How to Deal with a Tactless Tyrant
For years I had the misfortune of working with someone who was disrespectful, unpredictable and moody. Some would call him a bully; I called him a jerk.
Because I wanted to be ‘nice’, I tolerated his behavior. I thought that if I said anything I’d be rocking the proverbial boat, and was seriously concerned that I might be reprimanded because he was in a position of higher authority than me.
I wasn’t alone – his boorish behavior affected almost everyone at work. Like the wind, you never knew when his temperament would shift. He was a tall, lanky, volatile force to be reckoned with.
One day he humiliated me in front of my colleagues – yet again. An awkward silence fell over the room, and I could tell by the looks on people’s faces that they could feel my embarrassment. They also appeared relieved that it wasn’t their turn to be lambasted.
But this time something was different for me. For some reason I decided it was the last straw.
For the first and only time in my professional life, I was ready to quit. As I was sitting at my desk preparing to gather my belongings and walk out the door of my office, leaving my hard-earned career behind, he walked in. My back was to him as he leaned in to my workspace and carried on with his diatribe.
Something came over me. It was a sense of profound peace, and to this day I can recall how completely unexpected the feeling was, because until then his mere presence would rile me.
I knew in my heart that I would no longer put up with his behavior. I was done.
As I turned in my chair to face him, I was smiling. It was a smile that came from deep within my soul. I paused, looked him square in the eyes and said, “We need to talk.”
He got the strangest, most fearful look on his face. Averting my gaze, he replied, “Do you think we could do it over the phone?”
“No,” I countered. “Please sit down.”
I arose from my chair and closed the door, not really sure what I was about to say. In that instant I knew the right words would come, and I was suddenly certain I wouldn’t be resigning that day. I loved my work, and I’d toiled too long and too hard to walk away from a career that had taken me years to advance. It was the best job I’d ever had.
It’s hard to remember exactly what words were exchanged. I know I was remarkably calm and spoke only for myself. I know that my statements included a declaration that I would no longer allow him – or anyone else – to treat me that way again (something I probably needed to hear as much as he did). I recall specifically asking why he thought he had the right to publicly demean his staff. He didn’t have an answer.
What I have absolute clarity about was his utter astonishment that I was calling him out on his actions. He simply couldn’t believe that anyone would have the guts to confront him.
I’m sure he’d gotten away with that kind of behavior his entire life, and he tried to wiggle out of accountability this time by claiming he had no idea he was coming across as a tyrant. I think I may have seen tears well up in his eyes, but I’m not sure. I know he didn’t apologize.
Because I would no longer accept anything less than diplomacy, our discussion was courteous, professional and to the point.
That conversation changed my life. In a heartbeat I gained enough self-esteem to replace being nice (and not speaking up for fear of retribution) with being civil (and having a long overdue, frank discussion).
That man and I continued to work together until I outgrew the job, and – though his antics persisted with others – he never treated me discourteously again. And neither has anyone else since.
What I realize now is that he didn’t change, I did. And that has made all the difference in the world.
Here are 6 civility suggestions that may help you deal with a jerk at work:
- Take your time: Backlash occurs when we erupt and speak too quickly, because that’s when our emotions cloud our messages. It can also mean we don’t have enough time to discuss things completely. Simmer down before speaking up. But don’t wait as long as I did to address the problem. I still believe that bringing my concerns up sooner would have alleviated months, if not years, of angst.
- Be direct: This isn’t the time to dance around your issues. Be very clear about the points you want to make, and avoid inundating the other person with a long list of concerns. In order to keep the conversation on topic you must have absolute clarity about details and be solid in your position. In fact, it’s advisable to write things down beforehand so you can summarize the facts in an organized, succinct fashion.
- Speak for yourself: It’s tempting in this kind of discourse to bring up everything negative that anyone else has ever said about the person you’re speaking with. Unless you have been asked to represent a group, do not mention a word about the complaints of others. This is an opportunity for you to express your unique experiences and concerns. If other people have something to say, leave it up to them to do so on their own time.
- Hear them out: Listen to the other person’s point of view. It is likely that they see things very differently than you do. Allow them the opportunity to tell their side of the story and listen attentively for nuggets that may help you gain a deeper understanding of their perspective. Civility includes being open-minded enough to respectfully allow others the chance to share their opinions and frame their context, even if you disagree. What you’re striving for is a dialogue, not a dispute.
- Don’t apologize: There’s no need to say “I’m sorry” for someone else’s belittling behavior or condescending attitude, yet often we’re made to feel as though we should apologize. Resist the urge. You do not need to seek forgiveness for honestly expressing yourself in a respectful manner (operative term being “respectful”).
- Move on: When the conversation is over and a conclusion has been reached, let it go. Even if the result of the dialogue is to agree to disagree or to take your concerns to the next level of the organization … when it’s over, it’s over. For the sake of your soul, try not to revisit the experience over and over again in your mind. Doing so can lead to resentment and remorse, when what you really want is resolution.
Though I never would have believed it at the time, in hindsight I’m thankful for this experience. Confronting that man enabled me to learn my limits. It also allowed me to recognize his behaviors in others, ultimately empowering me to deal with incivility before it gets out of hand. If you are ever in the challenging position of being toe-to-toe with a tormentor, I urge you to remember to stick to facts over feelings. That level of courtesy will trump conflict every time.
Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO™, an executive consultant who helps individuals & businesses gain confidence, earn respect and create courteous corporate cultures.
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©Copyright 2012 Sue Jacques ~ The Civility CEO™. All rights reserved. You are welcome to copy, quote or share as long as the content is intact and the writer is credited. Thank you!