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, Aggie the Agreer. and Delia the Delicate Flower.
Edna the Envious has you as her target. She is envious of you and she can make your life a living inferno. I had a boss once who had her Masters Degree, but she still had not finished her doctorate. She was envious of me and my Ph.D. and she made my life very difficult. In addition to being a full time faculty member, I also continued my private practice and I would see clients around my teaching schedule and on weekends. She gave me various classes to sub for without asking if I had the time available. She put me on committees for which I had no expertise. Fellow faculty members who needed a sub for their classes asked me to sub for them and at times, Edna would disallow it. She was mean-spirited, petty, and vicious.
When I found and bought a used Mercedes at a bargain rate, she was envious of that. She made remarks to co-workers about my car. She made remarks about my office, which I shared with a fellow faculty member. There was no pleasing her because her game was to “one-up me” or “one down me,” depending on her perspective.
I was frustrated and angry. You may feel the same way when you have a boss who feels threatened by you in some way – your degree, your good looks, your car, your connections, your personality – whatever it is. They want what you have or they want to be who you are. So the green-eyed monster raises its ugly head and you have to deal with it.
Envy comes from feelings of insecurity, resentment, and anger. Envious people want what you have – your material things or your personality traits or want to be as thin as you are or as handsome or as pretty as you are – and they don’t think they can get those things themselves. Instead of using their energy to get what they covet – like making more money, losing weight, buying the things they want, changing their personality – they spread rumors, make snide remarks, or use their power over you to make your life difficult. They are irrational and sometimes do very crazy things in their effort to cover over their inner depths of inadequacy and self-hatred.
The Chinese proverb that best sums this up is: “Some people feel taller by cutting other people’s heads off.”
They hope you will quit or at least transfer to another department so you will be out of their way and not be a threat to their position. Many times their job is all they have in their lives. Many are divorced or in unhappy marriages. They have children from whom they are estranged and they have few real friends. Is it any wonder why they are such miserable people?!
My boss was suspicious that I would take over her job. That was the last thing I wanted – sitting behind a desk doing endless stacks of paperwork or attending monotonous committee meetings that drone on and on with little or no progress. How boring! But she thought I was on a campaign to unseat her. No matter how many times I diplomatically told her administrative position was not on my goal list in life, she didn’t hear what I said. All I wanted to do was teach, but she didn’t believe me. Her own fears made her immune to the reality of the situation.
She was racing to finish her doctorate to insure her job security, thinking that earning her Ph.D. would be her eternal safeguard for her job. I tried to compliment her on her tenacity, sharing stories from my own graduate years about the joy of completion, but she didn’t want to hear any emotionally supportive statements from my lips, and she ignored me. I did my job, got my assignments in on time, and did my best to stay out of her path.
With an Edna, it always feels like a no-win situation. She plays a chess game where she always says “Check.” The SOLUTION section can give you a few ways you can deal with her.
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 Edna the Envious or if you yourself are an Edna. 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 Edna the Envious is one of the best ways to deal with her. You need to decide what way(s) of handling Edna the Envious 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 Ednas of the world that you are aware of their envy and sabotage and that you want a win/win solution so everyone is happy.
If your boss is an Edna, I would recommend being very tactful. If you go to a more direct approach, be prepared to lose your job! For an Edna who is your boss, this might be appropriate: “Edna, I know you are getting your doctorate and I already have one. You may feel at a disadvantage. I am no threat to your job no matter what you may believe. I am here to teach and that’s all I want to do. I feel you try to make my life difficult so I will quit. I’d like to have a good working relationship. How can we make this into a win/win for both of us?”
If you are stuck with Edna the Envious, here are some suggestions:
1) Diplomatically tell her you do not want her job and put it in writing. You should cc the letter to her boss, and her boss’s boss. Cover your back and create a paper trail. You may need to outline how difficult she has made your job with extensive examples.
2) 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.
3) 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. Let them write the letter and threaten them with “hostile work environment” charges.
4) Make and appointment and go directly to her boss to explain the situation, restating that you do not want her job. Give him a copy of your letter in case his admin assistant has convenient lost it or deleted it from his emails. Many times bosses do not receive important documents because of office politics, bribery, or extortion. Or they themselves conveniently throw it away or claim they never received it.
5) Ignore her snide remarks and vicious rumors
6) Confront the snide remarks and vicious rumors in a letter and cc it to co-workers and her boss and her boss’s boss.
7) Confront her directly that her envy is getting in the way of a pleasant working relationship and tell her to stop the snide remarks and rumor spreading. Bring a copy of your letter with you.
8) If your company has an ombudsman or a mediation department, ask for an appointment, tell them what the issues are, and schedule a mediation session or two to resolve it with Edna.
If none of these approaches work, you can go to the district manager or other higher ups.
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. But they may see it as a petty office spat and ignore it. If Edna is doing this to other co-workers, you may have more evidence for a stronger case of “hostile work environment” charges against her.
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 Edna and the company received them.
Remember – according to attorneys, you can use voice mail messages from Edna 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 Ednas 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 Edna the Envious!
—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.