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 Pixie's Blog 
Friday, October 02 2009

This post is a continuation of The Courage to Change Bosses.  Michele McCarthy (of The McCarthy Show) and I collaborate on many ideas including the posts for the series Difficult Bosses.  

Pixie:  Last time you suggested we talk about the drama we create as an excuse to change. When we first talked about creating drama, you mentioned that it was a fear of saying "goodbye."

Michele:  Yes, humans, or at least Americans, seem to have trouble with endings and they create drama rather than ending something gracefully.

Pixie:  It would be interesting to find out if other cultures exhibit the same behavior.  

Michele:  I agree. It would be fascinating to know about other cultures that handle endings in a dignified way.

Pixie:  I think we're trained to create that drama from birth.  Have you ever watched a new mother say "goodbye" to her infant.  There is all this drama of hugging, kissing, "I'll miss you", backward glances . . . Then when the child is old enough to exhibit separation anxiety, the drama escalates.  If the mother cannot bring herself to walk out the door and returns to the crying child, the drama continues.

Michele:  I've never thought about the connection to early childhood separations, but I think that's a good insight. I think that is an example of the cultural lack.  In other words, we don't have a cultural mode wherein we teach our children that endings are part of life and how to accomplish them gracefully.  We don't teach by example and we don't teach explicitly.

Pixie:  Exactly, and we infer that happiness without togetherness is wrong.

Michele:  Also, if you think about the behavior around endings, people will focus on the drama.  That's what will get discussed or that's where the attention goes and nobody pops up a level and says, "Wait a minute. I didn't handle ending this well" or, "Boy, she is uncomfortable with saying 'goodbye'."  Instead we stay at the shallow level of "Can you believe he did that?  What a jerk!"  Or we obsess about a breakup and keep almost breaking up or we refuse to fire someone until it's a huge mess.

Pixie:  We have to construct a fable to do what we want to do. I've seen people create illnesses and injuries as excuses to change.  The change needed sometimes is as simple as stopping to rest.

Michele:  Yes, I've seen this too.  I have done that quite a few times actually.

Pixie: Me too!  I remember working like a madman on projects and neglecting my self-care.  Sooner or later I would get sick and be forced to take care of myself.

Michele:  Freud taught that we repress what is uncomfortable or unacceptable and we hide it behind defensive behaviors and thoughts. In this case the unacceptable feelings are around leaving or ending a relationship.

Pixie:  How do we relate this to the courage to change bosses? 

Michele:  When we are unwilling to face an ending, we create the drama to distract us from the unacceptable feelings associated with the ending.  I would say this relates to changing bosses in two ways.  First, if you know at a gut level you are going to be leaving a boss, allow yourself to feel the feelings of the loss. Allow yourself to know that you are going to leave. And secondly, most importantly, commit to yourself to leave gracefully without hurting yourself or others. Ask for help to ensure that you do so in a calm, thoughtful way.

Pixie:  Let's describe a scenario; an example of creating drama as an excuse to change bosses.

Michele:  An example would be that your unconscious has decided you can not tolerate your current boss any longer.  Instead of consciously ending your work with that boss, you create some type of drama.  For instance, you might get sick which forces the boss to fire you or move you to another job.

Pixie:  Or you might sabotage yourself by missing a deadline?  Causing a conflict?

Michele:  Right. You might even set up a scenario where you decide the boss was abusive and you are going to sue him.  That's very common. I had an employee once who did the work assigned but clearly had no passion for it.  He obviously had passion for other work.  So one day he came to me and asked for a raise and then listed all the types of work he didn't want to do for me anymore.  I tried to explain that it was not a rational solution.  I was not going to pay more for less, and he should go work on what he was passionate about. But I think he was afraid to leave the security of the weekly paycheck.  So, I eventually had to fire him.  He was enraged with me, threatened to sue, etc.  That was one of the incidents that made me realize the pattern of drama involved with endings.  It was clear to me he wanted to work at another job but he couldn't just pack up and gracefully say "goodbye." He had to create chaos.

Pixie:  Like the chaos I talked about earlier in the mother/child scenario. I think it's learned behavior.

Michele:  Yes, I felt pressure to be parental in that instance.   It was as if I was expected to be his mother and fund his new career and he was enraged that I wouldn't take care of him anymore.  However, I had no parental feelings towards him, so I just felt frustrated that business wasn't getting taken care of. Time and energy was getting wasted on the drama.

The drama was designed by the employee to create an ending.  It was just a messy design.

Notably, that incident crystallized my initial Boss/Employee ideas.  So it actually was a gift. I was so frustrated by the irrational behavior that I figured out what was bothering me about it. 

Pixie:  It takes courage to know and say what you want without creating chaos.  Most of the time I would leave jobs without drama.  I would give two weeks notice and remain friends with some people later.

Michele:  That's really good and pretty unusual. I leave quietly now, but in the past I've caused my share of drama in business, in love, in friendships.

Leave us your comments.  How have you created drama or chaos around change?  How would you handled an employee's drama?

Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

Monday, September 14 2009
Michele McCarthy (of The McCarthy Show) and I collaborate on many ideas including the posts for the series Difficult Bosses.   The other night when we were talking about applying the Serenity Prayer to workplace conflict and difficult bosses, Michele mentioned, "the courage to change bosses." 

What if you've done all that you can to change your perception and your boss is truly a difficult boss as defined by Michele's No. 1 Criteria - your boss stops you from doing great things?  Then it's time for the courage to change bosses.

Pixie:  Why do you think it takes courage to change bosses?

Michele: I think a lot of people think of their workplace as their home instead of a place of business. Home feels safe and you don't want to leave that warm, comfy safety, so you put up with a lot of mediocrity to avoid making a change.

Pixie:  I work with clients who agonize over making decisions for fear of making a mistake.  I reassure them that there are no mistakes; just new decisions.
Michele:  I tell my clients that I would expect they would make mistakes if they are growing. And mistakes are when you learn. For me at least, I have had the biggest growth spurts after making big mistakes.

Pixie: What I hear you saying about a bad work situation is that people fail to act in order to avoid discomfort. And some people get locked up for fear of making a mistake.

Michele: "Mom, I don't want to go to school, it's scary out there.  I can't make a decision what to wear, so I'll have to stay home from school today."

Pixie:  We think we're safe if we stay put. We fear the unknown.

Michele:  I also think we love sameness, ritual, and tradition.

Pixie: I know others who change jobs too much because they get bored without the chaos of change.

Michele:  Yes, chaos junkies. I don't have many clients with that issue, but I have seen it.  I think it's more common to avoid change, though.

Pixie: Yes, traditions, rituals, sameness makes us feel secure. Courage in this sense, to change bosses, is like a leap of faith.  How do you move your clients toward that change?

Michele: I ask them what they want.  I investigate in detail what they have now and what they want.  Only they can decide whether they are willing to change.

Pixie: Yes, it is much better when we know what we want.

Michele:  Deconstructing what they have and why they have it usually helps them make better decisions. I talk to them about their feelings too.

Pixie: For example, you'd ask "How do you feel about where you are now compared to where you want to be?"
Michele:  Right. You have to repress a lot of feelings to stay in a mediocre job. When you are aware of your feelings, it is easier to take action. Anger, for example, is a great motivator in a mature adult.
Pixie: I think it was easier for me when I left the legal field because it had changed from a career that I enjoyed to a job that was a means of making money.  But I was looking for a calling; some way to be of service and to make a contribution. 

Michele:  Yes, I like those categories. That's a useful structure for people to think about: Do you have a job, a career, or a calling?

Pixie:  I didn't need courage to change.  The change came to me when my department was closed.  I was in alignment with that event. 
After identifying my clients' desires (often they don't know what they want), I try to help them move into alignment with those desires. When we are in alignment with our desires, the change takes place organically.

Michele:  Yes, it becomes a flow if the resistance is low.

Pixie:  Resistance is low when we have clarity. It's the murky middle that takes courage. In recovery the opposite of fear is faith. A saying used in recovery is that "all men of courage have faith".  The truth for me is that I don't even need faith or courage unless there is fear.  It is the fear that creates the need for courage.

Michele: Yes, that's right. And having a great life takes courage.

Pixie:  My clients ask how to have courage; how to have faith. My response is - ask, listen, receive, take action. People seem to believe faith is a feeling. For me, trust is the feeling that I get when I take actions of faith.

Michele: Next time, let's talk about the drama we create as an excuse to change. 

Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

Tuesday, September 01 2009
Michele McCarthy (of The McCarthy Show) and I collaborate on many ideas including the posts for the series Difficult Bosses.  Michele and her husband, Jim McCarthy, provide executive and teamwork consulting utilizing the results from research conducted in their teamwork laboratory, "BootCamp."  Two nights ago, Michele and I talked about the Difficult Bosses series by phone.

Pixie:  So Michele, to you, the bosses that I’ve discussed so far in the Difficult Bosses series are annoying bosses, not truly difficult bosses?

Michele:  Yes.  If people came to me with those types of complaints, I would just give advice about how to deal with them.

Pixie:  Then how would you describe a truly difficult boss?

Michele:  Some of the characteristics of a truly difficult boss:
  • won’t fire people
  • won’t promote based on merit
  • values loyalty without regard to merit
Loyalty without regard to merit means a truly difficult boss will promote someone regardless of the results just because he’s loyal to that employee or because that employee is loyal to him.

Pixie:  That’s like returning to the same barber over and over again even though he gives you a bad haircut.

Michele:  Exactly.  A truly difficult boss is also very parental.

Pixie:  Can you give an example? 

Michele:  Truly difficult bosses think their job is to control their employees as if they were unruly children. For example, they spend a lot of energy "containing" or saying "no."  Furthermore, they think they carry their job title because they’re smarter or better in some dimension.

Pixie:  Well, aren’t they better or smarter? 

Michele:  99 percent of organizations aren’t rational enough to promote someone to boss because they’re smartest or best.  Come to think of it, I challenge anyone to define "smartest" or "best."  That’s an arrogant point of view to begin with.  Frequently, difficult bosses are the boss simply because they wanted to be the boss so people would do what they say.

Pixie:  So it's all about power. 

Michele:  Yes, for the difficult bosses we are discussing at the moment, the primary motivator I perceive is a dark version of power.

Also, a truly difficult boss consciously or unconsciously sabotages or won’t promote people who they are afraid are “smarter” or “better.”  The way to highlight this is to contrast the difficult boss with a perfect boss.  A perfect boss loves someone who is “smarter” or “better” because they understand their job is to get results so they see someone who has some virtue as helpful to attaining their goals.  Consequently, the perfect boss supports and gives more attention to employees that show the most potential.

The darkest bosses will promote those who are loyal but who, in their mind, pose no threat.

Pixie:  What I hear you saying is that a truly difficult boss isn’t focused on results.  He or she is focused on power.

Michele:  Right. I also think if a boss doesn’t stop great things from happening, then you’re fine.  It’s the stopping greatness that defines a difficult boss.

Pixie:  So all the other things that I’ve discussed about difficult bosses are really about emotional boundary issues?

Michele: At least a large part are, yes. If a boss doesn't stop you from doing great things, just ignore the annoying parts. Do great things. Don't use the boss as an excuse. However, if you have a "truly difficult" boss, I recommend getting a new boss.

What are your thoughts?  Is your boss a truly difficult boss who stops you from doing great things or is he just an annoying boss?  How do you put the "courage to change" into action in your workplace relationships?

Monday, August 24 2009
A couple of things started this series of blog posts about difficult bosses.  One was working with a friend who had a difficult boss.  The other was listening to podcasts of The McCarthy Show about Boss/Employee Relationships.  Jim & Michele McCarthy, in an intelligent and humorous way, discuss the characteristics of the "perfect boss".

The second part of the Serenity Prayer is "courage to change the things I can".  Reframing our own expectations is part of that change.  It's not about being right or wrong.  It's about moving a little to the left or to the right, to see things from a different perspective.  The McCarthy podcasts are about changed perspectives.  I don't know about you but change takes courage for me!

Here's a short list of what was mentioned in the first podcast
about Boss/Employee Relationships. The perfect boss:
  • Only pays attention to those who get results.
  • Is an adult who believes in the individual's responsibility for personal welfare.
  • Arranges for you to have a paycheck.
  • Pay according to merit.
  • Doesn't listen to gossip or complaints about someone.
  • Invites you to leave if your job is painful to you.
  • Expects you to work (produce results) and communicates his expectations clearly.
  • Does not reward trying, only rewards results.
  • Prefers status updates to waiting or asking for permission.
  • Is always too busy for a crisis and never too busy for connection.

You really have to listen to the podcast to hear Jim & Michele sharing this information.  After listening to the podcasts, I talked to Michele McCarthy about it to confirm my understanding of what was being said.

My summary:  The perfect boss doesn't reward you for your feelings.
  The perfect boss cares about what you do.  A perfect boss expects you to show up for work to do a job and get results.  The perfect boss is an adult and expects you to be an adult.

If you have identified any role you may be playing in a relationship with difficult dynamics and have taken steps to change that role, then it's time to talk about how to cope with a boss who is not the perfect boss.

Friday, August 21 2009
Remember the Serenity Prayer?  It totally applies to a relationship with a difficult boss.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
Courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Now it's time to put that Universal Principle into action on the job.  What do you need to accept that you cannot change?  You cannot change your boss.  You can teach them how to treat you after you are certain that your side of the sidewalk is clean.  Is it?
  • Do you show up for work on time with a good attitude prepared to work? 
  • Do you spend your day being productive or getting results? 
  • Have you learned to resolve your feelings? 
  • How much time do you spend surfing the internet? 
  • Playing solitaire?  Personal phone calls? 
  • Gossiping or complaining?
  • Do you give your employer a dime for his nickel?
  • Do you show up for work to see what you can give rather than what you can get?
Years ago when I worked in law firms, I was always surprised when I walked up behind another staff member to find him playing solitaire on the computer.  I had a heavy work load and multiple deadlines.  I didn't even know where the games were on the system.  Yet I could not judge or criticize.  My slate was not totally clean.  I made personal phone calls. 

In another firm one of the staff members was very social.  Her role in that firm was one of counselor and adviser to the other staff members about their personal problems.  Their continued visits to her desk disrupted the work flow and her productivity.  Her boss asked her to stop visiting so much.  She was outraged and hurt.  It wasn't her fault.  What was she supposed to do?

In both cases it was not unreasonable for the boss to ask for more productivity and less personal business on his time.  In my instance, all I needed to reduce the personal phone calls. 

In the other person's case, she needed to set boundaries around her time at work with a simple, "I'm in the middle of something.  Can we discuss this later?"

If you're sure you're doing a good job, not bringing your old personal wounds to work, and being a good employee, the next post is about helping you reframe your idea of the characteristics of a perfect boss.

Wednesday, August 19 2009
Seeking support is a means of gaining a different perspective on dealing with a difficult boss.  I don't mean sitting around the break room complaining or gossiping.  You know who to talk with get sympathy.  Who do you talk with to get solutions?

If you can't identify your role in the relationship dynamics with a difficult boss, ask for help.  There are professional coaches, counselors, consultants, ministers, psychologists - a wide range of professionals who can objectively help you identify your role and work with you to develop new behaviors to help you cope with conflict in the workplace.  Choose who attracts you the most.

In an office environment, I worked in law firms, usually in high responsibility secretarial or legal assistant positions.  The characteristics of the type of bosses I worked with were manic, driven, and demanding perfectionists.  It takes a certain type of personality to become an attorney and it takes a certain type of personality to support one.

One of the things I learned about myself was through Carolyn Myss's book, Sacred Contracts.  In the back of that book is an index of different archetypes characteristics.  One of my archetypes was that of a Sidekick:  someone who provides support for another person of greater power.  I immediately got a resentment when I identified with that archetype but it perfectly explained my vocation at the time and why I was good at it.

If you need more information or support in finding what role you play in difficult dynamics with a boss, feel free to contact me.

Photo courtesy of Larlo from

Wednesday, August 12 2009
If you're feeling like a victimized by a difficult boss, the first place to look for a solution is within yourself.  Remember, according to the Law of Attraction, we attract experiences and relationships that help us grow.

The last post, Get Your Unreasonable Boss Right-Sized, was an exercise in helping you change your perspective and to level the playing field in your mind.  Some things look better from a distance.  Moving back emotionally allows you to put some spiritual space between your and a difficult situation.  From that point, it's time to take a deeper look at you.
  • What are your expectations of your boss?
  • Does (s)he remind you of one of your parents?
  • Are you replaying a childhood role in your relationship?
  • Are your boss's expectations really unreasonable?
  • What lessons are you supposed to learn from this relationship?
If your boss hurts your feelings, it's time to put one of the most valuable recovery principles into action:  "It's a spiritual axiom that any time I am disturbed, there is something wrong with me."  What is it?
  • Is it my personal insecurity?
  • Is it fear of losing my job?
  • Is it my pride; do I have a problem with authority?
  • What is it that if I would release it, I would be free?
  • Again, how is this relationship meant to help me grow?

Thursday, August 06 2009

One of the first tricks to learn when coping with tyrannical behavior from your boss is to get him right-sized in your mind.  You can never assess a situation clearly when you’re filled with anxiety and panic.

Chances are that if your boss’s behavior is unreasonable with you, it’s unreasonable with others too but if you’re in the direct line of fire, you can receive the brunt of her sarcasm and anger.  If you feel like a victim, then you’ve perfectly aligned with someone to perpetuate that feeling.

Year ago I worked for a brilliant director in a company whom I really liked on a personal level.  At work it was a different story.  When he was happy, the whole office was happy.  If he was stressed, he was irritable and demanding.  The entire office would tip-toe around his bad mood until it passed. 

Since I was in the direct line of fire, most of his irritability came at me full force.  When my boss was stressed, all signs of civility disappeared.  Each task was given to me in a rush.  Any mistakes I made were met with derision and anger.  At the beginning of the relationship, I coped with his bad moods by meeting them head on.  Later in our relationship, I went through a life changing event that left me vulnerable and defenseless to any attack from anybody, not just my boss. 

Instead of coping with the stress of the job and his stress like an adult, I would cower and internalize the stress as my personal pain.  He had not changed.  I had. To tell the truth, the workplace was not the only area of my life where I felt like a victim.  I was in victim mode.  If I was to continue working with my boss, I had to develop new coping skills.  The first one I learned was to get him right-sized in my mind.

A friend suggested I imagine him in a diaper.  Well that may have been appropriate because his behavior was often similar to a two year old’s tantrum, but the visual was a little repulsive to me.  I had to find something that worked for me. 

Eventually, I settled on a popular Bud Light commercial that depicted two bearded men dressed in flowery dresses and hats pretending to be women so they could get a beer during ladies’ night.  Ever time my boss would act inappropriately, I would envision him in a hat and dress.  That little trick helped take the edge off the panic I felt every time I thought I was being attacked.  Later the relationship changed and I once again was able to interact like an adult.  He had not changed.  I had.

My challenge to you is to find a means to get your boss right-sized in your mind.  This doesn’t mean to criticize and judge your boss, it means to find a mental image that is less threatening to you.
Photo courtesy of T Buchtele via

Thursday, August 06 2009
Stressful work relationships can drain us mentally, emotionally, and physically in the same manner that our personal relationships can.  Think about it, if you work 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., five days a week, you probably spend as many waking hours with the people at work as you do with the people at home.  If you're stressed out at work, that often bleeds over into your home life.  If you're stressed out at home, that spills over to your career.  The question is - what are you going to do about it?  What can you do about it?

In the post, Relationships and the Law of Attraction, we said that we attract all our relationships to help us grow and that repeating patterns of relationships are signals for us to look inside to see where we need to change.

What about your boss?  What about that other secretary or assistant that creates conflict?  What about the IT person who makes you feel stupid?  What lessons could those relationships possibly hold for you?

Syliva Lafair in her book, Don't Bring It to Work, says that our behavior at work is motivated by childhood behavior patterns.  Even into adulthood, we live up to the labels we were given as a child:
  • Smart One
  • Pretty Girl
  • Weak One
  • Funny One
  • Bad One
  • Compliant One
  • Industrious One
  • Social One
Lafair then discusses 13 common character pattern that evidence in the workplace: 
  1. Super-Achiever
  2. Rebel
  3. Procrastinator
  4. Clown
  5. Persecutor
  6. Victim
  7. Rescuer
  8. Drama Queen
  9. Martyr
  10. Pleaser
  11. Avoider
  12. Denier
  13. Splitter
Lafair outline how our childhood patterns replay themselves in our roles at work.  She suggests as a solution that we should discover our own patterns and own them in an safe environment so we can turn those character defects into assets in our workplace.  Read the book and everything will be well, right?

I don't know about you but usually when I read a book like this I can immediately see someone else's behavior.  It takes a little more digging to see my role in a relationships.  Meantime until I change that core belief that's driving my role, I have to develop defenses and strategies to maintain my sanity and integrity.

I was a Victim, Rescuer, and Martyr in the workplace.  To play those roles, I always had to attract a Persecutor, another Victim, and a Super-Achiever.  In the next series of posts, I'll share insights and stories related to how I coped and changed within the workplace.

Do you work with someone who fits into one of those personalities?  Can you see yourself?  What have you done to cope and change?

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