Stanley Bing

Ask Bing: My boss slapped a co-worker

Violent people can often do well in crazy and even sane organizations. But there is a downside.

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Q: My supervisor once threatened to slap a co-worker, Now she is the director... how in the hell did that happen?

A: Violent and abusive people do well in crazy organizations, and even in some sane ones. I'm guessing the supervisor didn't actually strike the employee. That's actually frowned on in most places. But threats? Screaming? Go for it. It will probably get you targeted as a certain kind of person that executives recognize as worthy of senior status, because they're like that too.

There can be a downside, though, when anger becomes both expected and uncontrolled. I once knew a senior officer who was famous for his temper. He particularly liked to scream at this one guy who 1) routinely got on his nerves and 2) never made his numbers.

So one morning this boss, who I'll call Ken, calls this manager, who I'll call John, into his office and starts to wear him out at the top of his lungs about the financial performance of his department. John, who is now used to this display, says nothing, is nonchalant, seems bored. Ken torques up the volume a bit more, then more, then a lot, since he seems to be getting no traction. "He got so worked up that his mouth was frothing," John told me afterwards. "When his gums started bleeding I told him I was worried about his blood pressure. Then he threw me out of the office." The only one that the big boss was hurting in that episode was himself. Who says business has no happy endings?

Q: I am a recent college grad and have been working for a little over a year. My job is boring and not what I want to do with my life, but it does pay well. While searching for a new job, everyone seems to want at least three years experience, or gets scared off with my salary expectations. Should I just wait it out here until I get more experience, lower my salary expectations, or is there a way I can convince potential employers to give me a shot even with my limited experience.

A: It is possible to leapfrog over others and skip the requirements. Colleges, for instance, often accept people who have been out and about for a year or two, living the dream instead of shining up the academic apple. Corporations, too, will accept those who seem on the ball, aggressive, capable and present very well. The key is to offer something that replaces experience. A great interview, for instance, is more important than a good resume, although an informative resume is a necessity.

What are the elements of a great interview? Books have been written on the subject, but not very interesting ones. Here they are: 1) Energy, 2) Eye contact, 3) A well-focused product, which is YOU, Sparky.

More interviews are blown by people who simply have no idea what they're selling than any other factor. You say to somebody, "What do you want to do here?" And they say, "Oh, I have a lot of interests and talents. I could do anything here. Really." My eyes glaze over. There was an old parody on "Saturday Night Live" one time, in the early years. Dan Ackroyd was selling a product that was a breakfast drink, a floor cleaner and a hair treatment, something like that. That's the way a lot of people approach a job interview.

If on the other hand, you are right for a job, know it, know about the company you're trying to get into, have a good sense of who you are and what you can, and communicate it well, you can transcend the three-year rule. The guy across the desk is looking for a solution to the problem that confronts him - an empty chair he needs to fill so he or she can go back to doing his or her "work" as a manager, i.e. not working but managing. Demonstrate that you are that solution, and you will be hired even if all you've been doing is staring at your navel in an ashram for the last 10 years.

Q: A co-worker recently requested part time due to daycare/family needs. She gave 7 weeks advance notice and was approved part-time status. The co-worker started her first day in part-time status and got a email from her immediate boss saying that her she was disappointed in her for letting down the team, and that she would be required to perform the same amount of work as full-time employees because her decision left the team in the lurch. The clincher is that this email was sent from the bosses personal email to the employee's personal email.

Later it was revealed that the boss was due to receive a hiring bonus for bringing on this full-time employee. Apparently she, the boss, was denied the payout as the employee switched to part-time status. This boss routinely insults everybody, by the way, and the whole environment is verbally abusive. Suggestions?

A: Now there's a heartwarming story. Here's where I give you one of the most important suggestions I can offer you to ensure a lifetime of happiness in whatever dysfunctional workplace you may happen to inhabit. Here it is: Don't get your panties in a twist. This is a somewhat impolite way of saying that a detached, Zen attitude to the pain and suffering that attends working life is often more productive than active emotional engagement in the ongoing pageant of madness, sadness and frail humanity.

What are the enemies of happiness? Crazy bosses? Buttheads like this one, who make a person feel guilty because they put family over business for a while? Numbnuts who put their bonuses ahead of the well-being of the folks they manage? Yes, indeed. These people are indeed carriers of the virus of misery. Now imagine that very same entity - a mean, punitive, abusive executive - as a tiny little insect trapped under an inverted drinking glass. You can see him. He seems to be screaming and waving his arms around, but oh so far away. You can barely hear him! Who could possibly be bothered by this tiny thing and its inconsequential buzzing?

How does one establish that level of emotional detachment and distance from the problem? Well, it begins by focusing not on the feelings and demands of the neurotic individual who controls the workflow, but on the work itself. People who spend 99% of their concentration working hard on the things at which they can make a difference are a lot happier than people who invest their hearts and souls into pleasing insane, self-centered parent figures.

Next, it's important to create boundaries between your Self and the Other that is the Boss, the Company, the Job. Finally (and this is really a crash course here) you have to realize that the pursuit of happiness is the precise thing that confers misery. He or she who is without hopes and expectations is very often a whole lot happier in an unpleasant or demanding environment than the individual whose heart is easily punctured.

Get a book on Zen. Alan Watts wrote a bunch of good ones for beginners. Most self-help books you read right now are a rip-off of ancient Zen ideas, actually. I even wrote one of those myself, if you care to look on the Books part of this site. I have no hope you will, of course. Which makes me a whole lot happier than if I imagined you were going to. Instead, I believe I'll have a banana now. Nature's perfect fruit! To top of page

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