The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

The Crown Passes

The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen. Of mean, that is. Leona may have gone to that great tax-shelter in the sky — though not before one last slap, leaving $12 million to her dog and strangely conditional trusts to her grandchildren — but there may be a new contender for the crown. While shopping for jewelry, Condoleezza Rice was heard to say to an exasperated clerk:

Condoleezza Rice may be willing to compromise at a Middle East negotiating table – but not at a jewelry counter.

Coit Blacker, a Stanford professor who is one of the secretary of state’s closest friends, recalls going into a shop where Rice asked to see earrings. The clerk showed her costume jewelry. Rice asked to see something nicer, prompting the clerk to whisper some sass under her breath.

Blacker remembers Rice tearing the woman to shreds.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” he recalls her saying. “You are behind the counter because you have to work for minimum wage. I’m on this side asking to see the good jewelry because I make considerably more.

I don’t know that an annual salary of $183,500 puts Condi in Leona’s bracket, but then again I also don’t know how much her total assets add up to. I do know that she’s serious about her shopping. There was that woman who scolded her for buying Ferragmos in the midst of the Katrina aftermath. She got dragged off by security.

Those two stories, plus one or two others I’ve read lately, have brought up one question in my mind: What is it about power/money/success, that it seems to come with a license to treat other people badly?

I guess it’s a pet peeve of mine, because I’ve found myself on the clerk’s side of the counter more often than Condi’s, but also because it seems to be something that’s deeply embedded in our culture. Helmsley, after all, is right up there with successful people we “love to hate.” And she’s not alone. Martha Stewart and Donald Trump come to mind. (I know, though, that men get a pass on the kind of behavior I’m addressing, more often than women.)

Simon Cowell is another. Perez Hilton another. And at least part of what’s made them all famous is that willingness to do to others what Condi did to the clerk above. That and our willingness to turn in to watch them do it, to such a degree that it’s spawned an entire genre of entertainment.

Lately, it’s also spawned several articles and one contests. In just one week I’ve come across articles on how to deal with mean people, how to handle an abusive boss, and understanding a crazy boss. And it’s that last one that gets to me, because it typifies what all of the rest have in common. The saying goes that “shit flows downhill.” Well, it seems the onus is upon those at the bottom on the hill being shat upon, more so than those at the top of the hill doing the … well, you get the idea.

The first step in dealing with an abusive boss is to give them exactly what they don’t have the time to give you.

Step 1: Understanding

Understanding what makes these people the way they are is important. The one thing abusive, dysfunctional managers seem to have in common is that they’re acting out on you because of their own issues that have absolutely nothing to do with you.

That knowledge may help you sleep better at night, but it’s more important that you develop some empathy for the poor bastard and gain some perspective. Remember that he’s human and has faults, just like everyone else. Moreover, you just work for him. You can quit. He has to live with himself every day for the rest of his life.

OK. I understand where the writer is coming from. After all, the only person you can change is yourself. Right? But where’s the article for those at the top of the hill that includes phrases like “develop some empathy for the poor bastard and get some perspective” or “he’s human and has faults, just like everyone else”? Are you allowed to have more faults the further up the hill you get, or are more of them just forgiven more often?

Even a crazy boss needs understanding, apparently.

Stern suggests first trying to tactfully talk to a tyrant CEO or boss. Be aware that this approach can backfire—making extreme care and diplomacy essential, advises the consultant.

“Don’t take an accusatory tone,” he explains. “Instead, put the burden on yourself. Start by presenting the problem and suggesting ways you and the CEO can work together to achieve company goals. Begin with, ‘How can we work together?’”

Lastly, Lambert suggests taking a close look at your relationship with your boss. While a supervisor’s tyrannical behavior is transparent, and although the reasons may be obvious, there could be some responsibility on the subordinate’s end.

“Ask yourself, ‘Is my negative attitude heightening the bad situation?’ and ‘Am I doing everything possible to improve the situation?’ If you’re honest, you may learn something from the exercise, especially if your answers are not what you thought they would be,” says Lambert.

(There are apparently 5 different varieties of crazy bosses, each with 5 different strategies for managing them. Which ones have you had? I’ve had 1, 3, and 5.)

And unless you want to join the growing ranks of the uninsured, what else are you gonna do, really? You don’t really need those medications, do you? And you don’t even know about the broken leg you’re going to get next week. Besides, that nagging cough that Suzy has had for a week and a half will probably go away on its own. Right?

As one of the writer’s above put it:

Bosses can bully you, scream at you, threaten you, and even terrorize you. Most importantly, they can fire you or even worse–make your life so miserable you wish they’d fire you. In fact, at-will employment gives bosses the power to do almost anything they want, as long as it’s legal.

Maybe we’re all just a nation of Dilberts, or fast on our way to becoming that.

Bad bosses even have their own contest, where the rest of us get to read and write about the worst (best?) of them. My guess is that most of them won’t read it, though they might have their assistants do it for them. In that case I’d have their assistants read this.

Are relations between workers and management really in such an awful state?

Maybe. The ranks of bullying bosses are growing, some experts contend, as short-staffed companies tap managers with lousy people skills. Others point out that though mean and dimwitted supervisors have been around since work was invented, baby boomers on the cusp of retirement and restless younger employees are more likely to complain or quit than suffer in silence. It’s easy to decide against taking the latter tack, thanks to the proliferation of venting websites, among them www.ebosswatch.com.

The AFL-CIO, not surprisingly, puts the blame on management’s shoulders. Sure, there have always been bullying bosses, said Karen Nussbaum, executive director of the union’s Working America lobbying arm, but today some of them “don’t even have good manners anymore.”

If that doesn’t sound like grounds for a lawsuit, at least four state legislatures are thinking about making it so.

A bill in New Jersey would give an individual the right to seek as much as $25,000 in damages if an employer created “an abusive work environment.” Similar measures are pending in New York state, Vermont and Washington state. In California, a Sacramento-based group called California Healthy Workplace Advocates is working to revive a sue-the-boss bill that died in committee in 2003.

And when it comes to dealing with mean people in general? There are a few options but, again, guess who’s doing all the work.

If you have to deal with a mean person on a regular basis, here are three things you can do:

— Get support. Telling someone what you are going through will help give you a place to put your pain and perhaps give you some perspective. Whether this is a one-time event or an ongoing tragedy, the benefit of sharing your feelings will help to heal them.

— Realize you have a choice. If you’ve been brought up around mean people, being around someone who understands and is sensitive can be an eye-opener. Not everyone behaves in a toxic manner. Choose to associate with people who are kind.

— Get out of the way. Most people leave their jobs because they don’t get along with their bosses. It’s OK to leave or to end something if you are being abused. This goes for personal as well as professional relationships.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone respond positively to meanness. It’s a poor tactic and never works in the end. If you are mean, give it up.

Like the song says, “Mean people suck.”

I gotta buy that song on iTunes, because I have a feeling I know the all the words, though I’ve never actually heard it.

My question is, when is someone going to tell all those crazy, abusive bosses and just-plain-mean people to “Stop sucking. Dammit.”?

Oh wait. Let me guess whose job that’s gonna be.

3 Comments

  1. Okay, suppose you’re shopping at a jewelry store and someone keeps showing you the costume jewelry, but you want to see the real jewelry instead. You insist on seeing the real jewelry, and tell the clerk so. The clerk says, under her breath ‘faggot”.

    What do you do? Say nothing? Pretend it never happened? Allow the sales clerk to go about her business having abused you for being gay?

    That’s what happened to Rice. I have watched in utter fascination as white liberals have defended the petit racism of a store clerk who didn’t know who Rice was (this was back in the Nineties at Stanford) and assumed that because she was black she couldn’t afford the real jewelry, so she (Condi) had to settle for the Costume stuff. When Rice understood what was going on, she had to suffer the indignity of a racist remark.

    Liberals believe, almost to a man, that Rice was in the wrong for defending her self in this case.

    I am amazed, but not surprised, at the situational ethics of white liberals, and believe it to be most revealing about them. Liberals will tolerate racism when they believe it to be in their political interest to tolerate racism.

    Period. End of story. Stop bullshitting everybody by telling them how fair you are to black people. Your not. It’s a lie.

  2. 1. Where did it say the clerk said something racist?

    2. I’m not a “white liberal.”

    3. Read the tag line of the blog.

    4. If you want to talk about “being fair to black people” we can totally go there.

  3. I can sympathize with Condoleeza Rice getting fed up with racist, sexist people, as I’m sure Terrance does. But the point of bringing up the anecdote is to examine the way in which she struck back. I can understand that sometimes, it’s easy to overreact when you’ve had a long day or whatever. Goodness knows I’ve reacted in ways that exceed the slight by several orders of magnitude!

    But the thing is, this is a story told with pride by a good friend. So it sounds like this is an incident that she’s proud of, rather than an instance of a woman, tired of being discriminated against, overreacting. I think this is the difference that “liberals” and decent people of all colors take issue with.

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