In a comment on my last post on what I call “Stealth Destroyers,” Jim Connolly, of the organizational consultant firm Thomas, Connolly & Phelps, makes two excellent points, both of which I’d like to follow up on.
“Unlike real cancer, which is not contagious, the stealth destroyer is highly contagious for two reasons,” Connolly writes. “First, they can drag others down to their level. Secondly, fellow employees can see clearly what’s going on and can’t believe that managers are buying their truckload of crap. That can deflate the engagement level of a workforce very quickly.”
When I read that I raised a fist in the air and hissed “yes!” Stealth destroyers — more commonly known as “passive aggressives” absolutely can drag you down to their level, because they can make you c-r-a-z-y.
E.g., consider the following scenario: You’re on a conference call, trying to create a project schedule, and one of your team mates says, “Of course, if your deliverables are late, the whole project will be late.” “Whoa-HO!” you may be tempted to reply. “I always hit my deadlines.” “No, there’s been problems in the past,” your stealthy destroyer might say, at which point you may be compelled to start going through old emails and IM logs, trying to re-construct every instance in which you’ve delivered deliverables EXACTLY on time — even early.
This is where having nerves of steel is really useful. Because the truth is, if you spend an hour re-constructing a multi-colored spreadsheet detailing dates, times, and product delivery, you’re going to look a little weird. You’re going to look, in fact, just as compulsive as you feel inside. And that’s not good.
The better course? Respond simply, “I disagree with that — let’s talk about it at a future date” and quickly move the conversation back to the topic at hand: creating a project schedule. Then after the conference call is over, suggest a meeting between She Who Is Trying to Destroy You and your supervisor. And ask her to provide details on when you’ve missed your deadlines and if she can’t, provide a simple list of recent projects and the days that you met your deadlines. Stay calm, stay professional, take care of business, and move on.
As Connolly suggests, Stealth Destroyers also can do a number on employee morale, because the employees “can’t believe that managers are buying [the Destroyers’] truckload of crap.” (I love that Connolly uses the phrase “truckload of crap,” by the way, because I generally don’t use language like that in print and he’s now given me an excuse to type it out three times, each of which has given me a wee rebellious thrill.) This is such a great point because it is oh-so-true. When a workplace is harboring a Stealth Destroyer and the managers aren’t coping well, employees can end up feeling not only crazy but abandoned, which can lead not only to reduced productivity, but employees who flat out quit.
Keep the comments coming, please — they’re excellent food for thought!