“4 Tips for a Toxic Workplace: When Your Boss is a Covert-Aggressor” Comments, Page 1

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9 Comments (4 Discussion Threads) on “4 Tips for a Toxic Workplace: When Your Boss is a Covert-Aggressor”

  1. Greetings,

    I’ve read your book and I want to say that it was very well-written and spot-on in many ways, so thank you for the work. I have two issues with what I’ve come across, however.

    One is the suggestion for win-win solutions. This doesn’t work in my experience. Fact of the matter is that the other person WANTS you to lose and so the manipulation keeps happening. That is, you wind back at square one because when you’ve attempted to go win-win, it’s characterized as being sideways or irresponsible, defensive, insecure, etc. When in fact the other person isn’t likely even talking about the subject at hand. They’re either bringing up something to be a ‘prick’ or are trying to get somewhere (i.e., in a romantic situation) that isn’t due yet at that stage. Also, if others around you agree to that pattern (of covert aggression, you’re stuck).

    The other is I’ve been thinking about how people use the term “passive-aggressive.” I have only ever heard it used (against others first and then myself) when the other person was wrong/being aggressive. Best example I can think of is there were two coaches one time who had a spat over recruiting. Both refused to speak about it openly, but then one (Bob), when pressed hard, said something akin to “I don’t know, but you can ask Joe (the other coach).” To which the other coach (who had committed a recruiting violation) said that ‘Bob’ was being passive aggressive. But, Joe was wrong. And it’s not as if he didn’t know he was wrong or understand that to be at the source of the friction. More to my point is that Joe was actively (and unfairly, knowingly) breaking rules to get an unfair advantage. Then when someone took a response in light of that behavior, Joe had the liberty to go on the attack.

    I seems to me that what people are really saying is “you didn’t fight hard enough (i.e., you’re a punk) or fearlessly enough/ confidently enough to warrant consideration that your position is right.” It’s as if saying if you can’t beat me for your lunch money, then it wasn’t yours in the first place. By calling the person a coward or suggesting that something in inherently wrong with them, they are able to create self-doubt and thereby win. It’s like saying “I can and you can’t stop it, so I’m right.” And THIS is HIGHLY aggressive, but it’s affective. I guess my question is have you seen this? It seems obvious to me, but is very difficult to deal with in real time.

    Again, I appreciate your work and wish you well. Take care.


    1. Thanks for your comments. And you’re right about the fact that oftentimes, win-win situations don’t work because the aggressor is so hell-bent upon the other person’s defeat. My point with it, however, is that given the 4 possible outcome options I outline in my books, a win-win is at least a possible alternative to the “I win, you lose” preference, at least for some more amenable aggressive personalities, so it’s worth a try.

      Good comments about active vs. passive aggression, too. Passive aggression is aggression by not doing. It’s not speaking, not-so-accidentally “forgetting, subtly resisting cooperation, etc. And I outline all the major types of aggression (e.g., passive vs. active, covert vs. overt, reactive vs. predatory, etc. in both my books and in some prior posts.

      Thanks again for your comments.

  2. Dr Simon, if you think it’s your boss who is covert aggressive would you recommend leaving? My boss is very charismatic and intelligent but I feel intimidated by him.

    He sometimes uses profanities when he gets angry at work (when talking about work me or others have done). He’ll openly discuss the performance of some people who work for me in front of others (in terms of whether they are doing a good job, should we keep them), as well as talk about firing others.

    When I first started I had a woman working for me that was rude and unproductive, he asked what I thought of her, and I told him she wasn’t good. He called her in with me and swore at her. He later told me that he got rid of her for me, and that I had good support in the new people I’d brought in. I felt bad about what happened then, and wish I’d stuck up for her, and I can see his behaviour reflected in later dealings.

    He also expects people to work weekends and evenings when needed, but never does it himself. I’m looking for other jobs (I’m lucky as got certain skills) but I keep thinking I should stay and try and assert myself (I like my colleagues and the work). But I’m thinking my health will suffer.

    1. Thanks for the comments and the question, Elles. From what you say, there’s a lot more going on with respect to the character of this man than just covert-aggression, and much of the aggressive behavior you describe is anything but covert. It’s your call whether there’s enough about the job to keep you invested in it and whether you feel you have sufficient safety in this environment as well as the skills necessary to deal with his behavior. But the fact that he has engaged in certain unnerving behaviors right in front of you and without any apparent compunction is a huge red flag that almost anything is possible.

  3. Dear Dr. Simon
    What are the common characteristics that the disturbed personality looks for when seeking a target in the workplace environment? Is it only a perception of naiveté or vulnerability or are there other things they look for?

    My observations:
    • Once the target is identified, manipulators begin their own form of shaping process with a slow and deliberate motion toward crossing professional boundaries without stepping over the line. It’s a testing period. If the target resists, it’s like raising the flag to say; “Let the games begin.” If the target complies even in the slightest way, the same flag is raised…

    I think the object is not to be identified as a target.
    Any advise?
    Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the question. Aggressive personalities of all types, including covert aggressors, are equal-opportunity exploiters for the most part. It’s easier for them to get the better of someone who’s relatively naive, too good-natured, or overly accommodating. And they certainly don’t like running up against someone who’s equally aggressive in character and readily knows the modus operandi. The main reason they target, however is that there’s something they want and they see someone else as potentially in the way. It’s not personal. Just part of the game of winning at all costs.

  4. Dear Dr. Simon,

    I just purchased and read your book after doing some online researching on manipulative behaviors. I have dealt with a step-daughter with covert-aggressive behavior which mainly consisted of guilt-tripping and always being a victim. I went to counselling a few years back from these manipulations and first learned about “victim mentality” as my counslor referred to it. After I read your book, I gained a much better understanding of how it’s just a game and their lack of being consciousness. I’ve always felt that it was that way for her, but I denied that it could be true. I mean, how could it? But I’m convinced that this is in fact how she is and I’m learning to accept that. But now I also found out earlier this year that my boss is covert-aggressive. I have seen him gain power and move up the ladder very quickly in a very short time without regard to anyone around him. I’m having a very hard time dealing with this new knowledge. I know he knows my weaknesses and I am quite aware of his tactics. I still tend to fall for these tactics even though I know his game. I am a very personable person so I tend to get caught off guard when I know I should be careful. I also was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder a few years back when I was dealing with my step-daughter’s manipulation. So, my question is, how do I cope with these types of people with having an anxiety disorder? I’m convinced that I must leave my job but I fear that the next job will just be much of the same. I do feel that my work environment is toxic and I must leave. But how do I better prepare my self if the same situations occur at the next place and what should I look out for?

    1. Thanks for the kind words about my work and my book. It’s precisely because there’s really no running from these kinds of behaviors that I fashioned the “tools of empowerment” I outline in the book for dealing more effectively in here-and-now interpersonal encounters with these types of folks. Of paramount importance – especially in the workplace – is fashioning the “win-win” scenarios.

      But you raise another important issue when you state you were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder some years ago. Not only are anxiety disorders the most treatable conditions there are, but most people who overcome their excessive anxiety reactions with proper treatment emerge as stronger, more confident, and far more ready to take on the world and all of its unsavory characters than they ever were before. And good treatment is definitely not a long-term affair. So, for starters, I’d examine just how much personal empowerment you think you’ve gained though your therapy. And if you still find yourself facing challenging situations with excessive anxiety and unsureness, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the efficacy of your treatment. The same principles and techniques that are well-known to rid people of their anxiety are the ones that help enable folks to feel more empowered in their interpersonal interactions, even with difficult people.

  5. From the quoted mail: “This woman is like Jekyll and Hyde. She can seem like your ‘best friend’ if she thinks you can help her get what she wants. But do or say anything that she thinks keeps her from victory, and she’ll back-stab you in a heartbeat.”

    Fully agree. These people are hyper goal-driven. Being so, they regard others in only two ways: tools to reach their goals, or obstacles.

    So, once you realise their covert aggressive character, when they treat you nicely, don’t think they have changed. They want something. If later they decide that you’re an obstacle, they won’t just back-stab, they’ll try to get rid of you—while still making themselves look good, of course.

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