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. And remember – all of these toxic bosses in all of my columns can be of either gender. Toxicity does not discriminate according to the sexes. 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, Greta the Gossip, Susie the Sugar Coater, Ian the Idea Stealer, Al the Alcoholic, Nancy the Narcissist, Donald the Deal Maker, Vernon the Verbal Attacker, Bobby the Boss’s Relative, Cynthia the Silent Treatment Torturer, Phil the Philanderer, Ned the Negligent, and Sal the Slave Driver.
This week is another difficult boss – Porter the Political Soap Boxer, the boss who expounds his political philosophy and expects you and everyone in the office to agree with him. In my book, Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day, published by McGraw Hill, I wrote about 12 different groups – 79 individual types – of toxic people who can populate an office. Porter the Political Soap Boxer is mentioned in Chapter 30, entitled “The Politicians,” on pages 176 and 177.
With election season upon us, it’s timely to have a column about politics. Whether it’s in the halls of Congress, the White House, or a small business in Des Moines, Iowa, the workplace involves politics. How do you feel when your boss expounds a certain political philosophy and expects all of his employees to believe as he does? It may be easier for you if you agree with him, but what if you don’t? Your beliefs may be diametrically opposed to his. You’re afraid if you disagree, you could be fired, given difficult assignments, held back from raises and/or promotions, or all of the above. He could be a liberal and you’re a conservative. He could be a Republican and you could be a Democrat. He could be a male chauvinist and you might be a feminist. No matter what the situation, it’s uncomfortable, irritating, challenging, or downright enraging. Murders have been committed for far less. My advice – watch your temper, do your work, and if you have to confront, follow my guidelines – to protect your job security.
Porter the Political Soap Boxer uses every opportunity to rail against the political forces that he feels are thwarting his existence, his pay check, and his rights. He can be a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Socialist, Communist, or Libertarian–it doesn’t matter. He will come by your desk, send emails, or catch you in an elevator to expound on what he thinks you should know and how you should vote. He may even tell you how you should vote and insinuates that if you don’t vote that way, your job may be in jeopardy – you might be fired if you disagree! He seldom asks your opinion, but harangues you anywhere and everywhere. He may even step over the line legally by asking you your political affiliation, voting record, or how much you gave to a certain party or candidate. He might ask you for donations to his political cause. He might even give you a button to wear promoting his candidate, and it might not be your candidate of choice. Whether you agree with him or not, you’re tired of it and want it to stop.
Porter is passionate about politics and he really should be working actively in his own political party promoting their agenda where he would be much happier and probably feel more productive. All of his time and energy would be going to further his political agenda. Most of the time, the Porters of the world don’t see the other side of an issue, are not open to discussion or debate, and feel “it’s my way or the highway.” They can be pushy, boorish, insensitive, rude, single minded, and/or close minded. They are not usually good listeners and don’t acknowledge another’s viewpoint. They may shade the truth, take things out of context, and selectively perceive certain facts, putting their spin and interpretation on them. They basically hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see. They would make terrible judges or mediators, where active listening to another’s opinion, objectivity and a broad understanding of issues are all crucial in seeing, understanding, and describing another’s viewpoint to resolve differences. He might make a great litigator and attorney in being monomaniacal, building a case, seeing it their way, and presenting the spin the way it best suits them and their case or candidate. These are people who are difficult to get to “agree to disagree.” You HAVE to agree with him or he gets very angry and defensive. It’s a matter of domination, power, ego, and control to him to have you and everyone else to agree with him.
You need to compliment Porter on his passion and draw the line quickly and effectively, without incurring more time spent on the debate, because Porter will rope you in to a political debate, sometimes in front of other employees. Usually Porter likes to cut you to shreds if you disagree with him. Avoid that scene if you can. Say something like this: “Porter, I admire your passion for politics and how you care fervently about your candidate […or public policy, the government, elections, and the system – fill in the blank]. Maybe you’d be happier working for your party, your candidate, or individual causes and you might even consider that as a career or your hobby. Debating with you is not what I prefer to do, and this certainly isn’t the time or the place for that. I’d like to ask you to restrict your political discussions and opinions to after hours or the lunch room with others because I have work to do, and I don’t want to engage in any political debates or discussions during work. I have to concentrate on what I have to do at hand and I would appreciate it if you could keep all that to yourself during work hours. Thank you because you’re a good boss and I enjoy working for you. I hope you will abide by my request.”
If you want to venture into what are the legal and illegal parameters, you might want to add the following: “Porter, here are some facts – coercing people at work, especially if you’re the boss, to contribute to a certain political party or telling them or even suggesting to them how to vote, especially making it contingent on keeping their job, is against the law and you can be reported to HR and the EEOC. I and others could get an attorney and sue you and the company for ‘hostile work environment’, because that’s what you’re doing and it is illegal and offensive. I must ask you to stop or I will have to report you to HR and the EEOC for it. I hope you can take your political passion to the right candidate and causes because they’d be lucky to have you on their team and their campaign. Thanks so much!”
Remember – Always document everything. If Porter is calling you and leaving these political messages, you can use it as proof in a court of law. If he is calling you to talk, you first must inform him or anyone that you are tape recording his conversation. Keep a tape of your voice mails, print out all emails and text messages that Porter sends you as proof for a possible law suit and/or when reporting it to HR. Please cc it to your attorney as well. Make copies of all your cell phone records and billing statements, and put them in your safety deposit box with the emails and text messages so no one can get them but you. Office politics are a fact of life. You must protect yourself.
—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 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, CareerBuilder, Monster, A&U Magazine, 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.