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, Dan the Detail Boss, Ellery the Yeller, Sandy the Snob, Blaine the Blamer, Winnie the Whiner, Eric the Erratic, Hy the Hider, Christine the Cruel,Robert the Rule Monger,Denny the Distorter, and Orin the Orator.
Snyder the Sniper makes nasty remarks under his breath, and he tries to get away with it. Sometimes Snyder grins when he emits his pointed barbs at you, similar to The Smiling Cobra I wrote about in my book, Surviving the Toxic Workplace. Snyder also makes asides or remarks out of the side of his mouth, hoping no one will hear him, but secretly wanting everyone to hear every syllable. You may call him on it or ask, “What did you just say?!” Then Snyder will reply, “Oh, nothing” or “You’re hearing things” or “You need your ears checked.” And then he walks away.
But he knows exactly what he said. He wants you to hear it and he wants you to be hurt by it, but he is so emotionally dishonest, he won’t admit it and he pretends it’s your auditory hallucination. Don’t allow his deflection fool to you or con you. He’s a hoodwinker, trying to pull the wool over your eyes AND ears. Snyder says such cutting, hurtful statements, you sometimes wonder if his tongue was made of razor blades.
But whether he smiles, says it as an aside, mumbles, or looks you directly in the eye, you feel like you have been shot by a sniper. Where did you get hit?! You’re hurting and feeling pain, but you can’t see any blood. You feel like you are dying, but there was no sound of gunshots, only his vicious words with a silencer on them. And you didn’t see it coming. It came out of nowhere! It’s like a hit and run accident. You were side-swiped by a verbal killer.
Snyder is usually very clever and perceptive, so he knows where your sensitive spots are and he aims directly for them with laser beam accuracy and cruelty. If you attempt to lob his nasty bullets to back to him, Snyder will either cry, crumble, walk away, or start a verbal tirade eviscerating you. Be careful because the Snyders of the world can get physically violent and might even attack you. If you were sitting on all that rage, you could be a pressure cooker yourself. Sadism is the flip side of masochism, so Snyder can alternate and play the victim himself and then he makes you out to be the tormentor. Be aware of his tricks and call him out on it.
Snyder the Sniper is like The Grinch – he is mean-spirited, negative, and/or deliberately evil. Underneath, he is wallowing in his own self-pity, lashing out at others because of his own envy, insecurity, and disappointment in life and in himself. What he doesn’t want to admit is that he created his own life that way from his laziness, inadequacy, and refusing to be positive. He’d rather blame others for his own misery and take it out on everyone around him. He has to live with own failed dreams and his fear of success, which can be blamed on his own self-sabotage. He has a terror of taking risks and he doesn’t see that risk taking and failure are both part of success.
Snyder the Sniper operates his life as a catapult and a hand grenade throwing machine. He likes to project his feelings of powerlessness and lack of control by one upping people, or one downing people. Then he tries to disguise it by saying it quietly or mumbling. Cynical, unhappy, quietly misanthropic, most always depressed, and innately angry, Snyder is toxic to be around. He’s an emotional bully, and he zeroes in on his victims carefully, spewing his poison on the weakest ones. He uses them as verbal doormats to wipe his angry shoes on. Snyder methodically selects those he knows he can bully and get away with it. Don’t let it be you.
Yet at the same time, he is a total coward because he is too afraid to take on anyone in a direct confrontation or even to have a civilized dialogue. He is much too frightened. So he resorts to passive aggressive behavior – doing nasty, aggressive things in a passive manner, like how he withholds communication. He’s obstructionistic, like “forgetting” to give you the overnight packet that arrived and which you needed for a meeting. He really does it deliberately and then pretends he didn’t remember. Not so!
There are sadistic tendencies in Snyder combined with his underlying rage. His parents may have physically and/or emotionally abused him when he felt vulnerable and powerless. Perhaps his own parents made snide and passive aggressive remarks about him or each other. If so, his parents served as dysfunctional role models, and that may be where he learned it.
So he extracts his revenge on others in a misdirected attempt to displace his rage from his parents and his anger at himself onto you instead of dealing with it in psychotherapy with an experienced professional who can heal him and get him to vent and resolve his anger in healthier ways.
There is a Chinese proverb that perfectly depicts who Snyder is: “Some people feel taller by cutting other people’s heads off.” This is the defense mechanism of projection. Snyder the Sniper really hates himself and sees his glass as half empty – never half full. Life is not pleasant for him and he hates his own existence. He feels he is a miserable failure – and he usually is – and so he has to put down everyone and everything around him because he is so envious, frustrated, and bitter. He only has himself to blame for his lot in life. His negative thinking, nastiness, pettiness, spitefulness, and usually his cheapness have all taken a toll on him, sapped his energy, and exiled him to existing in the dark side.
The price of his emotional bile can manifest in somaticization as kidney stones, gall stones, gall bladder and spleen problems, headaches, stomach aches, backaches, neck aches, acid reflux, pancreatitis, diabetes, hemorrhoids, and/or a myriad of other ailments. Avoid being the receptacle for his acrimony and malevolence.
You need to protect yourself from him and here are some ways to do that. A process shot is the best way to handle Snyder the Sniper. My book has a section about “process shots.” If you don’t have a bookstore nearby or don’t want to wait to order it online, you can download it into your computer and also on Nook and Kindle. A process shot is describing how, why and what the person is doing, rather than dealing with the content of the statement.
Here is an example: I worked at a residential treatment center for seriously disturbed teenage boys with difficult childhoods – domestic violence, sexual and/or physical abuse, and/or mental disorders. They would approach me in a group and ask, “Hey, Linnda, can you give us some money to go get ice cream?”
My process shot response was, “Do you guys think I’m that stupid that I am buying that line?! You really want money to go score drugs from your drug dealer to get high. If you want ice cream, let’s get in the van, I’ll drive, and we’ll go get ice cream, I’ll pay for it and we’ll have fun, but if you think I’m buying your con games so you can buy weed or other illegal substances, you’re crazy.” They were chastised, knew I had their number, and didn’t ask me again.
By calling out their hidden agenda, you reestablish yourself in the power seat, and the boys knew that I was hip to their tricks and would not tolerate them.
You must do the same with Snyder. He wants to hook you into a one-upsmanship game, putting you down by nasty remarks. You must confront him because he actually thinks you won’t. He counts on your passivity, like most bullies do. Snyder keeps getting away with his sniper shots because most people won’t confront him, doubting their own perceptions that Snyder could really be that ruthless. People say to themselves, “Did Snyder really just say that to me?! No, he couldn’t have said something that mean.” Well, he DID say something that mean. And you have to confront him.
Take all or parts of the following “script” suggestions and tailor make it to your own workplace situation. You may want to consult with HR first and have a meeting with them, explaining what has happened. Usually snipers don’t leave paper trails so there is no “proof” with emails or letters of his viciousness. He’s much too smart for that. And you’re usually not armed with a video cam or tape recorder to get down what he said, plus you have to inform someone when you’re recording them. He can and probably will deny he said anything negative. He will insist that you “misinterpreted” him, and/or that you need an appointment with the audiologist to correct your faulty hearing.
You may want to have the HR person in the room with you when you confront Snyder. Some people will also take their attorney with them. You may need witnesses because Snyder is so sneaky, it’s like trying to hold onto mercury.
With HR there, you should probably say something like this to Snyder: “I really like my job and I enjoy the people I work with. When I hear your negative remarks that you muttered under your breath, it can be very hurtful. If you think I didn’t hear you, you’re wrong. I did hear you. And if you think you’re getting away with it because you say them with a barely audible voice, you’re wrong again. You’ve done this to me and to other people here in the office. You seem to relish hurting people with your acid tongue. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard you insulting people and making fun of them, including me. What you don’t understand is that it hampers office morale and productivity. I don’t like it and I want it to stop now. Your cynicism and cruelty only reveal your own self-hatred, bitterness, and sense of disappointment in yourself and in life. I recommend you get into therapy and look at where these patterns began and start changing your life for the better. Happy people don’t make nasty remarks like that. It seems you’re angry and depressed and you take it out on other people. Snyder, you’re creating a hostile work environment, which is illegal. You’ve taken the HR training courses so you should know better. You can be reported to HR, to your boss, and to EEOC. I can also have an attorney write a letter warning you that I will file a law suit against you and the company if your constant stream of negativity doesn’t stop. We have good coverage for individual psychotherapy and you also have three free sessions with EAP [Employee Assistance Program]. Please get some help. I enjoy my job and yet having to spend eight hours a day with your negativity makes it intolerable. Please change your behavior so we can all have a pleasant work environment. Thanks so much!”
—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, international speaker, and magazine, newspaper, and Internet columnist. She has worked with Fortune 500 companies giving speeches, seminars, trainings, and workshops. She hosted and co-produced two live call-in advice radio shows and two live call-in TV advice shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network (AHN), which was associated with Mayo Clinic and aired from Universal Orlando. She is the author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against the Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day (McGraw Hill 2010). The book’s website is: www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com Dr. Durre’ has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, Canada AM, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), and on the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW, as well as by Forbes, WSJ, Inc. Magazine, Investor’s Business Daily, Business Week, Job Week, Career Builder, Law Office Administrator, Entrepreneur Magazine, as well as newspapers including Orlando Business Journal, Sydney (Australia) Herald, Pasadena Star News, LA Times, New Jersey Star Ledger, Argus Leader, and many more. She has written for Forbes, AOL, Yahoo, CareerBuilder, Monster, A&U Magazine, Management Issues, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. For more information about her consulting and speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com.