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Job ended so quickly it made my head spin…

head spin illustration by Franke James

Dear Office Politics,

I recently went through a new job situation that ended so quickly it made my head spin.

I liked the work but didn’t fit in with the camaraderie atmosphere. I came from a big-city, federal job to my first small-town conservative, corporate job. Things that were seen internally as camaraderie felt, to me, like bullying. There was teasing about clothes and accents, innuendos about personal lives, snarky comments about colleagues outside the division, possibly defamatory remarks about a professional colleague. This was the atmosphere of our closed-door team meetings, and off-site lunches. I didn’t attend the offsite happy hours or parties in dread of how much worse the behavior might be with alcohol. Senior management are located out of state, and there were comments from my manager not to repeat things; one happy hour gathering was referred to as “the charity event” in email reminders.

Initially I spoke up, perhaps too diplomatically, when comments seemed uncomfortable. In general, the reaction was more mocking of me and anyone who was out of place with the groupthink. I think much of this atmosphere originated through the goading of the manager, the alpha-male as I saw him. With the others, if I spoke with them one on one, they would naturally adopt a more professional and pleasant tone. I feel I should give credit that in one instance of serious potential violation of ethics, my concerns were looked into, found correct, and averted; I think that is because the issue never went up to the manager. As time wore on, I complained less openly and tried to ignore more, however I also decreased social interaction with the team, trying to focus on the positive 95% of the job, the work itself. My social withdrawal did not go unnoticed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The question for me is: what should I have learned and how do I prevent this sort of situation in the future? I felt torn between holding to my personal ethics and being seen as a spoilsport. Although I understand that my manager was hiding his behavior, my sense was that he was trying to be “fun boss” rather than unethical or bullying. Was I being oversensitive and need to develop a thicker skin? Or was this guy a jerk that I should be happy to be rid of? Part of me says that nothing I could have done would have changed the outcome; the boss wanted someone who would fit in better than I ever had any hopes of. This worries me for future jobs. I don’t know if I landed in an unusual atmosphere or if I’m just not cut out for corporate life.

No longer working there


sylvia lafairDear No longer working there,

Your letter shows you to be a capable and sensitive person whose values were misaligned with the corporate culture you entered. As I read your comments I thought of how many people put up with behavior that sets their teeth on edge just for a pay check. You were actually fortunate that your tenure there was limited…

There are important lessons to be learned from your short time on the job. Since there are various environments that suit different personalities, did you check out the infrastructure of the company before you accepted the job? I’m not blaming you. This is often overlooked with the excitement of a new job.

If you didn’t do it this time, make sure you do in the future. What would you find when you meet the staff? What kind of conversations would you have with the boss, the co-workers before you accepted the job? Of course, everyone is on good behavior at the beginning of a new job; however, there is often an intangible sense of the place that you can attune to or disregard. (Read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” I think it will help.)

Next, I am curious. Did you ever have a one to one with your boss? You call him the “alpha male”. Here it may be helpful for you to do some connecting of the dots in your personal/professional life. What exactly does an “alpha male” mean to you? For me it conjures up a big bull (mind you not a bully), just someone who is strong and determined.

Decipher what’s happening using Sylvia’s “OUT” code:

“O” Observing; “U” Understanding; “T” Transform;

It would be important for you to find the way OUT of the discomfort this job caused you by first OBSERVING your patterned responses. Do you pull back when someone is a big, almost overpowering presence? Can you find a way to talk with someone like that directly, even if he is your boss?

You did comment you were able to talk to others one to one. What was it that made you able to share with them? And here is the big question: did you feel like a victim and the others were your rescuers, rescuing you from the persecutor, alpha “bully boss”?

All work environments have office politics.

Please hear me; all offices have some measure of office politics. You just happened to get into a place where the game is played full out with lots of noise and bravado. However, you can learn from what happened by the second aspect of the way OUT: UNDERSTANDING why you were unable to talk with the boss, and why you felt the need to go to others to defend yourself.

When stress hits the hot button, as it did for you, there is a tendency to do one of three things, fight, flee or freeze. You chose flight when you said you began to withdraw and the social withdrawal did not go unnoticed. My guess is your withdrawal was louder in its silence that you ever imagined. When we disapprove and cannot make changes the silence we present can be deafening.

Question: how did you handle unpleasant situations where you were a youngster? Did you fight, flee or freeze? My guess is you probably learned to withdraw from discomfort at a young age. You can learn better ways to handle this type of anxiety and stress.

The last phase of the OUT process is to TRANSFORM the outdated patterns that no longer serve you. Thus, if your tendency has been to feel like a victim, you can transform that to its healthy opposite, the explorer.

So, putting this all together; next job, check out your first feelings about the place. Ask questions, that’s what an explorer would do. Then, if you accept the job and it is still a disappointment and it is the boss that has you super upset, schedule a meeting and share your concerns. You can do this! You can do this respectfully and appropriately. Talk from an “I” place and let him (or her) know that the teasing bothers you and that making fun of others is hard for you to hear, let alone participate.

Then give him/her an opportunity to respond. Sometimes we can learn by exploring new ways of working that may open up a creative avenue we never knew existed. After you have experimented with open dialogue at the right time to the right person and the environment is still tainted in your eyes, by all means, leave.

Thanks for writing to OfficePolitics.com.


Sylvia Lafair, PhD, Author

About Sylvia Lafair, PhD, Author

sylvia lafairDon’t Bring It to Work: Breaking the Family Patterns That Limit Success

Sylvia Lafair, PhD, is President of CEO – Creative Energy Options, Inc., a global consulting company focused on optimizing workplace relationships through her exclusive PatternAware™ Leadership Model. Dr. Lafair, who was a practicing family therapist, took her talents into the work world and has revolutionized the way employees react and teams cooperate.

Dr. LafDon't Bring it to Work book coverair is the author of Don’t Bring It to Work: Breaking the Family Patterns That Limit Success published by Jossey-Bass. This is the first book to explore what happens when patterns originally created to cope with family conflicts are unleashed in the workplace. She has also written numerous articles for trade publications and national magazines.

Dr. Lafair has developed such intriguing workplace programs as: Don’t Bring It to Work: Decoding Office Politics; Get the But out of Your Yes: Effective Communication Skills; Ouch! : Resolving Conflict at Work; The Creative Edge: Team-based Innovation. CEO’s flagship program, Total Leadership Connections™ utilizes the tools of PatternAware™ Leadership to help individuals understand how behavior patterns developed at home and repeated at work can derail success and how to transform them into productivity, purpose, and profit.

As an executive coach and leadership educator, she has more than 30 years of experience with all levels of management from leading corporate officers of global companies to executives of non-profits and owners of leading family-owned businesses. She holds a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and has taught at Hahnemann University.

As a workshop leader or keynote speaker, Sylvia engages audiences with her natural storytelling ability. She weaves her knowledge of what makes a business successful using real life stories about workplace cultures. Her thought-provoking messages leave audiences with information to take back to the office and immediately put into practice.

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