Friday, July 25, 2008

defeating an abusive boss

Employees and consultants can be categorized into two psychological groups: masochists and assertives. Only assertives will succeed in business. CEOs and managers hate masochistic employees.

Are you a slave? A victim? An easy target?

If you let your boss get away with stupidity, criminality, or terror-inducing behavior, you'll fail on the job and in your entire career. Once you identify yourself as a person who cannot say "No" to an employer, you're dead.

Saying, "I have to choose which battles to fight, I can't fight them all" is a rationalization that works against you. If the battle is being fought over your self-esteem, or legality, you must win this battle. Even if, as a staff employee, or internal consultant on the payroll, you must temporarily submit to some (non-criminal) indignity or foolishness, you then have to escape: transfer to another department, or find another job.

A severely crippled self-worth, a serious lack of personal dignity will follow you in all your relationships and dealings with others. Con artists, predators, and cults seek such emotional freaks to take advantage of, and they'll find you eventually.

Masochists are people who enjoy, secretly or obviously, being hurt, criticized, and robbed of self-esteem. They actually feel euphoric when a cruel boss praises them, because for a masochist, one praise makes up for 100 insults.

Cruelty is accepted by a masochist, because they feel they deserve it, or they believe they have to submit to abuse. They think being passive and easily manipulated is the only way they can survive, please the boss, and get a paycheck.

This is untrue.

If you let your boss or client walk all over you, they'll despise you. You must care enough about yourself to have limits on how people can treat you. Be firm, resolute, never wavering. You must have certain boundaries, principles, and professionalism that nobody can violate. It's all about self-respect and dignity.

Weaklings, cowards, and chumps are ridiculed and mistreated, even by non-sadistic people, simply because no one respects passive victims who kiss ass to survive.

Walter Kiechel III, former managing editor of Fortune, now a consultant, wrote a book called Office Hours: A Guide to the Managerial Life (Harper & Row, 1988), a book that's nearly impossible to find now. I'm happy to own a copy. Kiechel is quite blunt about this topic of bosses who are bullies.

Here are some gems from p. 78, 79.

Bosses have problems with wimps. So don't be one....the opposite of wimpery is not idiot machismo -- full of bluster, overbearing -- but rather an aggressive yet artful straightforwardness.

After getting the requisite facts, and giving their presentation a bit of crafty thought, "be straight up in the boss's face," as one Silicon Valley manager puts it.

Robert C. Bleke, a management psychologist...elaborates: "It is very important that a subordinate NOT try to play psychologist with his boss. Don't try to interpret, outguess, or read something into what he may say or do."

You just let him know there are certain things you're not going to put up with.

The abuser is insecure and has little control over his own life. He's miserable, and misery loves company. His mediocrity forces him to use manipulation of others to conceal his deficiencies. When questioned or challenged by subordinates, he erupts in tyrannical rage. "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you!" is a common ploy. Subordinates realize he's incapable of self-awareness. They retaliate by doing things behind his back.

One way an abused employee will fight back is passive aggression. "Yes sir", they say, then they refuse to obey, knowing that he'll move onto other business. If he asks why something was not done, they'll lie to him, for he deserves no better.

Another way his subordinates will get revenge is by stealing from the company. This theft can include property, products, or time. If an employee works from home, he'll bill the boss for 40 hours, but only work 10 or 20 hours.

However, these tactics only result in the lowering of your own standards of morality and professionalism. You are allowing the abuser's treatment of you to dictate a decline in your own ethics. There's a better way. First you must realize why the tyrant is acting the way he does.

An abusive boss is frightened of the owner, board of directors, or other intimidators. He escapes his own cowardice and incompetence by tormenting his subordinates. He enhances his feeling of power and domination by reducing you to a quivering heap of anxiety.

You end up hating your boss, your job, your miserable life.

Even worse, if you let an abusive boss warp your personality with sadistic treatment, a permanent state, an untreatable mental condition, is eventually achieved.

You slowly but surely reach the point where you cannot regain your self-esteem. You become brainwashed into being a subservient freak, a totally gutless zombie. You will henceforth seek abusive bosses and they'll be happy to take you into their torture chamber.

Women in relationships with abusive men will support this concept: too much abuse will drive you insane, destroying your self-respect and mental clarity forever. A mental degradation occurs. You lose your nerve and your independent will. You're transformed into a puppet, a limp pile of fearful tremblings. You develop paranoid delusions.

You feel powerless to manage and enjoy your own life.

You become convinced that there's no way out. You lose energy and become numb. You forget that human beings are equal. You forget that people, including bosses and boyfriends, should treat others as they would want to be treated.

It gets complex, because the masochistic employee who tolerates harsh and unjust treatment often mirrors the domineering boss. In other words, the masochist will act sadistically toward those he feels are inferior to him, whether a lover or the cashier at WalMart. The victim's insecurity and humiliation cause him to unleash on others the fury that he wishes he could unleash on the boss.

The victim craves approval and allows the boss to flatter him in a manipulative manner, similar to a battered wife: "He says he really loves me. He's a good provider. He buys me flowers. I deserve his beatings, because I'm not perfect or worthy of his greatness." The employee rationalizes that the boss is "finicky", demanding, and has a right to change his mind and not be a man of his word.

The longer this unhealthy submission/domination is allowed to go on, the more out of touch with reality the victim becomes, resulting in delusions and excuses no normal person would accept.

Psychiatrists refer to a diffuse narcissistic vulnerability, whereby he's easily angered by criticisms by fellow employees of his work, or suggestions that he stop being so easily manipulated. In the worst case scenario, the victimized employee builds up rationalizations for the abuser and will not tolerate any criticism or "misinterpretation" of the fiendish enslaver.

What is clear to normal observers becomes completely clouded by the victim's inordinate craving for leadership, approval, and guidance from the abuser.

Heinz Kohut, in his monograph The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders (International Universities Press, 1971) has much to say about meek submission to enslaving authority figures.

Here's how an approval-addict victim mentality is described as manifested in a clinical study. Remember, the victim can turn into the tyrant, a cloned representation of the cruel boss, and often does so.

...he was forever in search of guidance and approval.

So long as he felt accepted and counseled and guided by such men, so long as he felt that they approved of him, he experienced himself as whole, acceptable, and capable; and under such circumstances, he was indeed able to do well in his work and to be creative and successful.

At slight signs of disapproval of him, however, or lack of understanding for him, or loss of interest in him, he would feel drained and depressed, would tend to become first enraged and then cold, haughty, and isolated, and his creativeness and work capacity deteriorated. (p. 58)

The way to defeat a control freak client or boss is to be infinitely more stubborn than they are. You let them know that you expect them to treat you with respect and fairness. You make it clear that one single violation of your personal value will not be tolerated. You refuse to budge.

You'd rather starve to death with dignity than be rich with a victim mentality.

You can quit your job if it comes to that. You can terminate your consulting relationship with an abusive, disrespectful client. You need your self-respect far more than you need their money.

You can always get more money, but once your self-esteem and assertiveness is destroyed or abandoned, it can be impossible to ever re-build it. Once you cower in fear, you may never again be able to stand tall.

Giving in to a cruel and crazy boss sends a strong message to him: "I can be toyed with. I have no rights. I have no other way to make money. I need you, no matter how horrible you treat me."

Defeat an abusive boss by taking a stand for your rights as an individual. Resist his attempts to play with your emotions.

Refuse to put up with "testing the boundaries", mind games, and arrogant power plays. Treat the abuser as an insane child, scold them for their wickedness, then let the chips fall where they may.

You will live to find another job, with a more humane boss.

I promise!

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