Tag Archives: perception

One thing that has surprised me when I’ve talked to friends about setting up this blog is how many begged me to include verbal abuse at work. Having experienced workplace verbal abuse I had planned to discuss the subject, but I didn’t realize how many people I know have also been in that situation. In some ways it can be harder to deal with, as leaving can do career damage and some fields are gossipy and have restricted opportunities.

A friend recently told me about an incident she had at work. The team Shari’s been working on has lost several people recently and her boss, we’ll call him Greg for now, has been expecting the rest of the team to take up the slack on the project. Greg informed Shari this week that he was giving her all the responsibility of one of these open positions, in addition to her own work. When she told him she was willing to try and help out while there is a gap, but that she cannot do the work of two people, and she doesn’t have training for part of the other position’s work he got angry. Greg told Shari that he owned her and she would do as she was told.

Seriously! Big mistake on his part! Shari stayed calm, restated her position, and went back to her office. She got over the initial shock, then she went to Greg’s supervisor, Bill, and later let his supervisor, John, know what was going on. She also learned another coworker had overheard the conversation and would back her up.

Both Bill and John handled the situation well. They assured Shari she would only be held responsible for doing her actual job. They also thanked her for coming to them. In this case both Bill and John were aware there was a problem with Greg because so many people left his projects. They either transferred within the company or left completely. But neither Bill nor John had been able to take action about Greg’s behavior. Why? Because not one of the employees that left Greg’s projects had filed complaints. Bill and John weren’t sure what the problem was, just that people kept leaving Greg’s projects.

Documenting and reporting workplace abuse is always the first step. Document, so you’ll have a record of what happened, when, and who else was present. Report what happened. No, not all supervisors handle verbal abuse well, many of mine were part of the problem. But you have no chance of resolution without reporting. It also creates a trail and establishes patterns if you have to take stronger action later.

Ginny

Who’s Been Jerking You Around?

Do your conversations with “Person X” leave you feeling as though your head has been trapped in the “Spin” cycle of your washing machine? Are you too busy trying to keep track of the rapid-fire changes and 180-degree turnarounds to even think of a coherent response? Or maybe whenever you try to have a pleasant exchange with Person X, you find yourself frantically backpedaling to re-do that last thing you said because now they are insisting they said something entirely different and they are… mad. At you. Again. Confused? If not, you will be, because you’ve just entered the arena with a master of verbal whiplash. You will not win. And it will not be pretty.

Example of Verbal Whiplash

I recently had such an exchange with a man I met online. I thought we’d get along well because we were both writers – at least, his screen name and profile strongly suggested he was one. So, my messages focused on “writing.” We discussed it quite pleasantly for a while, then things derailed suddenly:

Me: (going on about how I love writing and how great it is that anyone can become a writer/author).

Him: “Kind of snob about the work, i will admit. Lots of folks talk about [writing] and seem to think that amateur [writing] is the same as the professional world, it's not and I find that interesting.”

Me: I'm aware that professional [writing] and amateur [writing] are two different worlds.

Him: “…the truth of the matter is anyone can say they are a [writer] and there is no real way to say no, you're not. I just read a long stream on facebook by some “writers” who feel the need to justify and tell the world how hard it is and how much work goes into it. I never hear doctors say that because we all know how much work goes into being a doctor and not everyone can do it. But, people are part time “writers” which means … anyone can do it.

Me: None of that is meant to demean anything professionals do, nor imply that you are not a consummate, hard-working artist who brings decades of skill and devotion to your work. Obviously, not anyone could do what you do.

Him: No, I meant what I said, anyone can do it. I started [writing] and then trained and became a professional. We all start somewhere. Anyone can be a [writer]. I am also curious that, without knowing me or even reading my work, you assume that not anyone could do what I do.

Me: (What the heck just happened)??

The conversation got even less civil – at least until I changed the subject to chinchillas, and home brewing.

What just happened here?

Verbal whiplash takes its target by surprise because she doesn’t expect it. It often happens after the target lets his guard down and engages in what seems to be a normal, rational conversation. Then, BAM. Person X will say something exactly the opposite of what she said five minutes earlier. Then, she will insist she said/meant something completely different, and get offended at you for responding to the first thing. Why would anyone do this? Simple: it’s a power play – one that disarms you, leaves you looking and feeling confused (and maybe stupid), and reinforces the abuser’s superior position. So, how do you avoid getting flogged when the verbal whiplash artist is playing her game?

Rules of Disengagement

Whiplash often comes at high speed; abusers don’t give you time to take mental notes and compare their statements. If you can, slow the conversation down enough to figure out what’s going on. If you think whiplash is happening, your best response is to end the discussion and get out of there: “Gee, that was fun, but I’ve got to get my infected toe cleaned out. Catch you later!”

If you’re stuck, follow the rules of disengagement. Refuse to let the abuser suck you in. Don’t try to reiterate their original position; the abuser will just insist that’s not what he said or meant, or that you got it wrong (again). Don’t try to backpedal and fix your response (as I did in the above example); that will just give the whiplasher more ammunition (the “No, I meant what I said, anyone can do it” line). If you’re a captive audience (maybe the whiplasher is your boss), try to have witnesses around, take notes, or give them a neutral response like: “Oh. Thanks for clarifying that.” Even better: “Ah. I see.”

If the whiplasher demands you explain, clarify, or respond in detail, disengage again by using neutral responses, changing the topic, or saying, “I don’t feel like arguing/having a discussion/continuing this conversation.” Wash, rinse, repeat until they leave you alone and go in search of more satisfying targets.

Claire