By Linnda Durre, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010.
As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I’ve analyzed and worked with many difficult bosses over the years. In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, and preserve your sanity.
In my twice-monthly column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. The previous ones include: Dick the Dictator, Bashia the Backstabber, Sewell the Sexual Harasser and Carl the Control Freak, and Paula the Passive Aggressive.
SITUATION: Clayton the Clueless is like Michael Scott in “The Office,” played brilliantly by Steve Carell. Clayton has poor, if any, social skills—and opens his mouth to change feet. He can be rude, insensitive, petty, ditzy, self-centered, unaware, or any combination of these traits. Clayton doesn’t have a high level of empathy, can be boorish and oafish, and he has little tact, so he should NEVER work as a diplomat for the State Department.
In order to deal effectively with Clayton, you must do your research and have proof of his misdeeds, gaffs, and insults, so accumulate emails, documents, voice mail messages, and/or witnesses who will go to bat for you. You need to collect evidence and facts with which to confront Clayton and also to bring to his boss and/or HR when necessary because Clayton is obtuse and he forgets what he has said. You should be polite, direct, and let him know that you are aware of what he has done. Do not be bought off by Clayton’s denials, apologies, explanations, or “Yes, buts…” He may also appear or claim to be sorrowful, guilty, or remorseful, but all of that is usually an act because he doesn’t have the insight and introspection to even know what he’s done. He will just quickly say he’s sorry to blow you off and dismiss you, appearing to be sorry. He will usually transgress again.
You must be prepared to disclose Clayton’s actions to his superiors because Clayton hates being discovered and reported. Clayton likes to think of himself as a good boss, but he’s a verbal and emotional bull in a china shop – trampling on people’s feelings and breaking morale, barging in without any awareness of the delicate emotional situations he is in.
It will take tact, strength, and assertiveness to educate people like Clayton to become more sensitive. He has to know there will be consequences for his repeated infractions or he won’t change. Bringing it up to his attention is the first step in helping him become more aware.
EXPLANATION: Clayton the Clueless seems to be missing the “sensitivity chip” that can be found in most people. Clayton doesn’t read body language or take hints, and he doesn’t understand how delicate some people’s feelings can be. If he does, he simply doesn’t care. Clayton is oblivious to normal social cues and rules, which may be a missing gene. Or he may have had parents who didn’t have advanced social skills themselves and never taught their children how to be observant, read body language, pick up on social cues, and be tactful, gracious, and diplomatic. His parents were probably blunt, efficient, task oriented, and all business. Their children’s feelings were not important to them. So little Clayton had his sensitivities trampled on when he was a young child and thinks this is normal. So have some empathy for him. Unfortunately, most of us treat people the way we were treated. And we can change our awareness and behavior by working on it.
SOLUTION: You need to be direct, clear, and have your facts lined up of his transgressions when you speak to Clayton. Do this in private where no one can hear you. Or if you need someone to accompany you, get a fellow co-worker who has knowledge of Clayton’s cluelessness to go with you. If you want to go to HR first, then do so, perhaps taking your co-worker(s) with you. When you confront Clayton, you may want to do it with HR present in their office. If you choose to do it without HR present and by yourself or with a co-worker, then say something like this, adapting it for your individual work situation:
“Clayton, I like the work you do in this office, and sometimes I’ve noticed that you have hurt people’s feelings from your insensitive handling of situations. I’d like to give you a few examples, because these people have come to me and discussed it with me, and sometimes they were in tears. They’re too hurt or angry to confront you themselves, so they’ve chosen me to do so. And even if they didn’t say anything to me, I’d still say something to you about it because I see what you do and it’s appalling. Remember Gladys’ miscarriage? You told her to just get over it and have another child quickly. Gladys needed to mourn the loss of her baby and your remark was cruel and hurtful. Remember when Wayne’s son was in a car accident? You asked if his son had been drinking or on drugs. That really wasn’t any of your business and it was rude and insensitive to even ask. His child was in the hospital!
And remember when Sally had broken up with her boyfriend? You called him a loser and said she was better off without him because he was a punk rocker with too many tattoos and nose rings. She didn’t need to hear any of that. She loved him and it was a painful break up for her.
When you don’t have anything nice to say, please don’t say anything at all. You will save yourself the embarrassment and anger that you are creating against you. I would recommend that you read some books on etiquette, politeness, and communication. You’ve not inspiring confidence or trust around the office. It’s upsetting the camaraderie and people don’t like working for you. Are you aware of this? If it doesn’t change, I may have to go to HR to file a complaint. And I may not be the only one who does that. I hope you will be more cognizant of this so we can have a cooperative working environment. I know you’re a smart, capable person, I’d like for us to get along and for you to learn some sensitivity to me and to others. I hope you’ll take this in and heed my words, Clayton. I know you’re a serious boss, and we all need to get along with each other here, and I hope we can. Please develop some awareness so people feel safe with you emotionally. If you don’t, people are going to report you to your boss and to HR for how undiplomatic and insensitive you are. That can be construed as a ‘hostile work environment’ and you will open yourself and the company up to a law suit, so please examine your own behavior and statements and change accordingly to prevent that from happening. Thanks so much, Clayton!”
Then when Clayton does change, you can positively reinforce him by saying, “Thank you for being sensitive to Susan’s feelings after her accident. I appreciate it and that you’ve been listening to me.” If Clayton doesn’t comply, you can warn him again because he needs a major wake up call to get his attention to change. If it still doesn’t work, go to HR and/or his boss (again) by yourself or with others. It has to be done to get him to comply. You need a jackhammer to get through the cement of Clayton’s cluelessness, so put on your hard hat and steel tipped boots!
—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker, and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic. She is the author of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill). www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, and The O’Reilly Factor, and the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW. She has written for Forbes, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com and 407-739-8620.