Words are one of our most powerful tools to create change, harmony and cohesive relationships. Commandeered by your workplace psychopath, however, those words are twisted and misconstrued.
The most dangerous workplace bully encountered, meant to be on my side in more ways than one, did untold damage to my mental well-being and would go on to bully another six people in her role as a Legal Advocate. Designed to work as a duo, me on the ground and her in court, she prided herself in being a feminist, asserted on women’s issues, then destroyed my career because I received more male attention than she did. But this is not just about me. She went on to verbally abuse three female coworkers because they put her down as a ‘Mrs’ on the corporate credit card, when every card carrying feminist knows that modern language should be ‘Ms.’ Before you suggest this is an anti-feminist stance, it’s important to own I too consider myself a feminist. I also love heels, wear makeup and am a traditional gal when it comes to my romantic relationships.
This woman, referred to as being as ‘mad as a cut snake;’ ‘that beady eyed black haired bitch who watches like a hawk and goes in for the kill, even if you’re a comrade;’ and your standard phrase bandied about offices where bullying and harassment is rampant, ‘a total nut job.’
I was the only one who could handle her. I was also her undoing. As my work buddy said:
Mate, I think we can safely say that your contribution in holding her to account was almost entirely the grounds for her demise.
He was correct. A childhood with an irrational mother who made no sense, had no desire to parent and less ability to take responsibility for her temper tantrums, I was gifted the training ground for the more cut throat world of employment law. So, let’s have a look at how my Legal Advocate set me up to be the workplace problem child, when she was the one creating problems. It revolves around one concept, known in the narcissistic movement, as Word Salad.
Legal Advocate: You need to set up a meeting with the union reps. We need to take the employer’s offer back to them and get input, to see if union members agree with the wage offer and increase in annual leave, keeping in mind they want them to give up the higher penalty rates to offset the higher cost.
Nell: Okay, no problem. I’ll do it tomorrow, I’ve got meetings all afternoon.
Legal Advocate: No, I need an answer by this afternoon. It’s urgent.
Nell: Not possible. I’ll contact the key reps, Matt, Michael and Anita first thing tomorrow and let you know.
Legal Advocate: No, that’s too late. I need the answer this afternoon so I can do up the newsletter. And I said the reps, those aren’t the reps, those are union delegates.
Nell: I’m in meetings, it’s physically impossible to achieve what you’re asking me to. Why didn’t you notify me sooner, if it was that urgent? And those are the reps. If you don’t mean them, who do you means?
Legal Advocate: I tried to call you yesterday afternoon to let you know. You didn’t answer. And I mean delegates, not reps.
Nell: You didn’t leave a voice message. You also didn’t send me an email to notify me. That’s what you usually do. How come you didn’t just shoot through a quick email, like you usually do? And you said reps, not delegates so I’m confused as to who you’re referring to but, I have a meeting in two minutes – might be better to just put this in an email so that it’s clear for me to understand what you are requesting of me.
Legal Advocate: I’m not doing an email, I’m talking to you now and I’m confused about why you’re confused. I said reps, not delegates and it’s urgent.
This is the condensed version of events. It was torture to endure; no one should be further exposed to such ridiculousness and irrational office antics. I’m certain you can guess what transpired next:
- The people listed as ‘reps,’ noted above, were the people she needed to meet.
- I was ten minutes late for my meeting.
- I never received an email.
- She didn’t get around to doing up a newsletter for another 48 hours because she had other priorities.
The run around from the above conversation created brain clutter I struggled to undo before going into my meeting and left me less able to advocate better outcomes around workplace health and safety issues. A patient on ice, brought in by four police officers, would later go on to grab an officer’s gun and fire off five rounds before being tackled to the ground, a doctor kicking the gun out of his grasp before he could get a second grab in. Rumour has it the patient played possum and the officer, thinking there was a lower risk at play, let his guard down. Speaking of, it was the same handling of these patients by the prison guards that had this safety issue on our radar to begin with. After the fact, and angry my union members’ lives were put at risk, I called the most senior member of the management team and accused her of negligence. I told her I would ensure the truth was exposed. It was. It took two weeks but, eventually, it landed on the front page of the paper, with a two-page spread outlining the ways in which Management had failed to keep their workers safe.
My little Legal Advocate, in one overly complex conversation, changed the lives of many that day. Had my brain been free of the clutter created by our conversation, this issue with prisoner patient transport by security guards would’ve been raised sooner and those union members wouldn’t have attended a critical incident in the way they did. All of this conflict, simply to hide the truth:
She was grossly incompetent and was scared to be found out.
As for the newsletter, I offered to write it myself, to limit contact with her and ensure adequate notice was given. Constant delays in communication put me in a perpetual state of playing catch up. That was also a part of her strategy to target me and disable my ability to perform the tasks of my role. Her view, however, was that my newsletters were too wordy and people became confused after reading them. In reality, it was her style that led to this outcome but that act, known as projection, is something I’ll discuss in a future article. This one is about Word Salad and you can see why it’s so confusing as a tool to perpetuate workplace abuse.
As a writer in my personal time, I loved the art of healing through scripture. Unable to put pen to paper for more than six months after my final day working alongside her, that was the moment I fully understood how much damage a workplace psychopath can create, even when the victim is familiar with workplace law; bullying and harassment; and it’s impact.
Definition: The art of acting like a grey rock, giving nothing of substance to another person, with limited use of emotions.
A person who is abusive towards another is seeking to elicit an emotional response. We won’t go into the underlying motive here, that’s another story for another day but, for now, keep that underlying goal at the forefront of everything you do from now on.
I’ll step through the types of personalities who rely on bully behaviour to get through life in a separate article but, in short, they are incompetent or have a strong need for control. They use a variety of means to make you react and their goal is simple:
To make you look crazy, feel as though you are going crazy and, eventually send you crazy.
This type of bully is known as an overt narcissist, also known as a grandiose narcissist. They are arrogant, loud, self-important and have little regard for the needs of others. They rely on compliments and, once complimented, will require more to fuel their ego. Long story short:
There is no such thing as enough. They cannot get enough (attention) and you will never be good enough or do enough.
That is their purpose, to exhaust you. Once exhausted, you are no longer a threat and their risk of being exposed as a fraud is reduced. For the workplace psychopath, that’s inadequate. If you Grey Rock the narcissist gives up but the psychopath won’t stop until you’re out. That is, no longer employed, or dead by suicide. People dont believe this type is evil exists but it does and, if you’re here, reading this, I truly hope you have a narcissistic on your hands, not a psychopath. Either way, please consider debriefing with a mental health professional, even your GP is an option.
The Legal Advocate, upset the Chief of Staff showed romantic interest in me power played me to demonstrate omnipotence. I’ll discuss that interplay another day but let’s get to one final conversation:
Legal Advocate: You need to call the Chief of Staff. This is urgent. We need an answer this afternoon.
Nell: I’m about to go to a meeting, I’ll call him after.
Legal Advocate: No, I need to go to the airport and won’t be contactable while flying. I need to write this newsletter on the plane. You need to call him now.
Aware she would not stop, I attempted a call. If went to voicemail. I sent a follow up text with the request included. The Chief of Staff hated voicemails. Illogical in the corporate world but, in hindsight, a power play.
In a meeting but able to text, he replied immediately. Answer achieved, I turned to the Legal Advocate to pass on the advice.
Legal Advocate: He never responds to my text messages; there’s one from a week ago I still haven’t received a response to and it was marked as urgent.
Beady black eyed look, followed by a grunt then had her storming off to catch a flight. I called out:
I’m not in charge of how and when he replies.
What Was The Goal?
Her goal, as is most often the case with your workplace bully or abuser, was to make me become defensive and react badly. It was also to test if I was getting ‘preferential’ treatment, thus justifying her picking on me to ‘balance out’ the power dynamics at play. The fact she was demanding, rude and generally disliked by all didn’t factor into the equation. An overt narcissist is never the threat or the problem, that’s the role of their victim. It’s why I point out you can never do or be enough. The dynamic is designed that way. That there is the start of the real goal:
The ruination of your professional reputation.
Grey Rocking my Legal Advocate prevented her from destroying my career sooner. In fact, she was the first to leave our place of employment. Don’t consider that a win though. The damage done cannot be undone. It’s why these people are so toxic; all because my Legal Advocate was consciously critical.
What Would I Do Differently?
I would have forced my manager to create a clear delineation of our roles, preventing her from trying to offload her duties onto me through the use of Word Salad. I doubt, based on the information I had at the time, I would do anything differently in relation to her nitpicking. A person determined to be negative, will criticise everything you do. It’s a reflection of their state of inner turmoil. It does require the addition of self-care measures to mitigate the damage done and that’s a personal choice, based on your needs and other factors at play. Meanwhile, play the game, Grey Rock them and get yourself to a place of safety.
Disclaimer: All names changed to protect the identities of those involved.