SO. MANY. posts and comments about leaders that are flat out mean and hateful.
I’m reminded of a blog post I wrote back in 2018:
…duplicity was the unacknowledged elephant in the room when the internet-infused courage of this person deflated like a day old birthday balloon during real life interactions: what happens online, stays online.
Except, it doesn’t.
Our words and actions, regardless of whether they are online or IRL, reveal something of our true beliefs and our character: “…surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.” [emphasis added] #IreadthereforeIquote
C. S. Lewis
This situation is incredibly complicated. I can’t imagine the stress of striving to make the best decisions in this no-win hornet’s nest while at the same time getting the $#!+ kicked out of me by both the media and hundreds of thousands of armchair commentators.
They have to be exhausted. And yet they continue to put themselves out there every day knowing they’re going to end up a target.
#seepeople and #edify because everyone is #justadifferentkindofbroken
#KindnessisContagious but so is #sarcasm and #criticism
I recently snatched up a $1 offer for access to a huge amount of content within an online writers group for 30 days and I’ve been DEVOURING it. The first day, I listened to a podcast interview with Albert Y. Hsu (pronounced “shee”), a senior editor with InterVarsity Press. Based on the description of the interview, I wasn’t sure if the content would be for me, but one teaser stood out:
“What publishers look for in an author’s platform (and it’s different than you think!).”
What PUBLISHERS look for wasn’t what drew me in, it was the WHY. I was hoping that the WHY would give me insight on how to identify and reach people who are interested in learning and practicing the communication methods I teach. And while I’m not currently writing a book that I want to pitch to a publisher, I do recognize some parallels between being an author and being a teacher: we both want to reach, inspire and help people.
Below are some quotes from the interview that I was still thinking about the next day – so much so that I re-watched the video in order to capture them and continue working through the answers:
“Part of what we do as authors, is that we meet people where they’re at and then we take them somewhere else. Take them further. There has to be a point of identification, but there also has to be a point of dislocation. So we are both contextualizing; saying our words in a way that people can receive, but then we are also being counter-cultural and giving them something that doesn’t just reinforce what they already know. It has to take them another step.”
This is huge for me in consulting and coaching. I ask a LOT of questions and – based on the answers – I ask more questions. Sometimes clients get impatient and want to skip this part of the process, but I have to start with where they ARE – and what led them to where they are – before I can help them explore options for their next best steps.
“Who is the audience and what are the channels to GET to that audience?…If you don’t have a channel to that audience, it’s almost like those readers don’t exist.”
How do I reach people? I’ve learned I have to meet them where they are. Forget the “if you build it they will come” mentality. That only works for ethereal baseball games and Disney.
“What do I have to offer that other people don’t. What’s missing?”
And look who just showed up. Imposter syndrome, my old friend.
In answering the question, “What would you tell first time authors?” he said, “I often ask them, ‘What’s your thing? What are you known for?'”
What’s my “thing?”
I know I’m passionate about communicating well. Effectively, respectfully and empathetically. I genuinely believe that the world would be a MUCH better place if we consistently tried to say what we mean without BEING mean. There would be less division, more respect and comradery and relationships would be stronger.
I think I’m known for that. but I’m not sure.
I’m also not sure who is interested in strengthening their communication skills or how to reach them.
After listening to this podcast, I had a tiny little epiphany. Am I having trouble finding these like-minded people because they are so quiet?
I have to remind myself again and again of the 1% rule:
“The 1% rule states that the number of people who create content on the Internet represents approximately 1% (give or take) of the people actually viewing that content. For example, for every person who posts on a forum, generally about 99 other people are viewing that forum but not posting.”
And the internet population is only 40% of the world population.
But the 1% is so freakin pervasive.
On a daily basis, in every nook and cranny of the internet, I’m inundated with language that dehumanizes, mocks, dismisses, creates division and feeds polarization.
It seems like everywhere I look, language is used as a weapon to bludgeon someone.
Do the people doing the swinging genuinely not recognize the damage they inflict? Do they just not care? Are they oblivious to how they are perceived?
For instance, a facebook friend posted about the cruise ship that wasn’t being allowed to dock during the Covid-19 quarantine, sharing her disapproval of the passengers for even getting on the boat in the first place. But she backtracked pretty quickly when another facebook friend commented to tell her that a couple they both knew were stuck on that ship.
When “those people” became people she knew, she DID care how she was perceived.
Another commenter, not so much:
“I may be a jerk but they knew the risks…. stay on the ship. 🤷🏼♀️”
I held myself back from adding to the snark by replying with: “Well, you got one thing right. And how could they have known?”
I held myself back. Because if I had called her out like that in front of her friends,
1. I would be a jerk.
2. She probably wouldn’t care, because when I looked up that emoji she ended with, I found this:
The person shrugging emoji can designate ignorance, indifference, self-acceptance, passive-aggression, annoyance, giving up, or not knowing what to make of something. It could also be a visual form of the one-word response of indifference, “whatever.”
So here’s my take. When this person led with “I may be a jerk” she KNEW she was being a jerk. And she posted it anyway. I don’t know this person, but this is the first impression she made
1. with me and
2. with all the other commenters on that thread, and
3. with all the friends of the original poster and
4. with all the friends of every other commenter.
Because that’s how facebook works.
But I digress.
My thing. Being passionate about communicating well.
Who needs what I have to offer?
I believe everyone could benefit from strengthening their communication skills. I’ve been studying and practicing communication methods for decades and I’m still learning and growing.
But who wants what I have to offer?
What about within the other 99%? What “channels” should I use to reach them?
Looking at local, in person and possibly off-the-grid people, I already know some first steps to figure out who is interested: networking, public speaking to special interest groups, continuing with the consulting, training and coaching I already do…but moving beyond that…
Talking through my thoughts with the hubs:
“I’m wondering if one reason I’m having such a hard time [identifying people I can help] is because they are so quiet. Are they hidden in the 99%?
If 60% of the population isn’t even active on the internet and of the remaining 40%, only 1% is posting, then we’re talking about a fraction of that 1% who don’t seem to care whether they add to the negativity in the world.
I know so many people who, in real life, seem so kind and gracious. Then they get behind a keyboard, post a passive aggressive remark and sit back to watch and stir up the $#!+storm they’ve created.
Do they not recognize what they’re doing? Do they not care?
I genuinely don’t understand the duplicity.
And I don’t think I ever will. But I think that for the first time, I do understand those are NOT my people. They aren’t interested in communicating well or how they are perceived. When they post something that tears down, they either don’t know, don’t care or don’t care that they don’t know. I don’t comment on their negative posts because it’s pretty clear I would be the odd man out. WAY out.
The comment threads are full of 1%ers. The 99%ers are quiet. We all know that if we counter-comment on a negative post, one of three things will happen:
1. We’ll get attacked and it won’t be pretty. 2. We’ll be covertly blocked from their posts in the future. 3. We’ll get unfriended.
Maybe the people in the 99% are staying quiet because they’re taking a look at what’s being posted and instinctively responding with: “Hard pass.”
So, while the 1% may be the loudest, it’s definitely not overflowing with people who want to be intentional about communicating well. Those are the people I’m looking for.
Are they all in the silent majority?”
Hubs, after listing to my rambling stream of consciousness thought process: “You need to work on this some more. You’re onto something, but you’re not there yet.” Me: “What do you mean?” Hubs: “A cow has four stomachs.” Me: “So…what? I’m on stomach #2? Hubs: “I love how you knew what I was talking about.”
So is my thing metaphors? I do love metaphors.
And so I continue to work on it.
I remembered something else Albert Hsu said in the podcast:
“We don’t write apologetics books for the non-christian. They’re not going to pick up a Christian book. We write the book for the Christian friend…to serve them to reach their friend.”
Translating that to helping people strengthen their communication skills: I can’t help people who don’t care that they use language as a weapon. I can help the people they hurt – to respond effectively, respectfully and empathetically.
I can help those who DO care about the impact of their words and those who are silent, not because they have nothing of value to contribute, but because because they feel marginalized. If I can find them, I want to equip some of the 99%ers to become effective peacemakers, to model respectful debate and to resolve conflict empathetically.
And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, some of the negative 1%ers will notice. and begin to care.
~ I’m a firstborn and an ISTP (67%) / ISTJ (33%) who’s worked with IT personnel (mostly guys) for decades. My instinctive approach is always content over context. Logic over feelings. I’d say that about 90% of the time, I have a male gender communication style; Report talk over rapport talk. I read instruction books and follow procedures – unless of course, the reasoning behind the procedures isn’t logical, which stems from my content over context approach.
~ Pragmatic is my favorite word. The definition that most resonates with me is:
“focused on needs and results, rather than with ideas or theories”
~ I’m a trainer. I’m always learning and I sincerely believe I can learn from everyone, whether I benchmark successes or analyze failures – including my own. As an educator, I have the opportunity and responsibility to share what I’ve learned. Theoretically, the people with whom I share will make more informed decisions, increase efficiency and generally be better as a result of the knowing.
~ As a consultant, I’ve become accustomed to collaborative work groups made up of people who are task oriented and focused on problem solving.
~ Since 1994, I’ve trained and consulted for and with clients ranging from corporation presidents to managing partners to firm administrators to executive support staff to entry level support staff to volunteers. I interact with all of my clients showing the same level of respect, regardless of the formal or informal hierarchical structure of an organization.
That’s my backstory in a nutshell.
So, given all that is me, I found myself in unfamiliar territory when someone recently told me that I had overstepped a boundary.
A little over a year ago, I was working an event and just before the program officially began, this particular person gave some opening instructions. A particular part of the instructions was incorrect.
My thought process was:
1. 300+ people were just given incorrect instructions about the event.
2. The event hasn’t started yet.
So, the firstborn, ISTP/J, problem-solving educator in me gave this person the correct information.
The instructions were restated accurately.
The program began.
But I had overstepped a boundary. And for over a year, I had no idea.
Now that this had been shared with me, I could have gotten swept up into a circular debate about whether the 300+ people needed or deserved to know the correct information before the event began. But I firmly believe the Holy Spirit stopped me from that pointless and selfish attempt to be “right” and redirected my attention to the more important issue, past the factual actions which took place and instead to the person who identified a boundary where I did not.
If God was telling me that the boundary had nothing to do with the accuracy or inaccuracy of information shared, what was the implication of my crossing it?
This person felt disrespected by me. It’s possible I embarrassed them.
It was a humble reminder that my education and experience don’t automatically translate to success in my personal interactions. I’ve got a degree in Organizational Communication. I’ve taught and coached communication theory and its application for decades. I had been involved with this organization for over a decade. I was experienced and familiar with its culture and hierarchy of authority. Yet it didn’t even occur to me that correcting this person might be at odds with the norm. Looking back now, through their perspective, within the context of the organizational culture, I can see it clearly.
I’ve been in identical and similar events, in other venues, with different groups of people – in different cultural contexts – and the kind of interaction I’ve described has never been a big deal, even in cases when the person corrected has been upper level management or an owner of a company. In my own personal experience, the person corrected – myself included – has casually tossed back a kind of “thanks for having my back” response and has continued without skipping a beat.
“In my own personal experience…”
That’s what makes communication so difficult. It’s not one-size-fits all.
Although I was familiar with both the culture of this particular organization and the expectation of this particular individual, I drifted into my communication comfort zone. I assumed the situation was similar to the others in which I navigate.
From that assumption, came the perceived disrespect.
And the humbling reminder to actually USE my communication skills.
UPDATE: Someone asked in a comment what I SHOULD have done instead. Here’s my answer:
The person who told me I had crossed a boundary actually specifically stated what they would have preferred:
(1) to be told the correct information after the event,
(2) in private,
(3) and to be told by the person who organized the event (not me) so that,
(4) in future events, they would relay the information to the attendees correctly.
I acted instinctively, not intentionally. Although it goes against all that is pragmatic in me, I could have – should have – allowed the incorrect information to go uncorrected. It would have resulted in decreased participation in the event, which would have disappointed a number of people who had expected to be able to participate and it would have made the event less memorable. Not a tragedy, just not an optimal experience for those of the 300+ who were able to actively engaged because they had been given accurate instructions.
All that said, in full disclosure, just one month after this conversation, my husband and I attended a large meeting at another venue and while the organization’s founder and president was addressing the audience, he misstated some information. Immediately, he was interrupted from the back of the room and corrected. His response was “Thank you for that correction.” And I leaned over to FirstHusband and whispered, “And THAT’S how it’s done.”
I’ve been saying that for years. To my kids, to students and to myself, whenever the situation calls for it. It’s one of my idioms.
This afternoon, I read an article about a controversial subject in which the writer gave the distinct impression that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is ignorant.
Not ignorant in an uninformed or misguided way. There was no attempt to inform or guide. The writer declared “palpable and inescapable love” for God and their neighbor, but as I read, I found myself thinking of the word contempt, not love.
The examples were taken to an extreme, seemingly in an effort to evidence the stupidity and expressions of hate by anyone who believes differently.
For the purposes of this post, the issue itself is irrelevant. I personally didn’t identify with either side of the specific issue being written about. The idea that no other (more complicated) possibilities of thought or action exist is implausible.
Issues under debate are not simple. If they were simple, there wouldn’t be so much debate.
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “passive-aggressive narcissist. boundaries, distance & prayer. attempted normal relationship. failed. back to boundaries, distance & prayer.”)
Back to the question – Have I spoken to this person about their behavior?
The person asking me the question is someone I respect. They deserve an answer with a reason. So here goes.
As Christians, we tend to think God wants us to reek of Ephesians 4 and live in “Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ.” My concern, the reason I’m still writing about my response to passive-aggressive behavior, is that some Christians interpret “unity in Christ” to mean we should get along with everybody God has placed and/or allowed in our lives. Some Christians believe that “unity in Christ” means that anger is a sin and most importantly, that we should strive to resolve differences when we encounter conflict.
Have I spoken to this person about their behavior? It’s a reasonable question – from a reasonable person. And therein lies the problem. The assumption we want to make is that everyone is, at least for a few minutes of every day, reasonable.
What a beautiful theory.
In reality, it’s more like this:
(oh, chill out. It’s just a cartoon. God loves jerks too.)
To answer the question, Yes. I tried confrontation. I was a communication major. I have a conflict resolution model memorized and am ready to use it at a moment’s notice. So, yes. I did speak with them about their behavior – Before I figured out their standard MO (with everyone, not just me) was passive-aggressive behavior. Specific behaviors were openly addressed and were discontinued, at least temporarily, only to be replaced with a different manifestation of the same root issue. See, passive-aggressive behavior is like a flu strain. It subtly morphs, but is never eradicated. Since the behaviors never stop, the need for attention never ends.
I have years of experience with narcissism and its key characteristic – passive-aggressive behavior. I spent months saturated in research on it. Once I recognized it in this person, I knew exactly what to do. Over and over and over again, the books and documentation suggest that boundaries and distance are the only long lasting solution.
really. I’m not just making this stuff up to avoid confrontation. Remember, I tried confrontation. Confrontation produced temporary results:
“Realize that the narcissist may agree to change the dynamics of the relationship for a short time, to get you off his back,” but will usually revert to what he or she considers “normal.” In the end, the only healthy way to live with a narcissist is to become more of “your own person” and to create a space between you and the narcissist from which you both can live . . .
Minimize direct confrontation with the narcissist’s unhealthy behavior. Most narcissists are simply unable to receive criticism, even if it is meant constructively and spoken in a soft and respectful manner . . .
Maintain good personal boundaries between you and the narcissist. In response to your setting a boundary, the narcissist may attempt to rewrite history or even try to convince you that what you thought (or saw) just happened didn’t, and thus, there is no need for setting a boundary in the first place. Do not back down. . . ” (emphasis added)
My recent problem stemmed from the fact that I intentionally made the decision to take down the boundaries I had set and I attempted to bridge the distance I had established. (To find out WHY I would do such a thing, CLICK HERE to read my post Dear PinkGirl: don’t copy me.
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “a friend witnessed a passive-aggressive attack that didn’t bother me, but upset her. I explored the possibility that my boundaries were not God’s will.”)
Someone I respected – also a Christian and a reasonable person – witnessed a passive-aggressive attack. Because I had mental and emotional boundaries firmly in place, I bounced back like a quarter on a tightly made bed. My friend, however, was surprised and upset by this person’s behavior. It was new to them and seemed out of character. From my perspective, the behavior was fairly typical. But out of respect for my friend, because it upset her, I decided to prayerfully consider whether I was ignoring any promptings from the Holy Spirit to reach out to the narcissist God was allowing in my life.
Armed with daily prayer and all the research on narcissism and passive-aggressive behavior I could devour, I spent the last few weeks attempting to engage in a positive interpersonal relationship with this person I had previously (and successfully) blocked out for 2 years.
It depleted me. It sapped my energy and stole my peace. It interfered with my work. I became so discouraged I even stopped eating and exercising. I slowly lost my patience and my ability to respond appropriately and began to resent this person and react with frustration when I witnessed continued attempts at manipulation, whereas I had previously felt nothing toward them and had been immune to the manipulation for 2 years. I had experienced 2 years of sincere calm indifference when they behaved badly and now? I wanted to smack ’em every time they acted out. That ain’t good. CLICK HERE to read “step away from the puppy” to read what I wrote about that.”
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “emotional bullies wear puppy suits. wounded puppy suits. feeding the puppy just makes him hungrier and wipes you out.”)
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “I can’t be discouraged anymore. It doesn’t work for me. It’s like breathing through a pillow.”)
My favorite verse in Ephesians 4? Verse 26a: “Be angry but do not sin.”
And I’m very grateful to Dr. Paul Meier for his interpretation of scripture:
David’s response to Saul offers a three-step process for us to follow today: 1. Remember that you aren’t the issue! David knew the problem was with Saul, not with himself. 2. Recognize you can’t cure the other person. David couldn’t straighten Saul out. If you want peace of mind, you must realize you cannot change a crazymaker’s internal workings. 3. We can only change ourselves. Instead of responding to Saul in a like manner, David refused to become Saul’s enemy. David supported the king even as he hid from Saul’s vicious attacks. Crazymakers by Paul Meier M.D.
I’ve gone back to a place of peace through the re-establishment of boundaries, distance and prayer – I literally pray for this person multiple times per week. If anything will change them, it will be God. Because, unlike me, HE can do ANYthing.
CLICK HERE to see other posts I’ve written about dealing with emotional bullies, narcissists and passive-aggressive people.
Inevitably, you come off sounding petty. And a little crazy.
There’s disbelief: “No way. That doesn’t seem like them.”
There’s doubt: “Are you sure? Maybe you misunderstood.”
There’s advice: “You should talk to them about it. They probably have no idea you feel this way.”
And then you think, “maybe I am crazy after all. Maybe I just imagined everything. They seem so normal. So nice.” You look around. “Nobody else has a problem with them. Everybody else thinks they’re nice. There must be something wrong with ME. Maybe I’m tired. or overstressed. oversensitive.”
“Yes, that must be it. This is definitely all in my head. I just need a good night’s sleep. or a day off.”
and then, with the stealth of Eddie Haskel and sweetness of Marie Barone, they strike again.
When you get your bearings, you realize. You weren’t imagining things! You’re not crazy!!! woo hoo!!
That’s not better. It’s just a different kind of bad. and they’re not going to change. You’re not going to change them.
The only thing you can change is your response.
Someone who engages in passive-aggressive behavior is like a woman sitting in the front row at a play, wearing a big ol’ hat. People approach her and politely tell her that her hat is blocking their view of the stage. They make sure not to insult the hat, assuring her it is a beautiful hat, unique and perfect for her. She smiles and thanks them as they walk away, but she doesn’t take the hat off. She just repositions it to a different spot on her head.
It never even occurred to her to take off the hat.
She’s not being mean. In her mind, she’s not doing anything wrong. Nobody actually asked her to take the hat off. They just told her it was in their way, so she moved it. They told her it was a nice hat. So, by leaving it on, everyone still gets to admire it. She’s doing everyone a great service.
If you’re sitting behind her, you have five choices, only one of them good:
1. You can sit there, mumbling and complaining about the rude woman in the front row wearing the big ol’ hat:
“Can you BELIEVE her? WHAT is her problem?”
2. You can address the issue directly and politely ask her to remove her hat.
But you’re too late. Someone has already told her what a nice hat it is. She’ll defensively tell you that other people have told her they like it, implying that you are a schmuck for asking her to take it off. What’s wrong with you? Why would you even say anything bad about her hat? You must not like her. You’ve hurt her feelings. (You can tell because her bottom lip is quivering.) You’re mean. And after you go back to your seat, just as the show starts, when everyone is supposed to turn off their phone, she’ll send you a text message to tell you that she understands that you’re just upset because you don’t have a hat. After the show, she’ll tell everyone who will listen what happened. Then they’ll all know how petty and mean you were.
3. You can walk up to her and snatch the big ol’ hat off of her head yourself.
Don’t do it. It just makes you look crazier. and even meaner than if you asked her to remove the hat.
4. You can give up and leave.
What’s the point of sticking around? You won’t be able to see anything anyway.
5. You can STAY and MOVE to BETTER SEAT.
If you’re smart, you’ll move. You won’t let a big ol’ hat run you off.
And if you’re a Christian, you can pray. That she’ll see her big ol’ hat for what it is – an obstacle to open communication and good relationships. Of course, you should probably also pray that God will bless you with the patience and energy to keep moving to a better seat without letting it get to you. (Jesus said we should turn the other cheek. But He didn’t say we had to stand within smack radius.)
New people will come in and, at first, not paying attention, they’ll fill the empty seats around her. After a while, they’ll notice. “That’s a big hat.” They’ll assume she knows it’s rude to leave the hat on. They’ll assume she’ll take it off. When she doesn’t, they’ll find themselves facing the same five choices you did.
As the new people thin out and the crowd consists of people who’ve been there a while, you’ll notice something. She’s surrounded by empty seats.
But she still looks – and feels – good in the hat. And to her, that’s the most important thing.