Coaching for workplace bullies and toxic bosses?

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Roy Williams, blogging for the International Coach Federation, writes about toxic, bullying leaders, their impact on organizations, and coaching as an intervention:

We are witnessing the rise of toxic leaders and workplaces. We tend to choose or follow a very different kind of leader. We hire and promote the psychopaths, the narcissists, the bullies and the autocrats dedicated to self-interest.

…In my last two decades as an executive coach, working mostly with senior executives and CEOs in both private and public organizations, I’ve seen a disproportionate share of toxic leaders who continue to do harm to their employees and their organizations, despite all our knowledge about what constitutes good leadership, particularly with reference to emotional intelligence, humility and compassion. Working with toxic leaders and those who work with them presents a real challenge to coaches—one that raises the bar for success.

Within the workplace anti-bullying community, opinions vary on the effectiveness of coaching for workplace aggressors. For what it’s worth, here is my nutshell sense of this question: Many abrasive leaders can be coached to be more respectful of their co-workers and more mindful of how their words and actions are being perceived. However, many abusive leaders — especially those presenting traits suggestive of psychopathy, sociopathy, or severe narcissism — will not change their ways with coaching. In fact, some may actually use coaching as a way of picking up “tips” on how to disguise and cloak their harmful intentions.

Of course, short of a thorough clinical diagnosis and behavioral assessment, it may be difficult to make such distinctions. Furthermore, especially when the alleged aggressor is a boss or high-level executive, HR or other internal stakeholders may be reluctant to suggest such an evaluation.

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Related posts

Can personal coaching help targets of workplace bullying? (2014) — “As I wrote last year, targets of workplace bullying may go through four stages in their journey to a better place: Recognition, response, recovery, and renewal. Mental health counseling may be especially helpful in helping targets recover from conditions such as depression and PTSD. But coaching can help targets in the other three stages, including identifying options and taking action in the non-clinical realm and serving as a source of encouragement and support.”

Words rarely heard: “Boss, I think you need to get some help” (2013) — “The hierarchical nature of our workplaces often means that managers, supervisors, and executives who engage in bullying and other aggressive behaviors will not be referred to counseling or mental health services, and their suffering co-workers will continue to pay the price. Let’s take a look at why this is so.”

Tough boss vs. workplace bully: Malice makes the difference (2009) — “Distinguishing between tough management styles and workplace bullying is a frequent topic of conversation among those who deal with employment relations. In the June issue of HR Magazine, published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Teresa Daniel provides a summary of her doctoral research on workplace bullying that identifies malice as the linchpin factor….”

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A Note from Your Host: Summer is in sight

Boston Common (photo: DY, June 2015)

An early June evening in the Boston Common (photo: DY, June 2015)

Well folks, with exams and papers now graded and recorded, my 2014-15 academic year has come to a close. In addition, and most gratefully, I have survived Boston’s winter and early spring, a brutal stretch that played havoc with everyone’s lives and patience.

Along with many others who teach at universities, I am now in summer mode. For me, that means a lot of writing and project work, along with a few program speaking and participation opportunities.

Bullying Research Network, Annual Think Tank, Boston, MA, June 2015

I had the pleasure of spending the past two days participating in the Bullying Research Network‘s (BRNET) annual Think Tank, held this year at Boston University. BRNET is a global network of researchers, most of whom are studying some aspects of school bullying. BRNET’s home is at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and its co-founders are Drs. Susan Swearer (Nebraska-Lincoln) and Shelley Hymel (University of British Columbia).

They created the Think Tank as an annual opportunity for researchers to gather together to share information and insights. I’ll be writing a separate blog post about this program later this week, but for now let me say that I got so much out of being a part of it, and in the process I met a lot of terrific, impressive people.

International Congress of Law and Mental Health, Vienna, Austria, July 2015

In July, I’ll be taking a long plane flight to Vienna, Austria, for the 2015 International Congress of Law and Mental Health, a biennial, global gathering of academicians, practitioners, judges, and students hosted by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health. I’ll be on a panel that examines how therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) perspectives can be integrated into law teaching and legal education. My paper will examine how TJ can be included in continuing legal education programs for practicing attorneys.

This week-long conference, featuring dozens of panels each day, also provides an opportunity for extended conversations with law professors, lawyers, and others who are committed to reforming our laws and legal systems to be more responsive to mental health and well-being. Through this event, the international therapeutic jurisprudence community creates a sort of “conference within a conference,” with an ongoing series of panels dedicated specifically to TJ themes.

I’ve also added a few extra days in Austria, which will serve as a brief summer vacation. I have not visited the city since 1981, as part of a quick jaunt through western Europe following a semester abroad in England. I’m very curious to see how I will react to the city this time around, through more mature and appreciative eyes.

Projects

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a law review article manuscript on intellectual activism, drawing in large part upon my own involvement over the past decade or so on issues related to workers’ rights and worker dignity, especially workplace bullying and unpaid internships.

In the piece, I’m setting out a practice model for law professors, lawyers, and law students that starts with a foundational writing, usually a scholarly law review article, that serves as the intellectual basis of investigating a compelling issue of law and policy and concludes with potential proposals for change and reform. The next steps move into a more activist, public mode, engaging in activities such as drafting legislation, supporting impact litigation, and doing public education work.

By early fall, I hope to secure an offer of publication from a law review and post the draft to my Social Science Research Network publications page. (For a preliminary exploration of the ideas I’m developing more fully now, see my 2013 essay, “If It Matters, Write About It: Using Legal Scholarship to Effect Social Change.)

I’ve got a few other writing projects in the works that I’m not ready to preview yet, but I’ll be working on them during the summer months. In addition, I’ll be working on two local fall program plans, (1) a therapeutic jurisprudence workshop for law professors and lawyers; and (2) an event or two in conjunction with Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week in October.

Finally, I’m tying up a loose thread, finishing a coaching training program that I substantially completed last year. I have some written assignments to finish and an oral certification exam. This training has already proven useful to me in understanding workplace dynamics, and in a more applied sense I’ve used some coaching techniques in working with my students.

All of this looks eminently doable from the view of early June! But as we all know, the Endless Summer that the Beach Boys sang about becomes especially fictitious as we get older, so I’d best be as disciplined as I can about this stuff. Here’s to a good and productive summer to all.

Work in progress: A quick look ahead to 2015

I'm not a big holiday decorator -- here's is this year's "tree"

OK, so I’m not a big holiday decorator

Thank you…

…for your continued readership! I look forward to a seventh year of writing blog posts and publishing your comments. For better and for worse, the world of work gives us plenty to talk about. And so it will be in 2015.

When I started this blog in December 2008, I didn’t fully appreciate how it could become such an engaging way to share information, ideas, and opinions. But now, with 1,000+ subscribers, some 580,000+ page views, and several thousand posted comments, I’m grateful that Minding the Workplace can contribute to our conversation on work, workers, and workplaces.

We’ve still got a lot of work to do in order to create and grow workplaces that embrace worker dignity. Here’s to a New Year of progress on those fronts.

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Forward on the Healthy Workplace Bill

With the 2015-16 state legislative sessions approaching, our advocates are preparing to resubmit and support the Healthy Workplace Bill in states across the nation. With two states, California and Tennessee, enacting workplace bullying legislation this year (albeit in very watered-down form), and other cities and municipalities approving workplace anti-bullying ordinances for public workers that draw language from our legislation, we’re steadily moving toward the day when more workers will have legal protections against this form of mistreatment. It is proving to be a hard slog at times, with opposition arising as our efforts gain support, but we continue to make progress.

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New side gig

During 2015, I’ll be launching a part-time “side gig” initiative that offers coaching, consulting, and programming on workplace bullying, career transitions, and fostering dignity at work, as well as assorted publications covering the same. I’ll also be developing more free content and referral information for those in search of guidance and resources. I’m excited about putting some structure around activities that I’ve provided informally for many years. I’ll be rolling this out gradually, as time and energy permit. These services and materials will be offered on a separate website, with details to come!

At the same time, I’ll be keeping my day (and often evening) job as a law professor, and as a scholar and advocate I’ll remain steadfastly committed to advancing worker dignity. And as I indicated above, I’ll be adding lots of posts to this blog during the year to come and beyond!

Hard looks at joblessness, retirement funding, and Generation Jones

Many members of “Generation Jones,” that span of late Boomers and early Gen Xers who are in their middle years, face tough times right now. This cohort has been hit especially hard by the ongoing economic crisis, with many losing jobs in mid-career and finding it difficult to obtain new employment and to save for retirement.

Decades ago, many Gen Jonesers confronted a rough economy while launching their work lives. During the late 70s and early 80s, the economy was in severe recession, inflation ran very high, and employers were cutting back or eliminating pension plans. Academic studies indicate that graduating into a recessionary economy can impair earning power for years. So this group has been unlucky in terms of both entry-level and mid-life labor markets.

I concede my bias on this topic. I’m a member of Generation Jones, and these realities are hitting many among my age group. As the following pieces indicate, we’ve got a lot of work to do in order to rebuild both opportunity and a safety net. Here goes:

Huffington Post: Why Worrying About Retirement Is Actually A Luxury

Ann Brenoff, blogging for the Huffington Post, says that she’s bombarded by advertising appeals from retirement planners, but the real problem is that most people lack sufficient funds to invest for retirement, period:

My inbox is bombarded daily with pitches from retirement planners who claim to hold the secret to my “dream retirement.”

…Here’s the problem I have with them: They ignore the elephant in the room, which is, it’s too late for most boomers to join their party. Spending less and saving more — if even possible — won’t close the gap between what we have and what we will likely need.

…What I don’t understand is why everyone isn’t talking about the crazy awfulness that awaits us — and by us I mean the vast majority of people who are woefully unprepared for retirement.

New York Times: Retirement May Be Even More Expensive Than You Think

How much money do we need to save for retirement? Paul B. Brown, writing for the New York Times, discusses a new book by finance professor and investment expert Richard C. Marston, Investing for a Lifetime:

Although Fidelity Investments garnered a lot of attention two years ago when it declared that you would need eight times your current salary to “meet basic income needs in retirement,” Mr. Marston disagrees. “Despite the fact that it is very difficult to save eight times income, the goal the company proposed seemed too low to me,” he says.

If you thought eight times current income was daunting, Mr. Marston’s default position will stun you. He says it can easily come to 15 times what you are earning now.

Okay, so Prof. Marston recommends saving fifteen times one’s current income?! Only the tiniest percentage of U.S. workers have retirement portfolios on track for that. The gap between the realities facing most Americans and the numbers being recommended by personal finance experts is bonkers, simply mind blowing.

Next Avenue: Reflections From The “Over” Generation

Kevin Kusinitz is a 58-year-old writer who has been unemployed for nearly two years. In this piece for Next Avenue, he reflects upon being part of an age group being passed over for jobs but too young (and broke) to retire:

Like a lot of people around my age, I really didn’t pay close attention to the unemployment situation until I was in the thick of it myself. It was only then that I started reading the heartbreaking stories of perfectly good workers in their 50s who, like me, were shown the door by middle managers all apparently sharing the title: Executive Vice President of Keeping My Own Job by Any Means Necessary.

After decades as a right-of-center kind of guy, I was shocked to wake up one day thinking, “Oh my God, now I know what Michael Moore has been talking about all this time.”

…I’m no sociologist but I predict if this trend keeps up (and, frankly, why shouldn’t it?), the next decade is going to see a spike in older people moving in with their adult children, becoming homeless or even committing suicide because they will have no other options.

Harper’s: The End of Retirement (subscription necessary)

Jessica Bruder, writing for Harper‘s, explores the subculture of older American workers who have lost steadier jobs and who now roam the country in vans and camping vehicles in search of extended part-time work such as seasonal tourist sites and warehouse gigs. You’ll have to get a copy of the August issue or subscribe to access the online edition, but here’s the lede from her story:

On Thanksgiving Day of 2010, Linda May sat alone in a trailer in New River, Arizona. At sixty, the silver-haired grandmother lacked electricity and running water. She couldn’t find work. Her unemployment benefits had run out, and her daughter’s family, with whom she had lived for many years while holding a series of low-wage jobs, had recently downsized to a smaller apartment. There wasn’t enough room to move back in with them.

“I’m going to drink all the booze. I’m going to turn on the propane. I’m going to pass out and that’ll be it,” she told herself. “And if I wake up, I’m going to light a cigarette and blow us all to hell.”

Her two small dogs were staring at her. May hesitated — could she really envision blowing them up as well? That wasn’t an option. So instead she accepted an invitation to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.

Associated Press: Where have all the missing American workers gone?

Tom Raum, writing for the Associated Press, examines the flattened “workforce-participation rate”, i.e., the total number of employed + job seekers, and reports that many of the long-term unemployed are simply dropping out of the labor market after efforts to obtain jobs have been repeatedly unsuccessful:

But perhaps the most significant factor is unemployed workers “who just drop out of the job market after one, two or three years of looking for work and not being successful,” said Carl Van Horn, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University who studies workplace dynamics and employment trends.

Recent surveys suggest more and more long-time unemployed workers are abandoning the search for another job and leaving the nation’s workforce.

“And they are disproportionately older workers,” Van Horn said. “We have a large number of older (unemployed) workers who are not old enough to retire, yet they are facing discrimination in the workplace and have found it nearly impossible to get another job.”

YES! magazine: Why Social Security’s Not Going Broke: A Nonhysterical Look at a System That’s Working

Is the Social Security system about to go under? You might believe so if you listen to hard right pundits who demonize anything to do with a government safety net, but in reality Social Security is doing much better than many private and public pension and savings plans. This article in YES! magazine offers a more sensible look at the situation. In an excellent set of infographics, managing editor Doug Pibel explains that the Social Security Trust Fund has sufficient funds to pay out expected benefits for the next two decades and that relatively manageable tax fixes can ensure its longer term viability:

Social Security will never “go broke.” As long as people are working, Social Security will have money. . . . There is now $2.8 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which will fully cover expenses for about the next two decades. To make it work after that is pretty painless — we just have to decide who pays.

FiveThirtyEight.com: Cutting Off Emergency Unemployment Benefits Hasn’t Pushed People Back to Work

So far, Congress has refused to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, a policy choice that disproportionately affects older individuals who have been experiencing severe difficulties re-entering the workforce. In a piece for FiveThirtyEight.com, Ben Casselman explains that arguments against such an extension aren’t panning out:

The case against extending unemployment benefits essentially boils down to two arguments. First, the economy has improved, so the unemployed should no longer need extra time to find a new job. Second, extended benefits could lead job seekers either to not search as hard or to become choosier about the kind of job they will accept, ultimately delaying their return to the workforce.

But the evidence doesn’t support either of those arguments. The economy has indeed improved, but not for the long-term unemployed, whose odds of finding a job are barely higher today than when the recession ended nearly five years ago. And the end of extended benefits hasn’t spurred the unemployed back to work; if anything, it has pushed them out of the labor force altogether.

AlterNet: The Terrible News Economists Are Trying to Hide About American Jobs

The so-called economic recovery isn’t that for millions of Americans. Long-time populist political commentator Jim Hightower takes issue with, among other things, the positive spin being applied to new jobs created since the worst of the meltdown:

So, it’s interesting that the recent news of job market “improvement” doesn’t mention that of the 10 occupation categories projecting the greatest growth in the next eight years, only one pays a middle-class wage. Four pay barely above poverty level and five pay beneath it, including fast-food workers, retail sales staff, health aids and janitors. The job expected to have the highest number of openings is “personal care aide” — taking care of aging baby boomers in their houses or in nursing homes. The median salary of an aid is under $20,000. They enjoy no benefits, and about 40 percent of them must rely on food stamps and Medicaid to make ends meet, plus many are in the “shadow economy,” vulnerable to being cheated on the already miserly wages.

WBUR: Amid, Long-Term Unemployment “Crisis,” MIT Project Lifts Jobs Seekers

MIT’s Institute for Career Transitions conducted a pilot project to coach and advise the long-term unemployed, with hopeful results. In order to measure the potential benefits of providing this assistance, the three-month project included a group who received help and a control group who did not. WBUR’s Benjamin Swasey reports:

Long-term unemployment — which, according to [MIT professor and Institute director Ofer] Sharone, disproportionately affects older workers — is at 2.3 percent of the nation’s workforce, a historically high level. More than 38 percent of America’s unemployed job seekers have been out of work six months or more.

. . . “We have a ton of studies showing that once you hit the six-month [jobless] point, by so many indicators it becomes a real crisis,” he says. “It’s a financial crisis. It’s an emotional crisis. And then when you get to this scale of numbers, it’s a social crisis. We’re losing out on a whole cohort of workers.”

. . .Of the group that got support, 30 percent obtained a full-time job or contract work of at least four months. That compares to just 18 percent from the group that received no aid.

“It clearly shows that the job market is very, very tough, even for someone in an ideal situation,” as “most people did not get jobs,” Sharone says. “On the other hand, I think we can say that there’s a meaningful difference to getting support.”

Boston GlobeHow will historians view us? (registration may be necessary)

How do the challenges specially facing this age group connect to other social and economic policy issues? Here’s one article that helps us to grasp the bigger picture: In an op-ed piece for the Boston Globe, writer Neal Gabler predicts how historians of the future will regard the current American era, and his assessment is not a positive one. Here are a few snippets:

Historians will wonder…how the gains of social and economic equality that were a century in the making were reversed, and, above all, how the country actually became less democratic, often with the acquiescence of many ordinary Americans.

The first thing historians are likely to fasten on is the historic economic inequality in America today.

…They will look at the nation’s…reluctance to embrace health reform that would provide insurance to those who cannot otherwise afford it, its willingness to cut benefits, like food stamps, that primarily help the young and the elderly, its grudging extension of unemployment benefits to people afflicted by the economic downturn.

…I suspect that historians will view this as a terribly bleak period — another Gilded Age but worse.

…And they will wonder: Why there was so little resistance?

What to do???

If any of these articles offered clear-cut, comprehensive solutions to the crisis, I would be highlighting them. Unfortunately it appears that we’re flying without radar here. Furthermore, as Neal Gabler’s Boston Globe piece suggests, I don’t think the American public is sufficiently aware of the systemic nature of this crisis to be able to connect the dots in ways that lead to political consensus. Right now, employment and retirement remain individual challenges rather than shared priorities, reflecting the social and political ethos in which Gen Joners have spent their adult lives.

I do think that reorienting our views on community and society is an important, necessary start toward addressing the situation. Last week I wrote about competing visions of the future, one being a “technological, top-down, service society,” the other being a world of “useful work, peace, self-fulfillment, and appropriate technology leading to harmony with the environment.” We need this latter view to take hold if we are to reverse the rampant individualism and selfishness that soon may resemble passengers on a sinking ship fighting over too few spaces on the lifeboats (with a small few already having reserved seats). Either our better natures will rise to the occasion, or history will judge us harshly, and deservedly so.

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Related posts

I’ve been writing about the burgeoning retirement funding crisis since the first year of this blog. Go here to start scrolling through those articles. In addition, here are three pieces especially relevant to this post:

The three-pronged political attack on the very notion of retirement (except for a few) (2013) — “In America, the very notion of a relatively safe and secure retirement is under relentless attack…. This is not by accident. Only when you connect the dots do you see a unifying force, and it’s very, very political. We haven’t been comprehending how the pieces come together….”

My Labor Day 2013 wish: Good, stable, bully-free jobs for Generation Jones (2013) — An extended commentary, echoing many themes raised here, covering topics such as age discrimination, workplace bullying, and mental health impacts relevant to Gen Jonesers, as well as potential public policy responses.

Suicide and the Great Recession: Will we heed the tragic warnings? (2013) — “In this era of the Great Recession, suicide has become a leading cause of death in America, especially among the middle-aged, and it is to our shame as a society that this reality is not an ongoing, dominant focus of our attention.”

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Can a narcissist feel your pain? (Maybe yes, study suggests)

Can narcissists be counseled to feel the pain and distress of others? If so, how does this relate to addressing bullying at work?

Tom Jacobs, writing for the Pacific Standard, reports on a set of university experiments about narcissists:

In three experiments, a team led by University of Surrey psychologist Erica Hepper provides evidence that, under the right conditions, narcissists can indeed be moved by the suffering of others.

“Although it appears that narcissists’ low empathy is relatively automatic … there is potential for change,” the researchers write in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Among other things, the experiments tested whether those with narcissistic tendencies could generate sympathy for “Susan,” a victim of domestic violence, as presented in a short documentary film:

“(T)hose with narcissistic tendencies ‘reported significantly higher empathy for Susan when they had been instructed to take her perspective,’ the researchers write. Simply being told to see things from her point of view—something that does not come naturally for narcissists—allowed them to step outside themselves and feel something for her.”

The researchers didn’t stop with self-reported responses. Using an audio taped factual scenario of someone describing a painful romantic breakup, and attaching their study subjects to monitors that measured heart rates, they found a marked physiological response when the subjects were asked to take the character’s perspective.

Narcissism and workplace bullying

Narcissism has long been associated with toxic leadership. It also is a quality often ascribed to those who engage in workplace bullying. This study suggests that some aggressors at work — at least those whose actions are fueled by narcissistic tendencies — could be effectively counseled or coached in ways that would reduce their harmful behaviors towards co-workers.

Of course, it’s not as easy as saying, you’re a narcissistic manager who engages in workplace bullying, so get some help or lose your job. After all, many organizations that harbor workplace aggressors tend to defend, validate, and sometimes even encourage their behaviors. Workplace bullying, after all, is typically fueled by negative organizational cultures.

Nevertheless, this study suggests that some narcissistic workers may respond when asked to walk in the shoes of those on the receiving end of their behaviors. Thus, in addition to helping targets of workplace bullying, perhaps we can change some of their tormenters.

Dealing with a bad workplace: Getting to tolerance

If national studies on workplace bullying and job dissatisfaction are any indication, a lot of people are dealing with lousy workplaces. These experiences can cause no small amounts of anxiety and stress, resulting in significant human and organizational costs.

Of course, the easiest antidote to a bad workplace is to leave it, hopefully for something better, but the exit option often must be weighed against other factors, especially in this difficult economy. Indeed, we know that a lot of people are staying at workplaces they don’t like for lack of better choices.

In terms of energy levels, these realities can leave people in a state of utter despair or recurring anger and conflict. For folks in these places, getting to tolerance is a goal worth pursuing.

What do I mean by “getting to tolerance”? It means being able to deal with the undesirable aspects of your workplace without them constantly taking you down a notch, or at least bouncing back after a bad day there. It means being able to do your job well, perhaps even with some enthusiasm and satisfaction, despite the negative aspects of your work environment. It means not taking the bad parts of work home with you every day. It also means being able to develop and weigh future options in a constructive and hopeful way.

Compared to despair or anger, tolerance is a big step up on the energy level scale.

That said, getting to tolerance often is easier said than done. None of these possibilities are necessarily ideal, but here are some potential avenues:

  • Re-negotiate, with yourself, how you regard your job and even your career. Zero in on what you like about your job. Or, conversely, consider the pros and cons of emotionally detaching from your work.
  • Create an in-house, informal support group of fellow workers who share your values and concerns. Be smart and careful about advertising this.
  • If you regard your job in the context of a career, create meaningful connections related to your profession or trade outside your workplace. Build a positive external network of people who share your interests.
  • Plan exit strategies, whatever they may be, while revisiting the “Should I stay, or should I go?” question. Don’t make it just about removing yourself from the bad stuff. Plant the seeds for potentially significant, positive changes.
  • Engage in mindfulness practices, such as meditation, to take the edge off the most stressful aspects of your work experience. For example, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day (2012), concludes with a chapter “Thirty Ways to Reduce Stress at Work.”
  • Pursue hobbies and avocations outside of work that provide meaning, engagement, and satisfaction.
  • Seek counseling or coaching if you believe that professional help and guidance may be useful.

A final point: I’m not suggesting that you stick your head in the sand and talk yourself into thinking that nothing is wrong. Especially if you work in a place where bullying and intimidation are standard operating procedures, you’ll have to keep your wits about you. There’s a sensible midpoint between willful ignorance and hyper-vigilance, and that’s probably the best place to be in a bad workplace.

I’ve been studying, experiencing, and writing about the world of work for too long to suggest that there are easy ways for people to deal with less-than-wonderful workplaces. For some, however, getting to tolerance is a worthy and achievable objective, and reaching that point may be the portal to something even better.

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The references to energy levels in this post are inspired by Bruce Schneider’s Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life from the Core (2008), and insights from professional coach Kerri Myers.

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A question full of possibilities

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If you had nothing to prove, nothing to achieve, if you had all that you needed, what would you love doing?

Gloria S. Chan, personal coach and consultant

Ever since Gloria posted this question on her Facebook page earlier this year, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

Until now I haven’t attempted a full answer (more on that below), but I think it’s a brilliant way of getting us to think about how we want to spend the rest of our lives.

For the many people who have found this blog because of bad experiences at work, this may seem like pie-in-the-sky stuff. I understand, but I’d ask you to give yourself permission to think in such ideal terms. The process of recovery and renewal from an abusive work experience involves getting beyond “mere” survival. It’s about reclaiming one’s life and finding fulfillment and even joy in it.

Allowing ourselves the luxury of answering the question means that we’re open to better possibilities. The question may not seem realistic in light of one’s current circumstances, but perhaps that’s the point: It’s an invitation to think beyond our normal, common, well-defined constraints. For some readers, those perceived constraints may be grounded in personal setbacks. In any event, breaking through those boundaries and limitations may be the key to moving forward in a big way.

Answering the question

Yup, right now I still have some things I want to prove and achieve. The work I’m doing on topics related to this blog is a central part of my life purpose, and I don’t see myself moving away from it any time soon.

That said, it would be a bit inauthentic for me to ask you to engage in this exercise while dodging it for myself. So, here goes:

First, I love to sing. I’ve been taking a weekly singing workshop at the Boston Center for Adult Education for many years. Every week, each member of the class performs a song of their choosing to piano accompaniment, and then we are coached by our instructor in front of the group. My repertoire tends to come from old standards: The Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Frank Sinatra stuff.

If the informal reviews are accurate, I’m a pretty good vocalist. If I had more free time, I’d want to do more singing, in more venues. Maybe even do a CD, even if just for friends & family.

The second is working with animals. I’ve always loved dogs, and in recent years I’ve grown fond of cats, too (despite a pesky cat allergy). However, my travel schedule is brutal at times, and keeping a pet at home is simply unrealistic, at least from the standpoint of providing a good home to an animal.

So, I’d love to be around animals more and to promote animal well-being. That would bring me great joy.

I won’t ignore those two wishes. In fact, writing about them will help me to keep them close.

And you?

Now it’s your turn. Give it a try, and then see where it takes you:

If you had nothing to prove, nothing to achieve, if you had all that you needed, what would you love doing?

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About Gloria Chan

Gloria recently launched a new career as a personal coach and consultant after a successful turn as a lawyer and senior Congressional staffer. Her impressive resume aside, she’s worked through genuine personal challenges and knows that personal transformation is not easy. Her own story is contained in Sarah Prout & Sean Patrick Simpson, eds., Adventures in Manifesting: Conscious Business (2013). It’s a good read.

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Graphic courtesy of FreePik.com

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