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, Michael the Micromanager, and Wade the One Upper.
Betty the Battle Axe usually looks like the wife in “The Wizard of Id.” She’s usually overweight, which can make her feel strong and dominant. She throws her weight around because she’s all about power, control, and insulting people. She comes across as cold, unfeeling, and self-centered because she is, She’s a grumpy, sad, and unhappy woman, whether she’s divorced, widowed, or has never married. But you will not see her sadness because she hides it and considers it as making her vulnerable. She has a viper mouth and uses it often. Her snide remarks are always given under a general statement applying to “people” and never directed at you individually, but you know it’s meant to insult you specifically. If you ever confronted her about it, she would usually retort, “My, my, we’re sensitive today, aren’t’ we?” or “I have no idea what you mean.” She denies there’s anything wrong, ignores your feelings, and doesn’t want to acknowledge or hear your perceptions, advice, or suggestions.
It’s “her way or the highway” and Betty runs the office as it’s her own personal kingdom (or queendom) and she does not abide disobedience. She has a vengeful streak and will take it out on you if you question her by giving you more work to do overnight or over the weekend, make you work more hours by coming in early and staying late, and cutting your privileges, cancelling your vacation time, or denying your raises. She hires “yes men and women” who will carry out her orders, policies, and procedures and she doesn’t like to be wrong, challenged, or shown the errors of her ways. If you see that her decisions are not in your best interest or that of the company, you may be chafing at the bit to confront her, yet feel constrained because she doesn’t care, she doesn’t listen, and she doesn’t want to change anything in her department. But you can’t continue working under these conditions, so what are your options?
Betty probably had domineering parents and learned to be controlling from their role model. Sometimes the Bettys of the world had very lax, permissive or even negligent parents and felt that she had to be in control. In some cases, when Betty was little, a parent may have died and she was required to take over and raise her own brothers and sisters, so early in her life, she was forced to be in charge and run the show, and she’s never stopped since.
Being in control and bossing people around makes Betty feel safe; “being right” is crucial to her identity. She’s used to telling people what to do and this has led her to feel effective and get results. Her bosses in the past have probably seen Betty as an effective leader and department head, who makes the company money, keeps lawsuits to a minimum, and meets her production quotas – they may not care about employee dissatisfaction. Betty’s attitude is that “it’s always worked so why change it.”
Betty the Battle Axe portrays all the traits of Dick the Dictator and Carl the Control Freak, combined with the personality of Paula the Passive Aggressive with a great deal of added sarcastic and snide remarks and insults thrown in to keep her employees emotionally abused, off center, and powerless. It’s part of her weaponry that she brandishes. You may want to read those previous columns of mine to get more insight.
You must be prepared to be fired if and when you question or cross Betty. If you can get other co-workers to agree with you and back you up, it makes your case stronger. Most people don’t want to do this because they need their job, are frightened and not assertive, and will not speak up. However, if you can find colleagues who will go in on this with you, it is better for you and the entire department.
Confronting Betty by yourself is usually futile because she doesn’t listen and she doesn’t want to change. Using HR and the powers that be can have influence over her to alter her behavior.
I would recommend going to HR first with all of your facts in order, documented, and in front of you and a copy for the HR director, with one full copy locked up in your safety deposit box. Make sure you have date, time, and place of any and all of Betty’s transgressions with accurate re-creations of what happened, who said what, and when and where each situation occurred.
Keep your statements in this format, “I have experienced Betty being verbally abusive. She has called me slow and stupid. She insults me and it makes me feel angry, powerless, and abused.” You can give specific examples of exactly what she has said and when. Talk about how she doesn’t want any feedback, doesn’t want to hear your opinion, and cuts you off. Stress that her refusal to see other viewpoints or strategy is costing the department money, time, and efficient productivity. That is what an HR director will respond to.
Most HR directors don’t really care about your “hurt feelings,” or your “bruised ego,” but when the company is failing, losing profits, having increased turnover, higher absenteeism, and more accidents, then they may pay attention, so gear your complaints in this vein.
Ask the HR director to speak to Betty first and see if there is any discernable change in Betty’s behavior and attitude. If so, let it be and be grateful. If she starts backsliding, go back to HR and report it.
If the HR director structures the confrontation, he or she may ask you to come to a meeting after she speaks to be, so she is doing the first step and is asking you to come to the second step, which is having a conference with you, the HR director, and Betty. This is usually done like a law case – you get a chance to voice your complaints and Betty gets to respond, with the HR director facilitating the discussion, coming to an agreement about changes in behavior. You may be asked by Betty and/or the HR director to change your behavior as well, so be prepared for that.
I hope these tips will help you in dealing with Betty the Battle Axe.
—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.