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, worked with, and consulted 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, change negative situations to positive ones, 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, Carl the Control Freak, Paula the Passive Aggressive, Clayton the Clueless, and Greta the Gossip, Susie the Sugar Coater, Ian the Idea Stealer, Al the Alcoholic, and Nancy the Narcissist.
This week I shall discuss another difficult boss — Donald the Deal Maker, who makes every exchange feel like a negotiation with a loan shark. He gives nothing without extracting his pound of flesh and getting what he feels is his right. He’s not Monty Hall. Stop playing “Let’s Make a Deal” with him and set limits.
SITUATION: Donald the Deal Maker always sees life as a moneyed transaction. If he does something for you, he wants something back. It’s never for free or out of the kindness of his heart. Heart? He may not even have one. He trades, barters, and manipulates. He always has an angle and he’s like a carny hustler who’s always trying to pull a fast one. He usually has ulterior motives and hidden agendas. Did I say usually? I mean always! You don’t trust him and you feel like you always have to watch your back around him. And you do!
Your sick mother, your daughter’s piano recital, and your son’s soccer tournament mean nothing to him. If he has a family, you’d never know it. He doesn’t put his family first and his children’s activities never seem to be priorities to him. If you think your life is a living hell working for him, just imagine what it would be like to be his wife or child!
If you ask for an extra hour for a doctor’s appointment at lunchtime, he asks, “So what are you going to do in exchange?” Sometimes he doesn’t even ask. He just tells you that in order to take the extra time, you have to do more work at home and also at work, and he insists that you make up the time by coming in early or staying late. You were going to make up the time anyway, as any competent, responsible employee would do. But he wants more. He misuses his power.
Donald can easily turn into Sewell the Sexual Harasser, so be wary. Donald senses desperation and need like a shark can smell blood in the water from miles away. He will try to get you to do things you don’t want to do, so don’t compromise your integrity.
EXPLANATION: Donald may have come from an impoverished background. He probably had a difficult life and had to work for everything he got. His parents probably showed him that everything was a trade – qui pro quo – this for that. As a child, Donald might have got ripped off a lot by other people, his friends, and/or his parents, which taught him hard lessons–life is tough, grab at everything you can, nothing is for free, get what you can from people, be pushy, don’t be a sucker, and weakness is for saps.
He never wants to “owe” anything to anyone because that would make him vulnerable, which is his worst fear. To him, vulnerability means people can take advantage of you – which is exactly what he does to you and others. Donald believes he must be strong and watch his back because he doesn’t trust people.
He thinks that if someone does something nice for him, there’s a reason behind it. He fears that the person will cash in their “favor” somewhere down the line. So he never lets himself be on the needy or vulnerable end of a trade because he doesn’t believe that people can or even will be kind, understanding, and compassionate.
He will always think you have an ulterior motive, because he has one, so he projects his own suspiciousness onto you and others. He seems downright paranoid at times as well as cynical, skeptical, and mean spirited, when he’s not trying to charm you into playing his barter game.
Donald is like an addictive gambler—he loves the thrill of the barter to see how much he can get away with. It’s an adrenaline rush to him. He loves the power and control he wields over his employees.There is a sadistic part of him that feeds on that. He likes to see people grovel. Don’t let him! Be extra careful to not get caught in his trap.
He lays down the terms of the exchange, which you don’t have to fall for. It is extortion and can be construed and experienced as a hostile work environment, which is illegal and he can be reported to HR for it. You must say that to him so he knows that you know the law and will take the necessary steps to report his unethical and illegal behavior.
You have to set limits and boundaries for and with Donald. Don’t be intimidated by him. Retain your sense of power and dignity. Tell him flat out that you don’t bargain. You must refuse to trade with him, and stick to your guns. Give Donald an inch, he’ll take a mile. He’s relentless, knows how to wear you down, and thinks you’re easy prey. Be strong, take a stand, and mean it!
Call a process shot on him so he’ll stop because most likely, he never will. Describe what he’s doing – demanding that you do something huge like taking over his assignments to make up for a small favor you asked him, like leaving early or coming in later for a dentist appointment. He’s trying to extract his pound of flesh and he’s being an exorbitant usurer – charging interest that is way too high! Asking to leave 15 minutes early one afternoon to attend your child’s swim meet doesn’t mean you have to do a 50 page report for him. What’s fair and reasonable? Come in 15 minutes early or stay 15 minutes later the next day. That’s all you “owe” him.
Donald likes to think that everyone is scared of him and under his sway. He wants his little power trip to be kept within the confines of his department, so the last thing he wants is for you to report it to HR or to his boss. You must tell him you will do that to get his attention and so that he will stop it. Be strong.
The research done on bullies is that they expect their victims to be intimidated, weak, scared, and to keep silent. When their victims stand up to them and report it to the authorities (school principal, counselor, teacher, and in your case – HR and your boss’s boss) then they have been busted and his game is over. So stand up for yourself! If Donald’s done this to others in the department, ask them to go with you when you report it to HR or to his boss. There is strength in numbers.
SOLUTION: Review what I just said, write your script, learn it and say something like this: “Donald, I understand that you probably have worked hard to get everything in your life, and I respect that. I am tired of having every communication with you end up as some type of trade off or barter. I’m not willing to play “Let’s Make A Deal” every time I talk to you or need something. You have responsibilities here at work and we all need to work as a team, which involves give and take. You need to learn to let things go and to give generously without any expectation of something coming back to you. It always feels like I’m being hustled, conned, and everything is up for grabs. I don’t like working in an environment like that, and if it doesn’t stop, I’m going to have to report you to your boss and to HR. What you do is tantamount to extortion. When I ask for extra time for my son’s soccer game, I always come in early or I stay later the next day or I cut my lunch hour accordingly. I’m a responsible, competent employee and I know the rules. So please understand that I’m telling you what I need to do, not asking you – whether it’s taking care of my sick mother on my lunch hour or leaving early to do some volunteer work – and I make up the time. I’m not willing to give you more than making up the time. And I’m not going to bargain with you so you can get something more from me. I hope that you see what you are doing is creating a hostile work environment and that is wrong. I hope that you will change your behavior because if not, I will be reporting it to HR and also to your boss since it is illegal to create a hostile work environment, which is what you do when you try to extort things from me and others. Thank you, Donald. I’d like to hear your response.”
—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 and aired from Universal Orlando. 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). The book’s website is: www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com
She has been interviewed by Forbes, Investors Business Daily, Inc Magazine, AOL, Yahoo, Monster, Career Builder, NJ Star Ledger, Rochester Business Journal, Toronto Globe & Mail, Law Office Administrator, Recharger Magazine, and many others.
She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, Canada AM, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), 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. She is the host and producer of “The Linnda Durré Show,” which airs daily on 810 AM Radio in Central Florida and streams live on global audio on computers at www.BIG810AM.com M-F from 12-1 PM (ET). For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com and 407-739-8620.