Back in the day when I was but a young online marketing ingénue, I was living the idyllic life, working for a mentor I adored as part of a smart, cohesive and fun team (at least that’s how I remember it). Then, my first corporate reorg occurred and I found out effective immediately, I would be moving to Team X and reporting to my new boss, I’ll call him “Tad.” Tad was the new exec on the block and had a reputation for “shaking things up” and “straight talk.” Little did I know at the time that this is code-speak for this guy is a megalomaniacal jerk.
Team X and Tad had a different vibe. Tad lead his team with a unique mix of bombast, intimidation, and manipulation with just a dash of sexual harassment to keep things interesting. Tad’s favorite thing to do was call the team together and yell at/lecture us on obscure sociological topics for up to 3 hours at a time (I’m not exaggerating). Fun. Needless to say I did not respond well to this management style.
One day, Tad tracked me down and called me to his office. I managed to avoid him most of the time since I worked in another building. Then, with his office door open, he tore into me about some perceived mistake I made. To top it off, he then proceeded to deliver a pandering lecture that was supposed to “help” me “get” whatever he perceived I wasn’t getting. All of this within clear earshot of all my coworkers and lasting for a couple of hours. To this day I still cringe at the thought of dodging the spittle while sitting there enduring his tirade and trying not to cry (I didn’t thank god). I was humiliated, angry and ready to walk right out the door.
That’s not a question I could ask much less answer at that time. I spent a lot of time feeling victimized by Tad and eventually threatened to quit my job if I wasn’t moved to another manager (not a recommended move unless you’re really ready to walk). There was practically a take-a-ticket machine at HR for Tad by this time so it came as no surprise to the powers-that-be. But why did Tad’s tirades make me feel so bad?
Because I believed him.
I was insecure and intimidated by him and others around me. I believed I was not as smart as the rest of Team X so Tad’s tirades felt like a knife in my heart. This is an important distinction—it wasn’t Tad’s words that were cutting me, it was my THOUGHTS about his words.
What if I hadn’t believed Tad? What if I completely believed that I was smart, talented and that nothing bad would happen to me no matter what he said? I’ll tell you what would’ve happened—it would’ve been a much shorter meeting. If I didn’t believe what Tad is saying, I wouldn’t have attached to it emotionally, which would have allowed me to use my rational mind to extract myself from the situation—and would’ve made me a much less attractive target for his tirade. (People like this pick up insecurity like a scent and will go for the jugular every time.)
Here’s how it could’ve gone had I not believed what he was saying:
Tad: Bridgette, you totally screwed up the TPS report.
Bridgette: Hmmm, can you give me more specifics about what you expected to see?
Tad: Well, you should’ve attached the cover sheet to the TPS report thusly.
Bridgette: Ok Tad, I’ll make sure to do that next time. Later.
I can tell you that I wouldn’t have hung around for hours of verbal abuse. When I believe I’m worthy, there are a million ways to handle this situation, most of them involving a very short conversation. When I’m emotionally attached, I shut down and become stuck.
I couldn’t change Tad (turns out Tad couldn’t change himself and was eventually fired), but I could’ve changed my thoughts about the situation. When you don’t believe something is true, it’s impossible for someone else to attack or victimize you. What they are saying will literally seem bizarre or even laughable to you—it’s just not real. Try it and see what happens.