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 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, Sal the Slave Driver, Porter the Political Soap Boxer, and Michael the Micromanager.
Wade the One Upper has to constantly mention how much more successful, smarter, richer, wiser, and happier he is than you, going into minute detail about his acquisitions and possessions: he mentions that he just bought a brand new Corvette, Mercedes, Lexus, BMW, 10,000 square foot house, flew to Europe, went on an African safari, just fill in the blank.
He name drops like crazy – the celebrities and famous people he knows and plays tennis with; his tailor, shirt maker, personal chef, and trainer. The list is endless.
Of course he has to mention the athletic games: he has Super Bowl tickets on the 50 yard line, he went to the Stanley Cup finals, he sat in back of the batter at the World Series, went to the NBA playoffs, or the $300 bottle of wine he bought at dinner, the trip he made in his or a friend’s private plane.
He does this about sex – if he’s single, he’ll brag about how many women he’s bedded and regale you with his sexual prowess between the sheets. If he’s married, he may tell stories about how hot his wife is, the jewelry he has bought her, the vacations they’ve taken and/or are planning,
If he’s a parent, he will brag about his children – how they scored the winning run, touchdown, goal, or basket; how many awards they’ve run, the prestigious colleges that accepted them;
Depending on their wealth, the Wades of the world have even hired publicists to get their names in the columns, magazines, and Internet webzines so that everyone knows how wealthy, well connected, and famous they are. It’s grating to you and everyone in the office, whether he does this in meetings, on the golf links, or running into you outside of work. You’re tired of it.
Wade must feel very insecure since he has to constantly mention how much smarter, richer, wiser, happier, and more successful he is. But think twice – why would he have to keep one upping you if he really was a contented, happy, and inwardly comfortable person? It’s his insecurity that keeps him going so no matter how much he has, it’s never enough.
And it’s always in a tone that is either nonchalant and throw away as an aside, pretending he doesn’t care, or he does it with a condescending vibe attached to it, insinuating that you don’t have the money, connections, or power to keep up with him.
The real issue is this: why does this guy irk you so much? Is it because you can’t compete? Are you not as rich, handsome, or successful as he is? Are you in a race to one up him back and do you feel that you always fall short? It may be the best revenge just to walk away and ignore him. He can’t play one up games without an audience. And that’s what would bother him the most.
Usually the Wades of the world are narcissists. Their identity is based in superficials – their address, square footage of their home, the year and make of their car, their designer clothes, Rolexes, trips to Europe, and their famous friends or acquaintances.
Being narcissists, they have little empathy or compassion for others, are totally self-absorbed, and have an enormous sense of entitlement. You are there to serve them.
If Wade brags about his wife and children, it’s only to demonstrate how their status and accomplishments reflect on him, to increase his self worth. Behind the scenes and at home, Wade is usually very controlling and demanding with his family since they must keep up appearances of success, accomplishment, and fame. If his wife gains weight or the children start doing poorly in school, he is harsh, rejecting, and punishing since they have failed to keep up the facade of perfection, which he demands be maintained at all costs.
If Wade is single, he will break up with a girlfriend as soon as she ages or puts on a few pounds. He has difficulty maintaining close relationships because he really doesn’t know what true emotional intimacy is. Wade will usually attract gold diggers who want him for his money and all that it can buy – designer labels, jewelry, trips to exotic lands, luxury cars, and an expensive lifestyle, with live-in servants or daily help, including nannies, cooks, chauffeurs, and gardeners.
Let me add that Wade doesn’t have to be wealthy – he can be a beer guzzling, Chevy driving, good ol’ boy for that matter, but he will find ways to one up you all the time – his truck has more horsepower than yours, his horses are stronger, his cattle are heftier – it doesn’t matter. One upmanship is the same game no matter what the comparisons.
No matter if he has an MBA from Harvard or is the supervisor in a meat packing plant, Wade is a narcissist. He has no real core of identity or deep, solid values. He is superficial and obsessed with appearances, status, fame, fortune, possessions, and accomplishments and being better than you especially when you know it. Rubbing it in and flaunting it to his neighbors, employees, and/or co-workers is his greatest joy.
Wade cannot really be a friend. As the saying goes, “Narcissists don’t have friends. They have fans.” Friends require equality –giving each other support, feedback, and confrontation when necessary. Narcissists surround themselves with admirers, “yes men,” and flatterers. They can’t take confrontation, have very little insight, and don’t think they need to change. They are very difficult people to deal with, next to impossible to have a relationship with, and toxic to even try to get close to. Don’t expect unconditional love, support, and warm fuzzies from Wade. You won’t get it unless he wants something in return.
You just may want to ignore Wade and smile when he tells his stories. If he is your boss and has power over you, proceed with caution. I do not recommend confronting him at all. Since he’s a narcissist, confronting him may bring you negative repercussions – you could get fired, not get the promotion or raise, or be singled out for criticism in meetings.
Wade can be vindictive, petty, and nasty. He will give you busy work, stonewall you, not give you access to him, and reject any suggestions you have. He can demote you, spread rumors about you, and tell people to avoid you. He might even take credit for your work, steal your ideas, and make life miserable for you because you see through him and have confronted him. He can also embarrass you in staff meetings, single you out in front of coworkers or even your clients, and cause you humiliation, frustration and anger. It’s best to ignore his bragging and oversized ego.
I would recommend to just unhook and disengage from him. Realize that he’s an insecure person who has to constantly build himself up by inflating himself. Look inside yourself to recognize your own level of envy. Remember, Wade operates on a material plane of existence and his identity is based on all the superficialities of life. He doesn’t get that he can’t take it with him when he dies. Western Union doesn’t wire money to heaven and FedEx can’t ship you your Rolex overnight to the afterlife.
If he is a co-worker and you feel brave enough to confront him, make sure you are not under his power. Remember, he could get a promotion and become your boss one day.
If you want to walk on thin ice, please say something diplomatic like this: “Wade, I enjoy working with you and I hope we can continue to get along. I want you to know that you don’t have to brag to me about all your possessions. If they mean that much to you, that’s fine. You don’t have to keep name dropping and telling me and everyone about all the famous people you know and all the exciting things you do. I’m more interested in knowing you as a person and your values. You can be yourself with me.”
See what his reaction is. He may relax and feel he can just be himself with you and he may drop the facade. That may be the best sense of relief he’s ever had. Then again, he may be insulted or angry because he has to face himself. Be prepared for any reaction. The better way to handle Wade is to just ignore his boasting and ego trips. Focus on your work and your own accomplishments. It’s a better way to spend your time and energy!
I hope these tips will help you in dealing with Wade the One Upper.
—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.