I was deeply impacted by a professional workshop on managerial communication. It was about 15 years ago. The moderator, a very provocative speaker, warned us that in the course of our career it would not be long before we crossed paths with dangerous managers who are borderline psychopaths. According to him, we, future managers, were ourselves seriously ill people in the making who should beware of this feeling of omnipotence, before it became uncontrollable and devastating…
Without much experience at the time, the Smart Alec in me was rather amused and a little incredulous… Fifteen years later, I can say “I don’t feel so smart any more”!
A widespread evil, more widespread than it seems?
I have witnessed the systematic belittling behavior and attitude of managers towards colleagues; I have observed the unwarranted and continuous public humiliation of collaborators who are heads of families in their own right. I have seen professionals literally break down and lose their self-confidence, after 2 to 3 years of being around certain managers.
If verbal aggression and dramatic mood swings are harmful, continuous failure to listen and lack of due recognition lead to the same result: putting the employee in a position where he/she is incapable of carrying out his assignment by subjecting him/her to constant emotional pressure. In some organizations, these managerial behaviors often take the form of perverse symbolic communication. Do you doubt the very harmful long term effect of « symbolic communication » and continuous pressure? Here is a true story.
During an assignment, I worked with an organization whose big boss had a « private » elevator to go to his office. Do not even think about using it. Several new recruits who did not know it, learned the hard way. To get to the office of this superior being, you take another elevator that opens on to an army of watch dogs and assistants. Bodyguards with dubious responsibilities. You then go through a chamber between two padded doors. It is as if you were between two worlds, a sort passage through purgatory, before meeting HIM.
You have now arrived in the holy-of holies. You are stunned by the ridiculous dimensions of this room that three lounges, a giant TV, a huge buffet and an elevated desk could barely fill. Invited to sit by the master of the realm, you obey and notice right away that from his chair, your host looms over you, compelling you to look up at him.
When the conversation finally begins, you instantly regret being in such a place. You observe, bewildered, that the person you are speaking to is trying his best to ignore you. Then, as and when he pleases, he initiates phone calls during the conversation, he comes out with statements or questions that are totally unrelated to the subject and wants immediate answers, and so on and so forth. I have rarely experienced such a feeling of « non-existence » in front of someone.
I could just imagine how collaborators in a subordinate position to this individual, dreaded working with him every day, all year round, in short, during large portions of their career! Some may have almost become insane. Others have become shadows of themselves, unrecognizable. People talk discreetly about the two suicide attempts which nobody wants to discuss between these walls. For many, work is punctuated by increasingly longer sick leaves. But strangely enough, there is hardly any trace of these « critical incidents » in the company’s social audit reports…
The stress generated by aggressive management and managerial communication has serious psychosomatic consequences. A European study shows that in 33% of heart attack cases, stress is the main risk factor. It ranks 3rd in order of importance, after cholesterol and tobacco!
How can aggressive communication and management lead to strokes or stomach ulcers among other things. During an organizational stress awareness workshop, as part of a team building weekend for a client, I used the following diagram that sums up adequately the physiological, biological and hormonal mechanisms at work.
Stress appears as a normal response of the body to a situation that is considered dangerous; or to circumstances that change its normal functioning. If this takes place continuously over time, and without mechanisms for release, stress threatens the individual’s ability to cope, generates emotions that are simply unpleasant at first, and then downright harmful in the long term.
Stress stimulates the hypothalamus which triggers the secretion of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisone. These instinctive and uncontrolled chain reactions, which accelerate the heart rate and blood circulation, are intended to provide a quick supply of oxygen to the brain and muscles … to quickly react to the « danger ». Basically, our body reacts to stress like that of the primitive man, from whom we descend, who reacted to the threat of death: by preparing the body to flee. But as fleeing from one’s office, screaming with all one’s might or using the toxic manager as a punching ball is not a viable option, many no longer look for solutions. So the pain takes hold and destroys from within. Slowly.Communication, English, Management, Managerial communication, Stress