If you’re a manager you’ve probably had to deal with one: that subordinate who brings ego, tantrums, gossip and personal issues to work – turning the office into hell. Lerato Mogoatlhe profiles four common types.
1. The emotional manipulator
No-one’s life is perfect but this employee’s seems to be in a permanent state of disarray. If it’s not a never-ending domestic saga, then it’s a chronic psychological disorder. You’re constantly hearing how this subordinate is seeing a team of medical and mental health experts and how their problems are technically under control.
Worst case scenario:
Auditor Tiisetso Seabela* became an instant life coach when one of her trainees told her about her bipolar disorder. When she was moody and forgetful, Tiisetso would give her time out and leave post-it reminders at her work station. Yet, she recalls, “Her problems kept mounting. She’d take the whole day off after seeing her psychologist because she found the sessions draining. She could not be put under pressure lest she have another dramatic nervous breakdown.” It finally ended with her resignation, but not after months of upheaval and many work hours lost. “I felt so manipulated especially after I found out she had exaggerated her disorder. Despite me being supportive and endlessly patient, it made no difference as she was consistently underperforming.”
Clinical psychologist Joanna Kleovoulou says:
Emotional manipulators are good at making you feel guilty for your choices. They seldom express their needs or desires openly as they have a tendency to get what they want through manipulation. They also tend to be victims of their circumstances and thrive on drama in their lives or come across as supportive and nurturing, but with ulterior motives. An effective way to deal with a manipulator is to hold them accountable for what they say by keep track of emails and log discussions, as well as letting them know that you have confidence in their ability to get to solutions on their own, instead of jumping in and fixing the mess that they have created in the first place.
2. The Bully
Tempestuous with a fatal attraction to confrontation, the bully knows that most people dislike conflict so he or she throws temper tantrums to get their way. The bully also consistently treats people in an unreasonable, disrespectful or emotionally abusive manner.
Worst case scenario:
Bullying relates to gender, race, age, religion, disabilities, marital status, ethnic origin and sexual orientation. Lesedi Ranaka* had two strikes against her when she became a manager at a government department. She was young and female. The would-be troublesome subordinate was older and had been at the department for so long he, “believed he ran the show and that that no-one could tell him anything.”
He openly declared that he would not be dictated to by a woman, refused to account for his expense claims, hardly showed up at meetings and barely delivered diligent reports.
Ranaka was adamant that she was not going to be bullied into letting this employee have his way. He retaliated by storming into her office, threatening to beat her up and basically held her hostage by his violent threats. Police who guard the premises had to be called in. She chose not to press charges and later discovered that he had previously threatened another female manager he worked under.
Clinical Psychologist Kleovoulous says:
Bullying is a deliberate attempt to belittle, control or undermine someone verbally, physically, emotionally or sexually. It usually occurs over a long period and can impact self-esteem. If you are being bullied, keep in mind that the bully’s behaviour is motivated by a sense of inadequacy and insecurity. It is recommended that you do not leave the issue – take note if there are other colleagues experiencing this and address the issue as a group. Discuss the matter with a trusted colleague, a manager or HR department so that they are aware and that you can gain some perspective. Remember to keep concise documents detailing the incidents. Should the behaviour not stop, consult your HR department for disciplinary action.
3. The Poison Pit
The Poison Pit is usually in the thick of all office politics – she operates by lying or spreading rumours to create tension. The Poison Pit has “files” on everyone, and does not mind sharing what she knows about colleagues with human resources and senior management. The Poison Pit is also the master of exaggeration.
Worst case scenario:
Lethabo Lekaka, an account manager, had three junior staff under her. One them happened to be a Poison Pit who would gossip about the other juniors. Lethabo’s turn came after she and the Pit where invited to a mutual friend’s house warming party. A bit of a party animal at heart, by the end of the night, Lethabo was on the table with a bottle of tequila, doing her thang. It took less than a week for the office to be abuzz with rumours, via the Pit, of Lethabo, “the drunkard who put partying before work.”
Clinical Psychologist Joanna Kleovoulous says:
This is a very destructive phenomenon which can create distrust, fury and discord among colleagues and team members. The best way to deal with an office gossip is to ignore her and focus back on your work or change the subject to information that will assist the task at hand. When gossip is not fuelled, it dies or finds another ground to fire from.
4. The Creative Vampire
The work place can be tough and competitive with different personalities under one roof. It can be hotbed for tension, drama and a destructive “win at all costs” mindset.
Koketso Mashilo and her colleague had creative chemistry and would discuss ideas and fine tune presentations together before hitting the boardroom. Koketso’s colleague had a reputation as a cut-throat career climber, but like Koketso she was brilliant, ambitious and determined to come out on top. Naturally, their paired up when they had to make a presentation on how to script a hot, new advertisement. “The winning idea was my brainchild,” Koketso recalls, “yet when we got to the presentation meeting , she passed it off as her own.” The idea eventually won an industry award and propelled her less than ethical colleague’s career, upwards. “She was the star of the company and I was the jaded, jealous bitch who sounded like a broken record, complaining that she stole my idea. After all, everyone was in the presentation when the idea was made by the backstabber.”
Clinical Psychologist Joanna Kleovoulou says:
The aim of the Creative Vampire is usually to suck up and gain power for selfish reasons, to up her status and worth. Taking credit for work that was not done by them and not taking responsibility for a performance they were accountable for, are two examples. The way to deal with the CV is to maintain a good relationship with her and her network. In that way your colleagues will get a sense of who you are and will make their own decisions about who has been causing the trouble. Deal with a third party directly to get clarification should any creative discrepancies arise. When confronting a Creative Vampire, use “I” messages instead of “you” messages as this lessens conflict and diffuses a potentially inflammatory situation, alleviating the Creative Vampire from perceiving the confrontation as a threat and denying everything which they are especially good at.