In The Workplace
By Francie Dalton
hostile without provocation, Attackers are often the most demoralizing
influence in the workplace. They
are highly critical of others in public, using demeaning and
condescending tones that intimidate and humiliate. With biting sarcasm
toward others, they spit out attacks that are personal in nature and
tantamount to verbal abuse. Cynical
and grouchy, Attackers view themselves as superior to others,
continually expressing contempt and disgust for the incompetence and
inadequacy of what they consider to be the great, blubbering masses of
humanity, a population that includes their co-workers.
We can’t defend ourselves to an Attacker because there simply
is no such thing as “our side of the story”.
They have a real need to know who is to blame for anything that
goes awry, actively searching out the guilty party without rest until
s/he has been fully exposed. They
sneer at us, disrespect us, and seem to take pleasure in spiritually
what to do about the Attacker seems to stymie even the most tough
Although terminating Attackers may seem an obvious solution, it
really isn’t that simple. By the time Attackers can get away with
demonstrating their special brand of behavior, they’re usually quite
accomplished in their field. Perhaps
they generate the most revenue, or have the strongest relationships
with the most valued clients or board members.
Perhaps they possess abilities without which market position
would be eroded, or have institutional memory of particular value.
In such cases, executives perceive their choice as being
between protecting the core business, (retaining the Attacker), or
protecting employees from the emotional turmoil caused by Attackers
(terminating the Attacker). More
often than not, the Attacker is retained.
Indeed, organizations are willing to endure our unending
complaints about Attackers, and to be vulnerable to what can be
litigious Attacker behavior in order to preserve access to Attacker
The rest of us need to get aggressive about learning how to
neutralize the negative impacts of Attackers.
To that end, this article provides tips for dealing
successfully with this behavior, whether the Attacker in your
workplace is your superior or your subordinate.
As your boss, the Attacker makes you most vulnerable by pushing you
to the point where you lose your composure.
This of course, only incites further abuse.
For some of us, the searing, spirit-crushing comments of the
Attacker haunt us for years, eroding our confidence and producing a
temerity that impedes our careers.
If this describes you, don’t wait for someone to come and
save you; save yourself!!
Transfer to another position or leave the company. Yes,
you can go to HR and complain, but the discomfort and stress of
launching a formal action rarely produces sustained change in
if you view your encounters with Attackers as unpleasant but not
wounding, you can use your emotional toughness to help others and
yourself. Here’s how.
your colleagues and volunteer to be the one who interacts with the
Attacker boss. Whatever
the need for engaging the Attacker, whether to receive assignments or
to submit completed work, be the primary point of contact for the
Attacker. Setting yourself
up as a buffer in this way has three main benefits.
First, your colleagues will be grateful, because they no longer
have to deal with the Attacker; they
can work through you instead. Second,
the Attacker will prefer this arrangement, not only because it
alleviates the need to deal with the rest of the sniveling weenies,
but also because s/he can be mean, rude and difficult with impunity,
since you will have consistently demonstrated an imperviousness to
that style. Be prepared,
though! The Attacker will want this “joined at the hip”
arrangement with you to be permanent!
Finally, you’ll develop a reputation for being strong enough
and secure enough to deal effectively even with the likes of an
distinguishes you among your peers, and it won’t go unnoticed by
As your subordinate, the Attacker makes you most vulnerable by
decimating the morale of your team, and by being a divisive force
between your team and all others in the organization. You may be
completely unaware that such an individual is on your staff.
Attackers aren’t stupid;
they rarely display their venomous behavior in the presence of
their boss. Absent the
complaints of others, the only other way to reveal an Attacker is
through the implementation of a 360 degree feedback process.
Once you know you have an Attacker on board, your first
obligation is to get help for the rest of your staff.
Ensure they receive training or coaching immediately on how to
neutralize the internal impacts of Attackers.
Encourage them to behave in android-like fashion when
interacting with the Attacker, and then re-align workflow to minimize
the need for them to interact with the Attacker.
secondary obligation is to provide critical feedback to your Attacker
subordinate. When the time
comes to do so, remember this: Attackers
interpret any critical feedback as a sign of disrespect.
Although this may be precisely what they’ve earned, the
direct approach will not be
effective with Attackers. What
will work is the use of self-convicting questions – questions that
cause the Attacker to convict him/herself rather than your doing so.
For example, “What do you believe to be the most important
characteristics of teamsmanship? How
do you plan to evidence these throughout the next review period?”
“In your opinion, what is the importance of interaction
between team leaders and those they lead?
What will you be doing this review period to positively impact
team interaction?” The
Attacker is then compelled to perform consistent with his/her own
lest we become righteously indignant about the Attacker, it’s
important to recognize that they have crucial and indispensable
strengths. First, as
individuals, Attackers are low maintenance. They can withstand
professional loneliness in perpetuity; indeed they prefer it; so they
won’t want to sit down and chat; they don’t require tact or
diplomacy; and they deliver. Second,
they can be relied upon to make business decisions without being
hampered by emotion. Because
they are impervious to the dislike of others, Attackers are willing to
do the ugly unpopular jobs with which others don’t want to be
associated. Next, their
resilience is legendary. Serious
blowback that would put others in the fetal position for weeks simply
rolls right off the back of an Attacker.
Others see them as being indestructible.
This same quality makes the Attacker a terrifying, ruthless
enemy. If your company is
executing or defending against a hostile takeover, if you’re a
defendant at trial, if the stakes are high and others are buckling
under the pressure, no one is a more formidable warrior than the
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about Francie Dalton.
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