As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I've analyzed, worked with, and consulted with many difficult bosses over the years. In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, change negative situations to positive ones, and preserve your sanity.
In my column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. And remember - all of these toxic bosses in all of my columns can be of either gender. Toxicity does not discriminate according to the sexes. The previous ones include: Dick the Dictator, Bashia the Backstabber, Sewell the Sexual Harasser, Carl the Control Freak, Paula the Passive Aggressive, Clayton the Clueless, Greta the Gossip, Susie the Sugar Coater, Ian the Idea Stealer, Al the Alcoholic, Nancy the Narcissist, Donald the Deal Maker, Vernon the Verbal Attacker, Bobby the Boss's Relative, Cynthia the Silent Treatment Torturer, Phil the Philanderer, Ned the Negligent, Sal the Slave Driver, Porter the Political Soap Boxer, Michael the Micromanager, Wade the One Upper, Betty the Battle Axe, Phoebe the Phony, Peter the Pig, Bill the Big Picture Boss, Dan the Detail Boss, Ellery the Yeller, Sandy the Snob, Blaine the Blamer, Winnie the Whiner, Eric the Erratic, Hy the Hider, Christine the Cruel, and Robert the Rule Monger.
Denny the Distorter can be a man or a woman. Their ability to spin cotton candy around their words, sweet talk anyone into doing what they want, and deny and distort what they previously said is astounding. Be aware of their games and tricks or you'll be run over by them like road kill and be destroyed. They will stop at nothing to get their way, cover their tracks, and polish their phony facade to convince others of their innocence, honesty, and/or good intentions, none of which they possess in any quantity whatsoever.
Situation - Denny is your boss and he can be charming, charismatic, and clever. He can flatter you or anyone and convince them to do what he wants. And, when he doesn't get his way, he can turn into a bully in a nanosecond. He is manipulative and immoral, but more amoral. He doesn't have an inner moral compass. It's just not there. As the saying goes, "There's no there there." Denny's ability to twist words and meanings in his favor is bizarre and you feel like you're at a carnival or boardwalk with all those mirrors that elongate, shrink, and distort. He can split hairs and find loopholes like an electron microscope technician or neurosurgeon. Denny also avoids taking responsibility for anything that he does and whatever has gone wrong is legendary. He has blamed you for your "slip-ups" and incompetence to cover his own errors. He spends a great deal of time looking for people to blame and to take the fall for his lies and deception.
You know that you did the right thing, but you are beginning to doubt your own sanity because he's so convincing. He is a master at getting his way with the English language (or any language) and he makes you feel crazy, deaf or that encroaching Alzheimer's is imminent - you think your memory is slipping because he's swearing he told you things that he really never did. Or he insists that he didn't say something that he definitely said. Or he tells you that you misinterpreted him. But you even have the email and voice mails from others to prove it. He'll spin a web of lies around whatever he wants to hide - he's a champ at rationalizing, compartmentalizing, and justifying his innocence. And you get the blame with negative remarks written in your personnel file or a possible pink slip. You can't win with Denny. Fight back!
There are times you literally feel dizzy after he finishes one of his tirades because he is the Fred Astaire (or Ginger Rogers) of verbal dancing. He is giving a master class in word juggling and he should be on tour with Ringling Brothers. He is fascinating to watch, but not to be the target of his machinations. He sets you up, and detonates his words at you like ammo. Wear a bullet-proof jacket made of Kevlar to save your life and sanity - in fact, wear a helmet with a visor protector!
Explanation - Denny is most likely a sociopath, which means he has no conscience, no guilt, and he never connects his actions with consequences. He is incapable of empathizing with anyone, but he is an award winning actor, and can fake empathy, sorrow, and tears along with Oscar winners. He can be so convincing that you begin to believe him or even feel sorry for him. That's part of his technique. He is incredibly selfish, self-centered, greedy, ruthlessly ambitious, and he thinks he is above the law. Denny's narcissism makes him believe he is special and that the rules don't apply to him.
He probably had attorneys, politicians, and/or sales personnel for parents, guardians, or influential adults in his life, which is where and how he learned his remarkable ability to attempt to out-talk, outsmart, and outwit his opponents, usually getting reinforced and applauded for doing so. He usually calls his targets "his marks" and sees them as his dupes, but he would never admit that to you or anyone.
Another tactic he uses is "The Boomerang." It's his issue, but it lands on your lap. He projects his guilt onto you and others and sets you and them up as the villains. They did it to him! He's just an innocent victim. What a role reversal! You've seen this too many times on dramatic or reality TV crime shows or in the movies or documentaries that portray how criminals think, behave, and literally get away with murder. White collar criminals can be the worst because they have the money to hire smart attorneys to convince a judge and/or jury of their innocence.
Denny sees himself as "the smartest guy in the room," and his intellectual snobbery is palatable. He has nothing but disdain for others, sees everyone else as weak, stupid, incompetent, and/or lazy; and he will stop at nothing to get his way, including blaming it and dumping it all on you. If it means you go to jail in taking the fall for him, he's all for it and will engineer that to happen so he can go blameless and free. Protect yourself.
Solution - The most important thing in combating Denny's boomerang tactics is to get everything in writing and to always follow up with an email to Denny and his superiors as well as others in the chain of command in all directions - upward, downward and laterally. There may come a day when you may need to audio and/or video tape exactly what Denny said and did so you can have it and can use as proof. You must inform him that you are doing taping and recording him. Consult your attorney about the legalities of taping someone without their consent and see if there are exceptions, as possibly in a fraud or blackmail situation. You don't want to do anything illegal when dealing with Denny because he'll make you look like the criminal, not him. Remember Nixon and his tapes, which were his downfall and proof of his culpability.
In my book, Surviving the Toxic Workplace - Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day (McGraw Hill 2010) please read Chapter 16 - pages 58-62 and the section on "boomerangs" and "calling a process shot". You must describe to him the process of exactly what he is doing by saying, "Denny, you claim I neglected to notify Bob, when I have proof of the email I sent him right here at 10:05 AM on Saturday, June 10th." And show him the print out. Send it to him again in an email.
Denny is a crazy-maker and you must safeguard your sanity or you'll feel like you're the crazy one. You're not. Keep a journal of your every move, speech, phone call, voice mail, voice message, letter, email, meeting, and contact that you make. Write down exactly what happened and the date, time, and place. Always cc your emails to the right people.
Keep copies of everything in your own personal safety deposit box at the bank and on a back up disk that you can also store there as well and keep another one at home. Denny is capable of forgery, theft, misappropriation, and whatever he must do to cover his tracks. He may also hire other people to do his dirty work. The extreme example is committing murder, and that could mean YOU if his egregious lies and errors threaten his existence and career. Denny is a wicked wordsmith who is dangerous, devious, deceitful, and devilish. You must protect yourself and your sanity.
Be careful if you ask others to be witnesses. Denny is so manipulative that the other witnesses might end up "drinking the Kool Aid" and fall under his spell, turning against you. Denny can also bribe, threaten, extort, use and/or flatter them to get his way. In this difficult economy, people need all the money they can get, and since most Dennys I know are well off financially, he is certain to use money as a lubricant and motivator to sway someone to his side. He is capable of great treachery. He only thinks of himself and his reputation, wealth, status, ambition, position, and image - all of which are corrupt, tainted, and achieved through illegal and/or unethical means. He uses and steps on or over people to get ahead, and you're one rung on his ladder to the top.
Having an attorney of your own is a smart move because Denny may eventually fire you for not doing what he asked, or for not covering for him and taking the blame for his mistakes. And he'll fight you on unemployment and he'll make it look like you quit. You cannot let that happen. Or conversely, he'll do everything to persuade you to stay because you know his secrets. Stand up, be strong, and start looking for another job while you still have this one.
You must examine your mental, emotional, and physical health when working for Denny. You may be experiencing crying spells and aches and pain in your head, neck, back, heart, stomach, etc., and/or you may be suffering from insomnia, indigestion, anxiety, and depression because of the hyper-vigilance you must maintain to watch your own back 24/7 working for Denny. Is it worth your sanity and health to stay? There are better bosses out there and better jobs with higher pay and benefits. Start looking now. Or better yet, don't work for Denny in the first place. And if you just started with one, ask for a transfer immediately. All aspects of your health are at stake here as well as your resume, future, and career. Get out as quickly as possible!
I hope these suggestions help you deal with Denny the Distorter.
Dr. Linnda Durré is a psychotherapist, writer and business consultant in Winter Park who has worked with Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits and small businesses.
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