This domain name is for sale. Bid or buy now.



“Attacker” Behavior In The Workplace 

By Francie Dalton

Angry and 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 crushing us.

Deciding what to do about the Attacker seems to stymie even the most tough minded  executive. 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 assets.   Result? 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 Attackers. Alternatively, 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.

Talk to 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 Attacker. This distinguishes you among your peers, and it won’t go unnoticed by upper management.

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.

Your 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 input.

Finally, 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 Attacker.

Read other articles and learn more about Francie Dalton.

[This article is available at no-cost, on a non-exclusive basis. Contact PR/PR at 407-299-6128 for details and requirements.]

Home      Recent Articles      Author Index      Topic Index      About Us
2005-2018 Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc   ▪   privacy statement