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, Wade the One Upper, Betty the Battle Axe, Phoebe the Phony, Peter the Pig, Bill the Big Picture Boss, and Dan the Detail Boss.
Ellery the Yeller screams, hollers, and intimidates. He has temper tantrums so forceful that the veins on his neck and forehead bulge, his face gets red, and you think he’s going to die of cardiac arrest or a stroke. He looks and acts like the Incredible Hulk when he explodes in rage, except he doesn’t turn green. I’ve known and read about employees who have gotten slapped, shoved, pushed, kicked, punched, and knocked down.
He sometimes throws objects like cell phones, paper weights, tape dispensers, and even scissors at you. These projectiles and his physical attacks can be painful, dangerous and even deadly. You can receive concussions, lacerations, bruises, and broken bones. He is so ungallant and maniacal that his rage is unleashed on women as well as men. If Ellery is a woman, these physical attacks can also occur. He can wound more than your pride and ego. You could get killed by Ellery.
Sometimes his yelling is so loud that you can hear it through the walls, down the hall, or even through the telephone as he screams at the co-worker next to you. Ellery may humiliate you by yelling at you in front of other co-workers, complete strangers, or your family. If your children or wife comes to the office for a visit, Ellery is so clueless, rude, and hotheaded that he doesn’t care who’s standing there to hear you being verbally eviscerated.
Ellery’s attacks are unpredictable and have no warning – it can happen as you’re arriving in the morning, leaving the office at 5 PM, boarding an elevator, or walking down the stairs. He is so determined to tell you that you’ve made a mistake that he’ll track you down when you’re in a stall in the bathroom as he continues his tirade. No matter where, when, or how, his inappropriate, volatile behavior resembles an unhinged mad man.
You hate and fear going to work. You’re living in constant fear, getting migraines, neck and back aches, and you believe you have developed an ulcer because of the stress. You may be nauseous, dashing to the bathroom to vomit, and popping antacids just to not hurl your breakfast or lunch every day.
Ellery has created a hostile work environment and that is illegal. Something must be done about it and fast, or you could and others could get seriously hurt or even killed.
Ellery shares a great deal of personality traits with the other office tyrants I previously wrote about– Dick the Dictator, Carl the Control Freak, and Vernon the Verbal Attacker – with the additional “bonus” of high decibel screaming and throwing things, so please read those columns as well to give you more insight and techniques to cope.
These four men (and women can be exactly the same) all have strong needs to control, to be in power, and to be right. Your assignments must be done perfectly, quickly, and finished at once. He wanted it yesterday. He feels the same way Carrie Fisher, one of my favorite authors, quipped, “Immediate gratification is not fast enough.”
He has the combined characteristics of a Type A personality and an explosive personality. It’s his way or the highway. He’s got a short fuse and unfortunately there are times when the pin is pulled on his grenade and he detonates, duck and cover!
There’s a possibility that Ellery might also have a borderline personality disorder, and he may be innately terrified of abandonment and disappointment. He goes on rants and tirades when he feels let down, betrayed, and disappointed, becoming furious in the process. Ultimately can become dangerous and full of rage when someone doesn’t do what he demands or doesn’t live up to his impossible and unrealistic expectations.
Initially when he first meets you or when you were first hired, he may initially idealize you – complimenting you and telling you that you’re wonderful – and then when you make one small mistake, you become his scapegoat and he demonizes you, spewing curse words and negative epithets at you like you were the devil incarnate.
Ellery might even be bi-polar, with pronounced mood swings and erratic behavior – going from frenzied manic episodes to periods of great despair and even suicidal depths. If so, he needs medication, psychological treatment, and even possible hospitalization to stabilize his emotions.
He may have had parents or previous bosses who were yellers and screamers, so he thinks this is normal and acceptable behavior. It is not. He may have gotten away with this at other jobs where this behavior was tolerated and even encouraged. According to the law, he has created a hostile work environment, which is illegal.
Regardless of his diagnosis and the origins of his rage, you need to act fast to save your sanity and to protect your body from attacks. The situation is best handled by reporting him to HR immediately before you or someone else gets hurt, maimed, or killed.
Scissors, paperweights, or any heavy projectile missile whipped from Ellery’s wicked arm like a Roger Clemens fast ball could put your or someone else’s eye out or break bones. Take photos immediately of any physical abuse and the weapon he used in the act. This will be helpful with HR, in the courtroom if you sue, and with the police when you report it.
You and everyone in the office deserve to be treated fairly and with respect and spoken to in a clear, calm manner, but Ellery won’t and can’t do that with people. He needs to attend group therapy, classes, and individual therapy to deal with his serious anger management with a qualified, licensed, and experienced psychotherapist. He might need medication from a psychiatrist or strong herbal remedies from a holistic practitioner for his anxiety and rage. Ellery sounds like he might be the Bobby Knight of the office.
The physical danger you would put yourself in by confronting him directly or even gently discussing things with him could be perilous given his unpredictable outbursts. Protect yourself and do it through Human Resources. Accurately describe – with date, time, and place and in graphic detail – each of Ellery’s outbursts. If you have any tape recordings of Ellery yelling at you on your voice mail, that is probably admissible evidence in court and/or you can give it to HR.
Check with your attorney on all of these suggestions in my column.
Since his yelling is verbal abuse and an auditory offense which can turn into a physical infraction, you have to capture all of it on audio and/or video tape so you can have it as evidence. If he leaves a message on your voice mail, that also can be submitted as proof. Make copies of all of these tapes and put one in your safety deposit box. Submit these to HR and even to Ellery’s boss.
If you are sitting at your desk and you can see him or hear him yelling at someone, you might want to video and/or audio tape it since it’s going over shared airspace and would probably be admissible in court or to HR as well. Check with your attorney.
If he’s yelling at you and you can secretly switch on your tape recorder or video camera, you will have the proof you need. Check with your attorney and other legal experts that you can do this.
If you and/or your attorney write HR a letter, you probably should threaten them with legal action, citing that this is an indication of a hostile work environment, which violates the law, or they might ignore the entire situation. Make sure the letter is cc’d to Ellery’s boss, the legal department, and other higher ups in the company.
When you go to HR, you may want to share my theories about Ellery’s mental status that I wrote about in the above section entitled “Explanations.” There may be other complaints about him that might have been reported and then swept under the rug. Bring pressure on HR to have this dealt with effectively and immediately before someone gets maimed or killed.
If HR does nothing, you have several options – sue the company, citing mental and emotional distress, hostile work environment, as well as assault and battery if you were attacked physically. You can also call the police and press charges if that happens. Ellery will not want a criminal offense charge such as assault, battery, or assault with a deadly weapon to be filed against him, yet that is what you can and probably should do to stop him. Take photos of the bruises or lacerations as proof and bring them with you to the police and to your attorney. Always keep a digital camera, tape recorder, and small video camera in your desk or use your cell phone camera to document this verbal and/or physical abuse.
Remember, if your co-workers need the job and live in fear, they may not back you up with the police or in court. You may be on your own. On the other hand, they may be waiting for someone to rise up and take a stand against this bully. They will sigh with relief to have you take the initiative in getting this situation handled. They may make excellent witnesses at HR and/or in court for you and your case. If Ellery has worked at other companies, you may find additional witnesses there who will document his behavior and you may be able to use them in your law suit.
If HR still does nothing, your options are to transfer to a different department with a new and better boss, quit and get a new job, or start your own company.
This is a challenging situation and I hope these tips will help you in dealing with Ellery the Yeller. Good luck!
—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.