This week I’d like to tell you a true story – although details have been changed to protect privacy. It concerns a recent dinner conversation I had with a well-balanced, well-educated, professional gentleman who has worked at the same company for over a decade. Why? Because he believes in what they do, he loves his job, and he loves the people who work there. This man is articulate, intelligent, great company, happily married and by any measure has made a success of his life – I’ll call him James. So, you can imagine my surprise when, in a quiet moment, this strong man took me aside to confide in me about the horrors he had suffered at the hands of a female boss who had recently left the business.
The antics of this particular individual took its toll on every member of her team – and indeed on the many others who witnessed the carnage but didn’t know what to do about it. From what James said, it appears she would take delight in ridiculing, menacing and threatening her dedicated team of people. She would have one face for public appearances, and a totally different face behind closed doors. She would make a statement about her team to colleagues, and then berate individuals for (allegedly) going behind her back or for non-performance. Rules were changed at the last minute, promises made and broken, rumors spread and threats made – all cloaked with the repeated warning “you’d better keep this to yourself – don’t say a word to anyone else, you know what I can do”
The Only One
I asked how long it had been going on and whether the other bosses knew what was happening? “It had been going on for years” he replied, looking down at the floor “but they could never get any concrete evidence on her. We were all too scared and didn’t realize the extent of what she was doing. I honestly thought I was the only one”
My heart bled for him, as he went on to explain that he’d been on medication to combat stress and depression. It was only after his boss had finally been asked to leave that James realised just how many others had suffered similar symptoms. I was intrigued to know how the other leaders in the business had allowed such bullying behaviour to go on for so long.
“Well, it’s just the way it is. We all love the business and the people in it – we just have a few really strong characters who still think it’s ok to shout and belittle people. We just get on with it and learn to take the blows…”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I personally think that this is a terrible way to go on – and I am constantly horrified that people in positions of authority do not stand up against this sort of behaviour? For me, as I’ve said before, it’s not about witch-hunts or persecution of these individuals. It is not about identifying who may or may not be the sociopath, the narcissist, or the disordered person. No, it’s not about pointing the finger out and hunting them down. It’s simply about recognizing when something ‘bad’ happens (from whatever source, no matter what, where or from whom) and then finding a way to something about it. Because if we keep silent, or continue to take no action, then we provide ‘them’ with their greatest weapon… and they become more lethal the more they gain confidence that they can continue getting away with it.
It doesn’t have to be anything major or personally endangering. Even the smallest and seemingly insignificant of actions can have a dramatic result. Making an internal “no” decision, viewing the bully as a coward, maintaining a blank expression when dealing with them, or just simply walking away. All those are within our own control. And all of those diffuse and deflate their perceived power over us. Each and every one of us has the power to do this, and it’s multiplied when we join with others and do the same. Yep, that all makes sense – so what stops us then?
I Thought I Must Be Wrong
I asked James the same question. His reply was quite simple. “Having taken the emotional beatings for so long, I just got used to it and found ways to make the pain more bearable. I thought I must be wrong, that I was misinterpreting the situation and that I should just get on with it. In hindsight, I can see that the problems started and escalated when I did nothing about the very first attack – because I just brushed it off. As we all did. It gave us a sense of unspoken bonding, surviving the bad stuff together”
But now he knows. And now he is keen to share his experiences so that others can also know.
I come back again to the saying “we see things not as they are, but as we are” – and it’s the nice-guys who make excuses for bad behaviors in others. We’re perhaps too willing to forgive or defend other people, on the compassionate understanding that they might just be having a bad day. I’m not saying that’s wrong. On the contrary, I believe it’s a healthy quality to maintain and nurture. Along with that quality, though, I also believe that it’s time that as human beings, we all learn to re-set our internal barometer to super-sensitive, and commit to speaking out any and every time we recognize something is even the slightest bit off-course. It doesn’t need to be an accusation… but it certainly needs to become a question.
The on-going libel issues surrounding my book, for example, have become a farce – and I have been questioning the wisdom of their progress. Because, not content with the mountains of black and white evidence and witness statements that I have already provided, together with substantial name, relationship and location changes, the legal team are currently of the mind that the next step is to make direct contact with the ‘baddies’ in my story and ask them for sign-off on the entire manuscript, just in case there is any way they have any comeback later on. I am flabbergasted. So far as I am concerned, the suggestion demonstrates naivety in the extreme – why on earth would I place myself once again at the mercy of people who I know for a fact to be disordered? The madness of their suggestion just goes to further confirm my own opinion that the law has lost its way.
Action Is The Key
Who, now, is the law protecting? Where, now, is the support for freedom of speech? How, now, is the law standing up for those less able to make their case? It seems that the easier road to take is that where they, like James, have learned to roll with the punches and protect themselves against the bad people. Because from my experience, they are usually the ones who will cite their civil rights when caught doing something wrong, and who will be familiar with every legal loophole. They are the ones who cost most time and money, because they’ve learned to twist the legal system just the way that they learn to twist the true and generous hearted among us. So the automatic route now is to second-guess against what ‘they’ might or might not do – rather than to stand up to them and say ‘enough is enough’. And yet, in my heart of hearts, I am certain that many in these professions are themselves sickened by the on-going change of focus – feeling powerless to make a difference when common sense and judgment has given over to tick-boxes and back-covering.
And yet – the more we stay silent or take no action, then the more it will just carry on. Because what we allow, will continue.
I believe that there are far too many professionals who, even though they feel frustrated, continue to keep their own silence, refusing to hold their hand up and ask questions when something is wrong. I read a quote this week by Martin Luther King and I believe it sums up the message I intend to keep sharing – particularly with those in positions of influence who insist on hiding behind bureaucracy, fear, and any number of ‘company rules’ and defunct mantras of ‘that’s just the way it is’ that keep them trapped in the belief that doing what appears easier automatically translates as doing what is right. Here is the quote that spoke so loudly to me: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”
Well, folks, my life is just getting going – and, like many of us here, my voice is getting stronger day by day. Because we’re the ones who know what’s out there…
With love, appreciation and blessings to all