candor is critical to business success, especially in today’s fast-paced, high-stakes organizations. He argues his case and devotes an entire chapter to it in his best seller, Winning (Welch & Welch, 2005). Jim Collins encourages business leaders to “confront the brutal facts” to get from Good to Great (Collins, 2001). Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan talk about the importance of “robust dialogue” in Execution (Bossidy and Charan, 2002). But there is a personal rationale as well as business rationale for Candor (being truthful and authentic in your communication, which includes saying the hard stuff).

The root word for “Candor” comes from the Latin word meaning “to shine,” and surely each of us can “shine” by becoming more fully candid instead of holding back. This posture in one’s life is what French author and political critic Emile Zola emulated in his appeal for Candor: “If you asked me what I came into this world to do, I will tell you. I came to live out loud!” So bottom lining it –– you may have let the pendulum swing from fear of being “nasty” to being way too “nice,” and it ironically does NOT buy you points. Shoot for a middle ground of FIRM versus harsh or weak.

The Impact of “Nice” on Your Power Image and Buzz
You probably have dumped on your self, so people consciously or unconsciously decide it’s OK to join the party and also take advantage of your good will. There are typically negative by-products for your Power Image and you Corporate Buzz, which is our term for what perceptions surround your name.

People build negative buzz through their own language and behavior (as we fear you have) AND through innocent behaviors that “teach” others how to perceive them and what they’ll put up with. Besides being overly “nice” do you also take on others’ problems like the classic manager who winds up with the “Monkey on His Back” each time a person approaches with a dilemma or challenge? The higher you rise in an organization, the less you are typically supposed to do tactical work, since managers and execs need to think, strategize, envision, lead, etc.

Yet many under-assertive and under-political people take on others’ problems, solving others’ problems, championing others’ causes, and essentially do their jobs for them! Instead, we help these people see they are not only preventing staff from growing up, they are also perpetuating a weak Power Image. Now, be clear that we are NOT suggesting that you assume an abusive power image, or not care and support during work obstacles, but just avoid a weak power image in doing so. This positive, ethical power image would result in people taking you more seriously, not messing with you, not crossing lines, thinking twice about badmouthing you, first trying to solve their own problems before running to the parent here, etc. Gradually cultivate a more powerful image by:

How You Talk About Yourself
– do you use self-discounting, vague, tentative, apologetic (“sort of…” “if it’s OK with you,” “Sorry, sorry sorry…”) language? Get stronger without being know-it-all or opinionated. Take a stand.

How You Act
– Watch your behaviors around being overly deferential to others, letting yourself get pushed around or cut off in meetings, taking on others’ problems. Instead, state your needs clearly, protect your time and space or others won’t. Don’t be so quick to “save people,” instead listening and helping them work through how they will help themselves to act in their own behalf.

No More Gifts – Enough said?
When It’s OK to Play Hardball or Hurt Someone. You are a nice, giving, well-intentioned person. Just make sure you protect your own boundaries when people cross them. It’s OK to be closed mouth when it’s not “getting on you,” and you’re rising above the gossip and politics (translate, “poly-tics” or “many…” “blood-sucking parasites!).

But when you become the target OR the overly-political person (translate, the saboteur soap opera manager) starts hurting results, morale, reputation and YOU, then you are doing yourself and the company a disservice by not taking action.

Let go of guilt or misgivings about the staff person getting axed. What did you expect when you expressed displeasure? Good riddance. He/she was hurting patients and the company so let it go. Why should that bother you? Of course, if now the staff person is still on board, you most likely have made it more clear you are not to messed with and perhaps she won’t mess with you. You may actually be fine since neither the meddling Manager nor staff person will as readily mess with you given you blew the whistle. You do have the option of a frank discussion again with the staff person or manager, or both of them, but since you find them repugnant, why not let it go, do your job, keep documenting, be glad you’d shown people you will finally act on your own behalf. We do prefer a straight line between two points, so better for you to tell it like it is TO THE STAFF PERSON rather then behind her back. This way, she sees to not mess with you, you are not intimidated, and if you THEN must take it up the ladder, you can with integrity let the boss know you’ve only come there after exhausting other means, so as to not waste time.

Dealing with the Overly-Political Manager
We’re Nervous About the Amount of Triangulation. It seems like there is already way too much spaghetti communication occurring so we wish the children in your care (!) would find ways to confront the Manager, but of course, their fear retribution and retaliation. But there is strength in numbers. When they complain to you, resist becoming their savior so quickly, instead urging them to find options: go up the ladder themselves, petitions, anonymous input, documenting in ways you can use if you choose to do so, etc.

Or you can all band together, but don’t simply take on the problem yourself for a he said/she said crazy-making mind game. Most companies have whistle-blower protection mechanisms like suggestion boxes that double as vehicles for “outing a tyrant” or audits, or the top management manages by wandering around to detect what’s really going on. If the boss/owner is just so buffered from reality of the dysfunction and toxic environment caused by the maniacal Manager, he needs to get the message somehow or otherwise, why shouldn’t he just believe the manager, who is probably very effective at covering her tracks, using verbal mastery to manipulate, finding ways to fix blame while avoiding it, etc. So perhaps you must facilitate, but we’re just suggesting you not go it alone. Our book Survival of the Savvy is a primer on recognizing the ploys of such people so grab a copy and leave it anonymously as a hint perhaps?

It sounds like the Blue Meany Manager (samurai supervisor?) has many enemies and is poisoning the company, causing many to be hurt and tune out. We advise minimally protecting yourself by standing up to that person and if forced, PERHAPS talking to the boss. But never play hardball like this unless forced (you have been), and before doing your homework such as: align with powerful others, document all transgressions in behavioral terms, find others to independently speak out against the person, weigh the risks and rewards, “earn the right” to go after someone by first trying to deal with him/her directly, building up your power image with power others and being a stellar contributing asset to the company, etc. In your case, surely the Manager has many enemies.

There can never be a clear-cut right answer unless we lived at your site. So make decisions about whether to approach the boss about disruptive behaviors of the Manager at this point and live with the consequences. This all depends on your Power Image as stated above so keep building it and earn points from the boss. Always position anything you DO surface as for the good of the company, the patients, morale, and be sure you have people’s back-up complaints and grievances so you are not dangling in the wind while others let you take the heat. You can’t be loved by everyone and life is too short to keep trying. 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

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick 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.

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