Re: Managers Who Intimidate Causing Grief

Subject: Re: Managers Who Intimidate Causing Grief
From: Beth Agnew <bagnew -at- INSYSTEMS -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 7 Sep 1998 13:32:42 -0400

Cecilia St. John wrote: Q: How does one respond to an intimidator without
using the same

Having been a woman in a technical role in the military, and having worked
in a men's prison, I think I can speak to this question.

Impassive demeanor, detachment and calling their bluff are the best ways I
found to respond to an intimidator. They get their kicks by making you FEEL
intimidated. They know they've succeeded when you get defensive, or start
avoiding confrontations.

Intimidators are insecure people who have to tear others down in order to
feel good about themselves. They are ineffectual in normal human
interactions, so they have to use aggressive tactics to be in control, which
they must be at all times. Criticism is their most valuable weapon.

Writers are wide open for this because it's part of our jobs to have other
people (who may or may not be qualified) review, comment on and even edit
our work.

You've heard the saying, "Be nice to your enemies, it drives them crazy."?
This is the stance you need to take toward intimidators. Be pleasant, but be
strong. Focus on the issues, not the personalities. If they make personal
comments, say "What you think of me personally is irrelevant. I asked for
your opinion on this work. Do you have something valid to say or not?" and
say it nicely. If they rant and rave, wait for silence signaling your turn
to speak. Take a couple of extra seconds, then calmly and quietly give your
response. Don't be accusatory -- try to be as neutral as possible. "You"
statements are very intimidating: "You screwed up, you didn't
understand...". Don't use them. Ignore them if you hear them. Reframe the
content of the sentence in a neutral way: "It seems that this chapter
doesn't work. In what way should it be rewritten?"

You may have to gather all your courage, and confront this person privately.
(One by one if there's a swarm of 'em.) Find a quiet neutral place of your
choosing, so you feel more confident. Tell them there's a problem that needs
solving. There seems to be a communications gap, and you'd like to bridge
it. "I find that what is said to me is offensive, hurtful and does not help
me to achieve my objectives. It would help me if criticism or comments about
my work were said in a way that did not attack me personally, but instead
focused on the problems or errors and how they could be corrected." You're
not accusing them, yet you're airing the grievance. Granted, this may be too
neutral for some intimidators -- they're the kind you have to hit with a
brick just to get their attention (but I don't recommend that).

In that case, lay it out for them more simply: "I do not like the way you
speak to me. I will not accept it. And if it continues, I will take steps to
ensure that senior management (go all the way to the top if you have to) is
aware of the problem. Continued intimidation constitutes HARASSMENT, (it
does, actually,) and I won't stand for it." Make note of the date/time/place
you discussed this with the offending party, and file a copy with your
supervisor, your HR person, or some other corporate official who will be
concerned about this. Offer to meet with a management representative along
with the offending person(s) to discuss the problem. Keep a record of this
meeting. It's not a bad idea to get the others to sign it, too. "I've
written up the gist of our meeting and our agreement on how we will treat
each other. I'm willing to sign this to show my commitment to it. If this
agrees with your understanding of what we said, please sign it too. Here's a
copy for your records." Of course, if they won't sign it, they probably
won't adhere to it, either.

There are other things you can do, but that's a start. Contact me offline
(anyone) if you want more suggestions.

who hasn't let quite the sheltered existence some would think...

Beth Agnew
Senior Technical Writer, InSystems Technologies Inc.
65 Allstate Parkway, Suite 100 Tel: (905) 513-1400 ext. 280
Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R 9X1 Fax: (905) 513-1419
mailto:bagnew -at- insystems -dot- com Visit us at:

See my friendly face at:

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