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, Orin the Orator, Snyder the Sniper, Virgil the Virtual Boss, and Aggie the Agreer.
Having had requests on this topic, I’m writing this column for those who are Delicate Flowers, as well as for those who have one for a boss and/or a co-worker. Delia the Delicate Flower complains about bright lights, odors, noise, and anything that is too much for her sensitivity to handle.
There are usually two types of Delia the Delicate Flower – 1) one that truly has a high level of sensitivity to odors, fragrances, light, noise, chemicals, certain foods, medicine, fluorescent lights, negativity from people and environments, and other influences and 2) the person who milks it to get attention and uses high sensitivity to get out of deadlines and job responsibilities.
Delia can have sneezing attacks from someone’s aftershave, perfume, or cleaning supplies; if others wear headphones and play music, Delia can hear it and can get headaches and even migraines from the music and/or from harsh fluorescent lights, too much daylight, loud noises, as well as the lawn edgers, mowers, and leaf blowers from the gardeners working outside. Whatever puts her on overload qualifies.
Delia the Delicate Flower can be a difficult person to have as a boss or as a co-worker, especially if you’re sitting next to or near her. Regardless, you may be caught in a no win situation with her. You may not use any perfume, but she can smell your shampoo, body soap, or hand lotion and it may give her a sneezing attack. She may not like certain bright colors and ask you to wear dark colors or pastels. If you play music on your headphones, don’t sing or hum along with the songs because it will annoy her. You may feel that no matter what you do, you can’t please Delia or stop her allergic attacks.
Many bosses in the work place have no patience or time to deal with such sensitivity. Corporations and businesses are geared to make money with very little concern for the health or lives of their employees. Not all corporations are like this, however, and there are some truly excellent companies and businesses to work for that are pleasant and have positive environments. Many understand hypersensitivity and do what they can to assist the Delias of the workplace.
“Delicate flowers” should have protection by the company, but that is very rare. They would rather hire someone else to do the job who has no health constraints or limits. Sometimes the boss or company can be forced to make accommodations if they have been found to have “a hostile work environment.”
“Delicate flowers” have to learn to protect and shield themselves. They need to be PROACTIVE and find viable solutions for a win/win with the company.
If you’re a Delia, you do have options and you must also be assertive about getting your needs met and protecting yourself, as well as reaching a satisfactory solution with the company.
Why are there Delias in the world? Some people are simply born with hypersensitivity to stimuli – light, odors, fragrances, noise, and “negative vibes”. It may be how their brain and/or nervous system is/are wired. They may have food allergies. They may refrain from alcohol and drugs because of their high levels of sensitivity. Do not force them to have a drink at a business lunch in a restaurant or at the company picnic or party. Many highly sensitive people may have joined AA or other 12 Step Groups and are committed to their sobriety, so be understanding at all levels. Try to make it a win/win solution for all involved.
The Type 2 of Delia the Delicate Flower – whether a boss or a co-worker – is the one who milks it and uses it as an excuse to be absent and to avoid meeting deadlines and job responsibilities. Some “delicate flowers” use their high sensitivity as a constant excuse. Some traits they may display include:
1) They do not finish their work and/or they work slowly, which can slow the entire department.
2) They are chronically late and/or absent because of sickness.
3) They constantly complain and talk about their ailments to others.
4) They make life miserable for their co-workers and bosses.
5) They play martyr and try to make people feel sorry for them.
6) They act like a victim and set people up to continue their “victim script.”
7) They blame others for causing their condition.
8) They stay stuck in their own “pity party” and do not seek a cure or help for their ailments or a workable solution at the office.
9) They feel sorry for themselves and/or they guilt trip other people.
10) They attempt to make other people responsible for their plight.
11) They may take the company to court when it MAY not be the company’s fault and they just want someone to blame and/or they want to make money in a law suit.
If the company is negligent and/or is putting people in toxic situations by exposing them to dangerous chemicals, etc., then by ALL means, the company should be taken to court, reported to OSHA, and/or exposed through the media, etc. if you’re a Delia and that is the case, then find an attorney specializing in employment law and file a law suit. This situation may be similar to disabled workers needing on ramps, bathrooms with toilets and sinks that are accessible, large elevators, etc. Certain accommodations must be made.
If you are a Delia, I hope you can and will find a win/win situation for yourself. If not, it will be painful for you – financially, physically, and psychologically. Take responsibility for your condition and see that a win/win solution can work. Be open minded and creative in your thinking to arrange your workplace environment so that you and your employees/co-workers are comfortable.
Here are some suggestions for your work situation:
1) Wear earplugs, sunglasses, baseball caps and hats with visors to lessen noise and harsh light. Reading glasses that are also sunglasses are helpful and can be found at the Dollar Store or Dollar Tree or 99c Store for only a dollar. They are called, “Sun Readers.” You may also want to have a pair specially made for yourself by your optician. You can also bring in desk lamps or standing lamps, instead of dealing with fluorescent lighting.
2) Work from home and use Skype for meetings and/or put your phone on speaker at a low volume. Buy headphones that have a volume control button.
3) Isolate yourself as best you can in your office. Find an empty space or an unused desk in a distant corner. Or find an office to work in and tell the boss you need to move or switch places with a co-worker. I heard of someone who converted a large closet for her office. There were no windows of course, but it worked for her. See if any are available.
4) Band together with other highly sensitive people (if there are any) in your company and request/demand a separate wing or section of the office just for all of you without fluorescent lights, odors, loud noises and music, etc. Bring in lamps and other things to lessen the overwhelming stimuli.
5) If the conditions are dangerous or in violation of the law, notify your boss, the Operations Manager and/or HR. If they do nothing to change it, then take it to OSHA and file a complaint.
6) Hire an experienced employment attorney by yourself or with others to request or demand your rights. You may not have a case. If you can prove “hostile work environment” that might work, but it might not. Perhaps they will correct the situation.
On a personal level, if you’re a Delia the Delicate Flower, here are some suggestions to undertake by yourself to handle the hypersensitivity:
1) There may be serious health issues that a highly sensitive person has. Finding holistic and alternative medicine practitioners that Western medicine MDs may miss can be the solution. Ask friends, neighbors, and relatives of holistic practitioners they know and had good results with and go to them. Go online, find and go to a licensed, qualified, holistic practitioner and/or alternative medicine doctor who will help you combat and rid yourself of your own afflictions, allergies, and ailments.
2) Go to a licensed nutritionist or allergy specialist. See if you have an allergy or allergies to certain foods or substances.
3) Take vitamins and supplements in a program designed for your body and health needs by a licensed professional.
4) Get massages by a licensed massage therapist.
5) Soak in hot or warm tubs, take frequent showers, soak in mineral and healing waters at a spa if you can afford to go.
6) Go to a licensed acupuncturist.
7) Go to a licensed chiropractor.
8) Go to a licensed/certified naturopath.
9) Exercise, get a trainer to design a program for you personally and/or in a gym or health club or YMCA.
10) Meditate, pray, do yoga, and start visualizing. Read “Visualization” by Adelaide Bry and other books on the topic.
11) Read and any and all books by Dr. Elaine Aron who wrote “The Highly Sensitive Person” and related books. Here is her link on Amazon:
12) Read anything and everything written by Louise Hay especially, “You Can Heal Your Life” and do the accompanying workbook, and also anything by Bernie Siegel, MD, who wrote “Love, Medicine and Miracles.” Anything by Dr. Wayne Dyer, Napoleon Hill, Andrew Weil, MD, and many other authors can also be helpful.
What is the best way to deal with the company in a situation like this? First, since there are legal issues involved that could deal with “a hostile work environment,” make sure you keep accurate records. Put EVERYTHING IN WRITING. You must create a paper trail when dealing with Delia the Delicate Flower or if you yourself are a Delia. This is important in the business, and even the personal world, to avoid misunderstanding, law suits, and wasting time, money and energy. Clear, frequent, and honest communication is crucial to productive, lucrative, successful companies and human relationships. More about creating a paper trail later and keep this in mind while you continue reading.
As I mentioned in my book, Surviving the Toxic Workplace (McGraw Hill), “calling a process shot” on Delia the Delicate Flower is one of the best ways to deal with her. You need to decide what way(s) of handling Delia the Delicate Flower is best and most effective for you.
By definition, a process shot is describing HOW and additionally WHY someone is doing something. You describe their “process” – their method, style, hidden agendas, rationale, and how they come across to you. This is similar to putting a pin in a balloon. They are “busted” – called out, identified, pinpointed (excuse the pun) as to their sneaky motivation and style for getting what they want. You’ve identified their evil side, and they won’t like it one bit because they honestly think they can get away with it and that you’re too stupid or naïve to notice or pick it up intuitively. Use your Emotional Intelligence (a great book and great title, by the way by Daniel Goleman), and call a process shot – tell the Delias of the world that you are aware of their hypersensitivity and that you want a win/win solution so everyone is happy.
If your boss is a Delia, I would recommend being very tactful. If you go to a more direct approach, be prepared to lose your job! For a Delia who is your boss, this might be appropriate: “Delia, I know you have a high sensitivity to odors, lights, noise, colors, and other issues. I’d like to know how I can best deal with it to protect you and so you don’t start sneezing or getting a headache. Please let me know. Tell me what you prefer from me so that we can both have a good working environment. How can we make this into a win/win for both of us?”
For a Delia who is a co-worker, this might work best: “Delia, I know you have a high sensitivity to odors, lights, noise, colors, and other issues. I’d like to know how I can best deal with it to protect you and so you don’t start sneezing or getting a headache. Please let me know. I’d also like to discuss other creative solutions with you, like you working from home and online and using Skype for meetings. How can we make this into a win/win for both of us?”
For a Type 2 Delia who is a co-worker, something like this might be in order: “Delia, I know you have a high sensitivity to odors, lights, noise, colors and other issues. I’m sure that is can be painful. Sometimes I feel that you really milk it for sympathy and to get out of your work responsibilities; and that you also like to blame the office or people for your condition. Perhaps you could work from home and Skype for meetings. I’d like to know how I can best deal with it so you don’t start sneezing or getting a headache. Please let me know. If you are that overwhelmed, I really suggest that you seek medical help, perhaps from holistic, alternative medicine doctors. You may want to find a job or a career where you can totally work from home. Or you may be able to do that with this current job. How can we make this into a win/win for both of us?”
If none of these approaches work, you can go to Delia’s boss and/or Delia’s boss’s boss and/or district manager. You may also want to contact HR as well. Usually HR is the tool of the company or corporation so they may not be very helpful, although there are exceptions and there are some very responsive HR departments.
If you’re a union member, contacting the union’s attorney and legal department can save money since you won’t have to pay for an attorney.
Simultaneously you could also alert OSHA and EEOC and/or any other higher authority to get their attention and have the situation resolved. If it is a dangerous situation, like faulty plumbing, electricity, building code violations, poisonous gases, and other issues, contact the police, County and State building inspectors as well and any other government agencies.
If you’re a Delia the Delicate Flower and you feel the company is ignoring your needs despite your repeated requests and that they are making the workplace even more toxic by exposing you to dangerous chemicals, odors, lights, etc., then contact an attorney and have them send a letter of demand to correct the situation. That usually gets the attention of the company and HR. They do not want a law suit or negative publicity and are more apt to settle out of court.
If that fails, you may want to use the media as another option. Most TV and radio stations and newspapers have a consumer alert reporter or department. This is their job.
As I mentioned previously in this column, creating a paper trail is crucial. You can do this by sending letters and emails; have witnesses who will send supporting letters and/or who will go with to you to HR to make reports and complaints; you and your witnesses should always send certified, return receipt letters so you know they received them and/or deliver it to the boss, HR, boss’s boss, etc. with a witness, or have them served by a process server if and when you take it to court; call an attorney with experience in business and employment law and have them write letters to the company – make sure they are certified, return receipt letters so you know Delia and the company received them.
Remember – according to attorneys, you can use voice mail messages from Delia and/or other witnesses, employees, the company, etc., as admissible evidence in a court case. So save ALL your voice mail messages on a separate tape that you keep in your safety deposit box. Make copies and play them for your attorney, making sure they have a copy for the law case, one for the judge, the jury, and the opposing attorney.
Be prepared to be fired or, if you decide to stay, you’ll probably be given a very difficult time by any of the Delias and/or higher ups in the company who probably hope you quit. They would most likely prefer not to fire you because then that makes the company responsible to paying you unemployment, which they will initially contest and fight. They also do not want you to file a law suit. You may want to have another job lined up just in case or plan to start your own business by yourself with backers and/or with friends.
Get copies of your proof lined up when you make your complaint, with or without your attorney – preferably with your attorney present. And keep the originals in a safety deposit box at your bank and/or your safe at home.
I hope this column assists you in dealing with all types of Delia the Delicate Flower! And if you’re a Delia yourself, I hope these suggestions are helpful to you!
—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.