Trolls in the Workplace

The best lines, hands down, that Professor Quirinus Quirrell ever had in Harry Potter were: Troll! There’s a troll in the dungeon. Thought you ought to know.” Shame he then fainted. Yes, there’s a troll in the dungeon, there are trolls online and there are trolls in the workplace. While trolls online can be very vicious, spouting horrible comments on blogs, articles, etc., they can also be vicious and hard to tolerate at work. They are the co-workers and bosses who damn you with faint praise, who back-stab you, who are the naysayers. They undermine your work, or claim it as their own. They cast doubt on your abilities to do your work just to see your confidence falter. These work trolls constantly find fault with your work even when there is none. Why do they do this? To take the scrutiny off themselves and their own poor work.

A recent famous example of trolls at work took place during a Cecilia Bartoli concert at La Scala last December. La Scala audiences have a longstanding tradition of  being the harshest critics of their beloved opera singers. However, just because it is tradition does not make it right. There is a group of opera “buffs” (I’d like to say buffoons) calling themselves “Grisi” after a famous opera singer. They organize and take it upon themselves to catcall and boo opera singers off the La Scala stage. However, when they booed La Ceci, she returned to the stage for an encore that bowled them over. Read more about it here. (Thanks, Gramilano!)

How did La Ceci triumph over these trolls? She has worked hard during her long career to “brand” herself as a talented coloratura mezzo-soprano. She is professional and prepared to perform onstage. She is known as a hard worker with a sunny personality. Cecilia has patiently developed a rapport with audiences through her sense of humor and facial expressions, by engaging them, pulling them into the performance and then not letting go. This is what carried her through a less than optimal experience at La Scala and left her career unscathed. This is what keeps audiences demanding encore after encore from the great La Ceci.

You can deal with the trolls at your workplace by defining your “brand,” who your work persona is. Who are you going to be? Are you that guy who ALWAYS comes in early, develops engaging presentations which are ready days beforehand, who knows the birthdays of every co-worker in the place? If that is going to be you, then you have to deliver. Every time. Be consistent. Be a true, professional diva, rather than a fainting Quirrell. That is the way to get those trolls to shut up and go away.

Being a Helper…Again

My cousin and his young son are headed back home after running in the Boston Marathon. It is less than one day later after the Boston Marathon bombings, and there is still so much to do. Find the murderers, comfort the injured and traumatized, and once again, help this country heal. There is a Mr. Rogers meme circulating on Facebook right now. It goes like this: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” — Fred Rogers

Once again, our job is to be the helpers, to show that there are many more good people in this world, to offset the evil ones. I am encouraging you to once again embrace Anne Curry’s #26Acts2. No act of kindness is too small or insignificant. We cannot bring back the people who died in the Boston Marathon attack, but we can show these evildoers that the kindness of the American spirit will not be quenched by their horrible acts.

Dealing With the Liars

A friend used to tell me, “Everybody lies some of the time.” That may be true, but it certainly does not make it right, and it definitely can get you into trouble at work. It is also difficult enough to get your job done without having to screen interactions for lying and figuring out what is going on. Here are some examples of how lying can play out at work:

Co-workers who obfuscate the truth:

You may be working with someone on a project, and the deadline is coming up. What your co-worker is telling you somehow does not ring true. Why is he lying to you?  He may have procrastinated, not have known how to do some aspect of the project or may even be stalling to make you look bad. Angry confrontation is not going to help the situation. However, a direct reminder of the looming deadline and a frank, non-blaming discussion of the problem may help. For example: “The project deadline is next week, and the data analysis is not yet complete. Which part of the analysis is a problem and how can we help?” may actually make your co-worker less stressed and more inclined to work together with you to complete the project.

When bosses lie:

This can be a particularly tricky situation, as a direct confrontation can get you fired. There are many reasons why bosses might lie: to control or bully you as an employee, lack of trust, fear of losing face or tight control by upper management. Power freaks or bullies are the hardest to deal with. Get everything in writing or email and keep your cool until you can find another job. The boss who tells you he does not want you to lie and then proceeds to lie constantly to you is another problem. You can only keep your side of the interaction honest, and try to figure out why the boss is not being honest. It could be that his hands have been tied by upper management and he has been told to only share information on a need-to-know basis. The boss that says to you, “I will tell you what I can” is another version of this type of boss. They try to save face and keep on friendly terms with you while satisfying their own bosses’ need for control. Again, stay honest and document everything. You never know when you will need documentation to back up your side of the story.

When telling the truth can get you into trouble:

I am a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person.  I do not like to play office politics. So when bosses tells me they do not want their employees to lie to them, I do tell the truth. However, this strategy can backfire if you are not careful. We all would like to think our interactions at work are professional and that honesty should be the best policy. But office interactions are often also loaded with personal preferences, anxieties and prejudices. So if your answer to a boss’ question is negative, rethink it before you say it, especially if you are frustrated or angry. Example: “Do you like this job?” should elicit an answer that examines the positive and negative aspects of the position. If your boss values you as an employee, hopefully, the discussion should bring about ways to eliminate the negative aspects without eliminating you as an employee.