Dealing effectively with problem employees can be hard – and risky.  Courage, judgment and skill are required, and supportive leaders help.  Despite the difficulties, if you want a productive environment, exposing the problem is necessary. Why is it so hard?  Some people would say human nature.  I say fear, training in avoidance, and lack of skill.

To read the rest of this article from the Business First of Columbus, see: Managers must confront manipulative troublemakers http://columbus.bizjournals.com/columbus/stories/2004/09/20/smallb4.html

Problem employees can be manipulative masters at ignoring the wishes of their supervisors, using legalistic arguments to defend themselves, pitting fellow employees against one another, spreading gossip and back-stabbing.  They’re harassing, bullying and abusive.  By the time they’re adults, they’ve had a lifetime to practice their techniques.

Our society generally doesn’t train us to be warriors.  We’re trained to play nice; avoid discomfort, fear and conflict; and take the path of least resistance.  Even people who discipline themselves at the refrigerator or gym often avoid looking someone in the eye and saying “That’s not good enough” or “We don’t act like that here.”

Discipline and practice are required to skillfully take on a problem employee.  It may be hard to overcome your hesitation and to value performance more than acting sweetly hypocritical.  So it’s hard.  So what?  It tests your mettle.

Some people think you’re asking a problem employee to change, which may be hard for them.  But that’s only a half-truth.  You’re telling them to make a choice: Change or be gone.  And their degree of difficulty is irrelevant.

Managers often hope to avoid opening emotional Pandora’s Boxes, particularly if they aren’t sure of their leaders’ support.  Executives sabotage themselves and their organizations when they try to avoid recognizing and dealing with problem people.

Imagine you’re a manager assembling a new team and you’ve inherited a manipulative, long-term employee who follows her own agenda, underperforms, gossips, releases confidential material to stir up trouble, creates friction within the team, violates boundaries, feels entitled to do whatever she wants, and yet tries to rally the team against you.  Let’s call her Jane.

See the original article for more details.

Many well-meaning managers give up at this point because their childhood attitudes and rules keep them from making anyone look or feel bad.  Magical thinking makes them try to buy Jane’s loyalty by covering up for her.  The task of rehabilitating someone like Jane seems so huge, managers continue begging, renegotiating agreements and accepting her behavior.

But let’s imagine that you’re made of stronger stuff – and add another complication.  You go to the vice president of Human Resources to ask for advice.  He tells you that’s just the way Jane is and she has said things about you in confidence, he can’t reveal.  His advice: overlook it, stop being so picky and placate Jane because she's upset.

Should you take on Jane and how? The choice is simple and clear: Feel helpless, complain, whine, look the other way and give Jane control of your team or summon courage, fortitude, perseverance and skill to test your company leaders.

Can you succeed? See the original article for more details.

Lessons for executives: These problems won’t resolve themselves favorably if you ignore them.  Don’t make an instant decision to keep the highest-ranking people.  Leaders cowed by difficult people are merely administrators.

Investigate and act with discretion.  Put your stamp on company culture by confronting these situations.  You are announcing who you want to be your followers – the manipulative (mediocre who resist improving) or the above-board (productive who want to be outstanding).

Often, individuals need coaching and organizations need consulting to help them design and implement a plan that fits the situation.  To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.

Suppose your toxic parents want you to forgive them for the way they treated you years ago.  They sound sincere and they say that they need you to nurse them now that their health is failing.  They don’t have enough money to live well so you should support them like they once supported you.  Also, they need your help to deal with a health-care bureaucracy they don’t understand. Can you forgive them and do what they want?

Forgiveness is a loaded word. To most people, especially toxic ones, forgiveness means not only you opening your heart to them, but also you giving them what they want.  At the very least it means increased relationship and, usually, endless arguing and debating, endless servitude.

But, suppose also that, trying to help them, you’ve bounced between anger and feeling guilty.  Suppose that the last ten times you’ve forgiven them and tried to be a dutiful child, you’ve gotten entangled in painful interactions.  Every time you get close, they try to control you and you feel angry again.  They don’t listen to your needs; they think their need to have you help them is more important than your values of independence and freedom.

Forgive them and move far away – physically, mentally and emotionally. What I mean by that is:

  1. Forgive them, have compassion for their struggles, and also stop thinking about them – about 2 minutes a week might be okay.  Forgiveness means that you don’t replay all the old incidents; you don’t get angry; you don’t try to justify yourself in your eyes or theirs; they occupy very little of your mental and emotional space.
  2. Get far away physically so there are no more incidents that will trigger you again.  End contact by telephone, email, social networks.
  3. Test the relatives and acquaintances.  Who begs you to relieve them of the burden of taking care of your needy parents?  Who tries to twist your arm so that you take care of those toxic parents?  Who tries to convince you that you still owe those toxic bullies loyalty and duty?
  4. You don’t have to confront your toxic parents.  You can simply tell them the way it is for you – calmly, firmly; no debates, no arguments, no justifications, no asking for their approval or permission.  Don’t waste your time in further confrontations.
  5. When they pursue you, keep your distance.  Don’t engage.  Of course they won’t respect your desires and boundaries.  They’ve always known what’s right.  Disappear again.

Think of your personal space as a target with a bull’s eye and many concentric circles going out from the center.  The more toxic people are, the further away from the center of your life you move them.  Every time someone pollutes your environment, for whatever reason, move them at least one circle further away from you; or more if they did something you particularly don’t like.

If someone apologizes, do not move them closer.  Watch their behavior.  How long before they revert to the old harassment, bullying or abuse?  Keep moving them further away.

What if they don’t want you to forgive them?  They just want you to forget what happened and do what they want and need now.

What if they’re angry at you for what they claim you did?  What if they want you to apologize to them before they’ll forgive you?

In what circle do you want to put your toxic parents? You’re in charge of your personal space.  “Because I want to” is more than sufficient reason for placing them in any particular circle and moving them closer or further away.  At what circle do you drop them off your map?

I’d also take the same approach with toxic friends, extended family and adult children.

It’s your life; take charge of it.  Be the hero of your life.

Many situations are examined in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.”

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

We want to be people of our words; we want to be ethical and honest, and have trustworthy character; we want to do our duty.  But sometimes our loyalty to our vows – especially our marriage vows and vows to take care of parents or children – makes our lives a living hell and also sets a terrible example for our children. Deep in our hearts we know we must stop being loyal to those vows or our lives and spirits will be destroyed. But how can we stop honoring our vows?

Some examples:

Some examples:

  • In public we pledge many things in our marriage vows. But suppose our spouse turns out to have deceived us and reneges on their side of the vows?  Suppose that husband turns out to be physically, mentally and emotionally abusive?  Suppose he harasses, controls, bullies or abuses his wife?  Supposes he justifies his actions by saying that he’s the head of the house and she must do what he says?  Or suppose he blames his lack of self-control on her and uses threats, guilt and shame – his rage and violence are her fault and if she did what she should, he’d treat her better?  Or suppose that wife turns out to be manipulative and controlling?  Or supposes she’s lying, crazy and always verbally, emotionally and physically abusive in order to beat the husband into submission?
  • In private we may pledge many things to our parents, especially as they get older. But suppose they’re narcissistic, demanding, bullying and toxic.  Suppose they squander all their money against our advice and then they insist we spend all our money on them – either taking care of them or sending them to an expensive, assisted living facility?  Suppose they are relentlessly critical, scolding, chastising, whining, complaining and demeaning, and nothing we do is ever good enough?  Suppose they are vicious in private but sweet as sugar in public, so every thinks they’re saints while they act like devils in private?  Suppose they’re lying, manipulative and back stabbing – they praise their favorite child, put us down and leave everything to the favorite while we’re the ones taking care of them?  Suppose we think we’re responsible because they raised us, we think we owe them and we still want their approval?  Suppose we feel guilty if we think of acting like ungrateful children and abandoning them in their hour of need?
  • In our hearts we pledge to take care of our children until they can take care of themselves very well. But suppose they’re 40 and still living with us because they never took our advice and never got good careers or married the right person or held a job?  Suppose our toxic children are rotten to us until they need something?  Or they threaten to deprive us of our grandchildren unless we give them everything they want, even to divorcing our spouse, whom they hate?  Suppose they still act like spoiled, vicious, toxic teenagers, blaming us for all their failures, feeling entitled to everything they want, full of sneering sarcasm, back-talk, temper tantrums and demanding that we slave for them?  Suppose we still think that if we love them enough, if we’re nice enough to them they’ll finally grow up and become successful?  Suppose we’re afraid they’ll fail completely and end up homeless if we don’t give them everything they want?

Those are horrible scenarios but all too common.

Probably, we’ve discovered the hard way that we can’t make things better by being peacemakers.  Tactics like begging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, ‘second chances,’ forgiveness, sympathy and unconditional love, and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuse.  We won’t get the results we want; we won’t stop emotional bullies or physical bullying unless we’re clear about which values are more or less important to us.

So we wallow in negative self-talk, perfectionism, blame, shame and guilt.  We get discouraged, depressed, despairing and easily defeated.  We lose our confidence and self-esteem.

Often, we stay stuck in those versions of hell because we gave our word and we’re people of integrity – even though they broke their side of the bargain, we understand how hard it has been for them.  We think we must honor our pledge or we’d be just as bad as they are.

I say that’s a big mistake. I say, “Choose life, not a slow spiritual and emotional death.”  I say, “Examine your hierarchy of values and get clear about which values are more important to you.  Then honor the most important ones gracefully and cheerfully.”  And make yourself cheerful living a great life with your choice.

Don't be a victim waiting forever for other people to grow up or change or die.  Don’t suffer in silence.  Use your own power.  Say “That’s enough!”  Say “No!”

Often, we avoid examining that hierarchy of values and discarding those early vows until we are forced to.  We may not be willing to protect ourselves but we will act resolutely to defend others.

For example, our crazy or bullying spouse abuses the children and only then does our spirit rise up with fierce determination to protect our children.  We discard that marriage vow for the sake of something much more important than loyalty to a toxic spouse – loyalty to our children

Or the toxic parents are so abusive to our spouse and children that we take the power we need to protect what’s more precious than our toxic parents – our marriage and our children.

Or our toxic children are so vicious, nasty and abusive that our spirits will stand no more – we’ll protect our marriages, our health and our retirement funds from the energy vampires who want to suck us dry, even if they’re our own children

For some examples of different tactics, see, “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

You’ve seen the sign, or some variation of it: “Clean up your mess.  Your mom doesn’t work here.”  It’s an obvious reminder to the slobs among us that they’re a real problem. But there’s a flip side to this problem: the office “mom” – male or female – who cleans up after the slobs.  That may sound like a good thing, but office moms create their own set of problems.

Office moms come in two flavors; those who clean up the physical debris left by others and “e-moms” who try to clean up other people’s emotional garbage.

To read the rest of this article from the Cincinnati Business Journal, see: Office moms, slobs, princesses stir up distracting soap opera http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2007/06/25/smallb5.html

There are people who leave physical messes and people who leave emotional messes like hot-tempered, hostile staff no one wants to tangle with and bosses who want go-fers to take care of their personal, menial chores.

The fact is some people are lazy, uncaring and irresponsibleThey act like overgrown children or arrogant princes/princesses expecting to be waited on.  You have to decide which values matter most.  Is it leaving people alone, because of politeness or fear, or setting and enforcing communal standards of behavior, despite resistance?

If you ignore slobs, resentment will grow among staffers who get stuck cleaning up other people’s messes.  Weak staff will also want slob privileges.  Resentment will destroy productivity.

Volunteer office moms clean up other people’s physical messes.  Acting out of courtesy or martyrdom, office moms appear to be benevolent.  But even if they’re happy cleaning up after others, there’s an insidious side effect that can cost more than the immediate benefits.

When someone caters to grown “children,” the latter tend to remain children.  Lack of responsibility about break rooms usually leads to lack of responsibility about team effort.  It spreads to messy, worthless paperwork and incomplete projects.

The most insidious and destructive side of the slob-mom equation are people who dump emotional garbage around the office (e-slobs) and their partners, e-moms, who listen sympathetically and try to clean up the messes.  E-slobs continually vent their hurt, frustration, complaining and criticism.  They want support for personal agendas.

One variant of e-slobs are bosses who want emotional voids filled by endless praise and unconditional love.  They often create loyalty tests for you to prove your love.  For example, they’ll demand that you miss important family events in order to wait on them over trivial matters.

E-moms encourage melodrama and make feelings more important than productivity.

Of course, you want your staff to care about one another, but e-moms and e-slobs take a tremendous toll on overall productivity.  You need to intervene quickly if you have a slob team.

E-moms, e-slobs and princesses create the same symptoms.  Performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated.  Narcissists, incompetent, lazy, gossip, back-stabbing, manipulation, hostility, crankiness, meeting sabotage, negativity, relentless criticism, whining, complaining, cliques, turf control, toxic feuds, harassment, bullying and abuse thrive.  Power hungry bullies take power.

Don’t be a slob or dependent boss who needs an office mom.  Don’t look for a warm, soft, friendly shoulder on which to cry at work.  And don’t waste work time on melodrama.  Handle your feelings on your own time.

On the flip side; don’t be an office mom.  You won’t make things better being a peacemakerBegging, bribery, endless praise, appeasement, endless ‘second chances,’ unconditional love and the Golden Rule usually encourage more harassment, bullying and abuse.  Stop emotional bullies and stop bullying.

Work is about work, not soap opera.  Stick to that agenda and you’ll be better off.

High standards protect everyone from unprofessional behavior.  You can learn to eliminate the high cost of low attitudes, behavior and performance.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

Sometimes toxic parents think they have us over a barrel even after we’ve grown up, gotten physically and financially independent, and started our own family.  They count on our loyalty to some ideal of “family” no matter how badly they treated and still treat us.  They count on our self-bullying and guilt.  They count on us still trying to jump through their hoops to win their love and approval...  They count on our fear that they’ll manipulate the rest of the family into thinking we’re ungrateful and bad.  And they often count on our enduring the verbal and emotional abuse so we can inherit our share of their fortune. Of course, I’m talking about those toxic parents who are still blaming everything on us and abusing us because “It’s your fault” or “You are selfish, ungrateful and don’t deserve any better” or “It’s your duty to do what they want in their old age.”  They’re the toxic parents who know our every weakness and sensitivity, and still poke them hard when they want too; still find fault with every little thing we do; still compare us unfavorably to someone else or to their standards; still criticize, belittle and harass us and our spouse and our children in public or they’re the sneaky ones who criticize, demean and denigrate us in private but pretend they love us in public so everyone thinks they’re wonderful, loving parents.

Of course, we’ve tried everything we can think of, but the negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame, bullying and abuse haven’t stopped.  We’ve tried to do exactly what they want, but it’s never enough.  We’ve apologized and pleaded with them to stop, but that just makes them act nastier.  We’ve gotten angry and threatened not to see them, but they broke down in such tears of distress we felt guilty or they blamed on us even more or they acted nice for a few minutes but, when we relaxed, they attacked us more about something different they didn’t like.

So what can we do now?

  1. For the sake of peace and quiet in the whole family, we could keep trying to endure the abuse while begging them to stop.  After all, we never know; if we only kept trying, if we only did enough, they might change.  Also, they might leave us in the will.  And it’d be our fault if we quit too soon.  Many people fly low until they have children and see their toxic parents either criticizing and emotionally abusing their children or belittling and criticizing them while being sweet to the grandchildren.
  2. We might continue objecting and arguing; enduring our frustration and anger.  Usually this tactic repeats endlessly and often spirals out of control.  Relentlessly toxic parents won’t admit they’re wrong and give up.  Eventually they’ll escalate and cut us out of the will.
  3. We might try withdrawing for a while; not seeing them, telling them we won’t return emails and calls, and then carrying through.  People usually shift from the first two tactics to this one when they see the effect of their toxic parents on their own children.  This tactic sometimes convinces nasty, mean, bullying parents that they’d better change their ways or they’ll lose contact with their grandchildren.  But the relentlessly toxic parents don’t care.  They’re sure they’re fine and they’re sure they’ll win if they push hard enough, like they’ve always won in the past.  So they don’t change and we go back to arguing or we give up or we finally respond more firmly.
  4. The next step is to withdraw for a long time, maybe forever – no contact.  It’s sad but we have to protect the family we’re creating from our own predatory parents.  It’s usually both scary and very exciting.  Most people, despite any guilt they feel, also feel a huge surge of relief, as if a giant weight or a fire-breathing dragon has been removed from their shoulders.  Our spouse and children may celebrate.  Get out of town, go on a vacation, turn the phones and email off.

What to expect and how to respond?

  1. They’ll attack when we withdraw.  Expect them to make angry calls and send hostile emails.  Save these on an external drive or a cheap recorder before deleting them.  They want to engage us, so do not engage endlessly and fruitlessly; no return calls or emails, no hateful or vindictive responses.  We’ve only gotten to this point because they haven’t changed after many approaches and warnings.  We might have to change our phone numbers to unlisted ones and change our email addresses.
  2. They’ll rally the extended family.  Prepare by making cue cards of what to say; no excuses or justifications.  Just tell the family what you said and did, and what you plan.  Ask them not to intervene.  Tell them we’d like to see them but only if our toxic parents are not present.  We’re sorry they’re caught in the middle but that’s life.  They do have to choose who to believe and what behavior to support.  Be prepared to withdraw from anyone who attacks or interferes.
  3. They’ll disinherit us.  When they can’t manipulate us through love, blame, shame and guilt, they’ll try greed.  If we don’t do what our toxic parents want right now, they’ll cut us out of the will.  Don’t be a slave to greed; it’s a deadly sin.  If we want to have a bully-free family life, we’ll have to make it on our own.  The real benefit is not merely ending the brutality, it’s the strength of character and the skills we gain when we make decisions for ourselves and chart our own course in the world.  We’ll end the negativity, stress, anxiety and depression usually caused by toxic parents.  We’ll develop the strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience we all need to make wonderful lives.  We’ll be able to express our passion and joy without cringing, waiting for the next blow to fall.
  4. We’ll have an empty space in our lives.  Even more than the empty physical space we’ll now have at the times when we used to get together with our toxic parents, we’ll have a huge mental and emotional space.  How many hours have we wasted thinking about our parents, worrying about the next episode, dreading what might happen next, agonizing over what to do.  We don’t have to do that any more.  Of course, being weaned from an old habit takes a little time.  We must be gentle with ourselves.  Focus on the freedom we now have.  Now we can think about the things we want to think about; not about pain and suffering, not about past failures.  Now we have space to bring into our lives people who will be part of the tribe of our heart and spirit.
  5. Our children will wonder why.  Tell the kids in a way that’s age appropriate.  Are we protecting them from the verbal abuse of their toxic grandparents or from lies that paint us as bad people?  They’ll want to know what’s going to stay the same.  Will they have fun, celebrate holidays, get presents, have extended family?

The most important lessons we offer our children are not through books and lectures.  Those are important, but the most important ones are the ones they see in our behavior when we’re models of behavior we want them to learn.

Be a model for them of someone who protects himself and them from anyone who would target them, even someone who’s close by blood.  Being close by behavior counts more than blood.  Show them not to be victimized even by blood relations.

Show them to how to be the hero of their lives.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can overcome childhood rules to endure whatever bullying and abuse our toxic parents dish out simply because they’re our parents.  We can become strong and skilled enough to stop bullies in their tracks – even if those bullies are blood relatives. “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of children and adults getting over their early training and freeing themselves from toxic relationships.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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A lot of feedback about stopping bullying by toxic parents focused on what children owe those abusive parents.  After all, even though they harassed, abused and tormented their children, those parents still fed, clothed and housed them. Many of those parents now claim that a debt is owed them.  No matter how bad they were and still are, they claim their children owe them care, sympathy and loyalty.  And usually willingness to be continually abused.

I disagree.

To illustrate my point of view, here’s a story told to me repeatedly by my father.  He said it was a traditional story.  I call it “The Mother and the Three Baby Birds.”  It appeared in a wonderful collection of stories annotated Steve Andreas, published by Real People Press, “Is there life after birth?”

~~~~~~~~~~~ At the time of the great flood, when the storm had just begun and the earth was beginning to be covered with water, a mother bird saw the danger.  She realized that her three babies were no longer safe in their nest at the top of a high tree.  Even if she remained with them, they would be swept away and drowned.  So she picked up the first baby and started to fly through the storm, across the rising water, seeking a new place that would be high enough, so she might save at least one of her children.

As she flew, she spoke to the first baby, asking, “When I am very old and I can no longer take care of myself, will you dedicate your whole life to taking care of me, just as I am using all my energy and strength to take care of you now?”

And the first baby turned to her and said, “No.  When your day has passed, when you can no longer take care of yourself, then I will not dedicate my whole life to taking care of you.  I will dedicate all my energy and strength to taking care of myself.”

The mother bird said, “No!  This is not the baby to save.”  And so she let go of the first baby and it fell, helplessly flailing its tiny wings, down into the raging waves.

Tired and wet, the mother bird turned and flew back to the nest, which she hoped would still be above the rising waters.

She found the nest and picked up the second baby bird.  Weary and wet, she struggled to fly higher, through the beating rain, against the driving wind.  Seeking a new place that would be high enough, so she might save at least one of her children.

And as she struggled, she spoke to the second baby, asking, “When I am very old and I can no longer take care of myself, will you dedicate your whole life to taking care of me, just as I am using all my energy and strength to take care of you now?”

And the second baby turned to her and said, “Yes.  When you have used all your energy and strength, when you are too exhausted to go further, I will dedicate my whole life to taking care of you.”

And the mother bird said, “No!  This also is not the baby to save.”  And so she let go of the second baby and it fell, helplessly flailing its tiny wings, down into the raging waves.

Almost exhausted now, bedraggled, beaten by the driving rain and raging wind, summoning all her remaining strength, the mother bird turned and flew back to the nest, which she hoped would still be above the rising waters.

She found the nest and, just as the raging waves washed it away, she picked up the third baby bird.  With barely enough strength to rise above the foam and spray, to move forward against the driving wind, she struggled bravely on.  Desperately seeking a new place that would be high enough, so she might save at least one of her children.

And as she struggled, with her voice and body failing, she spoke to the third baby, asking, “When I am very old and I can no longer take care of myself, will you dedicate your whole life to taking care of me, just as I am using all my energy and strength to take care of you now?”

And the third baby turned to her and said, “No.  When you have used all your energy and strength, when you are too exhausted to go further, I will not dedicate my whole life to taking care of you.  But instead, I will dedicate all my strength and energy to taking care of my children, just as you are taking care of me now.”

And the mother bird said, “Yes!  This is the baby to save.”  And with renewed hope and renewed strength, she steadily flew higher and faster and further.  Despite the beating rain, despite the driving wind, despite the raging waves.  She flew steadily.  And she did find a new place that was high enough to save the child who must be saved.

~~~~~~~~~~

Even though the mother bird was not a bully, the same lessons apply.  Don’t let a sense of obligation and duty lead you to allow yourself to be harassed and brutalized by toxic parents; don’t be stopped if they say you shouldn’t be better than they are; don’t seek approval from bullies; don’t listen when they say that you owe them whatever they want; don’t be depressed by their negativity; don’t let them destroy your self esteem; and don’t devote your life only to your own selfish pleasures.

Instead, take care of yourself so you can devote yourself to something greater and longer-lasting.  Devote yourself to the children of your body, heart, mind and spirit.  That’s what you owe your ancestors, no matter what other claims they may press on you.

What’s important are the responsibilities you take up joyously, not the onerous ones claimed by toxic parents.