How Can You Defeat a Malevolent Professional?
Lawsuits are not necessarily the optimum solution. However, filing a complaint with legal entities designated to protect employees, such as the Labor department, can certainly start the tracking and collection of evidence. Prospective female hires should do careful research on the company culture before joining and examine what supports for women exist there (such as mentorship programs). Once hired, work to create a team of female colleagues.
Sexual harassment cases take years in litigation and are hard to prove or win. Formally complaining about harassment in the form of vulgarity or sexism is a dead end if the behavior is not witnessed by others who are willing to testify. In general, attorneys are not inclined to pursue cases that may take years. Only creative attorneys accept unique casesthat could make a big impact on society.
That said: We still have ways stop these villains. We can defeat Malevolent Professionals by not feeding their negative energy. Ultimately, the way to defeat them is with reason. Their souls have lost the reason component, which makes it their weakest point. However, we must first learn effective communications techniques, pick our battles, document interactions in the smallest detail. A great technique to use is DISC. The 4 forces (behavior styles) of DISC can be used to drive or subdue the Malevolent Professionals if we use them correctly. Each style has its own interaction preferences and the Do’s and Don’ts which formulate their acceptance process of others critique. If we communicate to everyone the same way, we could be losing up to 75% of opportunities. Details on DISC techniques are taught in my coaching workshop Wise Language!
To defeat the Malevolent Professional effectively, we must use our knowledge of DISC and
carefully follow these seven steps:
- STOP at the first sight of microaggressions. These red flags are indicative of brewing trouble for legal aggressions that are protected by law.
- Understand which (of the four) behavior styles your Malevolent Professional manifests.
- Do not shy away from the difficult conversation, but do not try to be a hero either. If you try to help an MP, it might backfire, and he can get you first. He can use the same behavior you try to help him overcome and pin it on you to eliminate you from his way. True MPs are simply unhelpable.
- Discuss the issue (considering their DISC communication style to ensure you can reach them) then express your concern.
- Address the situation immediately and directly with the person:
a. When discussing any concern with them, replace you with I. This will allow you to avoid placing them in defense mode, which would make them more dangerous. This is also important in the event we are unsure if the person is indeed a Malevolent Professional or an innocent person that is unaware of their impact on others.
b. An example of what NOT to say: “You have always had a strong personality and seem to have aggressive behavior due to your cultural background, and that is why this action of yours created this issue.” This is an actual statement by a racist Human Resources MP to a hardworking employee.
c. An example of what you SHOULD say: “I am concerned about some behaviors I noticed and would like to address them with you to avoid any hard feelings or misunderstandings.” Then state the issues directly with clear descriptions of the behavior. HR often uses the excuses of confidentiality to not share detailed information about the issue. If you experience this, seek legal counsel immediately. You can have this conversation with HR present, and in writing instead of solo. Always avoid solo spoken communication as it is extremely hard to prove in a court of law.
- Pause and listen to their feedback. Watch their reactions: facial expressions, fists clenching, squinting with eyes flickering, lip curling in contempt, etc.
- Wait for the apology, assess it, then decide on the next action. The apology is a key identifier if you are not yet sure of their persona. This apology can take two forms:
a. Sincere apology: The individual truly feels bad that his/her actions reflected the opposite of their intention. They blame themselves for the misunderstanding and assure you they will do better. Monitor their behavior and notice improvements as they became aware of how their actions impact on others. A sincere person who did not intend to offend will do their best to understand the impact they have had on others’ feelings and will avoid making light of the situation or invalidating the concern. If they acknowledge the effect on others’ feelings and underscore that it was not intentional but understand how it created the negative impact, then you are receiving a true and sincere apology. At this point, try to let it go and move on. It is important to remember we are human, and we make mistakes. It is easy to hyper-focus on it every time you see that person, but that will not help anyone. In fact, continuous references of previous unacceptable behaviors that have been corrected may create a Malevolent Professional who did not exist previously.
b. Insincere apology: The individual blames you for misunderstanding his/her actions or laughs at your feelings and says it was a joke and you are just being too sensitive. With this type of non-apology, it is clear that we are truly dealing with a Malevolent Professional. Try to fix it one on one, ask your manager to speak to their manager, speak to HR, file a report.
c. At this point, and if you have exhausted all possible remedies, running away may be the best option.
What happens if running is not an option?
There are times where we can find other jobs and other times where we do not have the flexibility and due to financial, geographical, or other limiting factors. This situation is much easier to address if you have an honest and accountable HR department. Unfortunately, many Fortune 500 companies have HR teams with no integrity, and they can be the Malevolent Professionals themselves. They can and may do anything to get their target out of the way, so they shine as heroes. And sometimes, HR managers are the MP’s helpers. They target people who may be road blockers to the superior Malevolent
Professional and skillfully remove them without any evidence of foul play. But even if the MP lacks actual allies in HR, always remember that HR (especially in big companies) are not always a trusted force for employees. Their priority is protecting the company from lawsuits, not protecting the employee. However, if you are in a company with a reliable and honest HR department, engage them in the situation and let them guide you on the next steps. In the meantime, consult legal counsel to ensure you are getting sound advice from your HR department.
The same can happen in small companies—approximately 43% of businesses in the US. Being an employee or a consultant in small business could put you in a situation that is both unpleasant and pushed back. As an employee or a consultant for small business, you must be aware of the danger when the judge and the jury are one and the same. Small
businesses lack HR resources, so the functional manager or CEO performs many HR activities. If this is your situation and the CEO or senior manager is the MP, there is nothing left to do at that point in my opinion but run as fast as your feet can take you. Immediately seek legal counsel, not necessarily to litigate but to understand your options and protect yourself from the Malevolent Professional’s retaliation.
What Can Be Done?
There are steps that organizations, managers, and individual employees can take to
overcome bias that feeds MP efforts to undermine women in technology.
Tips for organizations
- Offer communications assessments and coaching to improve performance as part of standard employee benefits—not only when there is a problem.
- Create a no-tolerance policy for clearly outlined behaviors.
- Create a feedback framework within which managers provide positive or improvement required feedback to their employees regardless of their gender.
- Develop and train more women for leadership positions.
- Encourage mentorship of mixed genders and select committee mentors. Peer support and role models make a difference. (Be careful not to assign a leader who is not committed and continually cancels meetings due to other engagements, which may counteract such efforts.)
Tips for managers
- Put yourself in your employee’ shoes. If you receive a complaint against a female leader, assess the language in the complaint. Ask yourself before proceeding: Would this behavior be described as “Aggressive/Hostile” or “Assertive” if a man did it?
- Invite women to contribute in meetings. Ask them direct questions. Women love to participate, but when the discussion is taken over by self-centered members, it forces most women to shut down.
- Offer employees additional communications assessments and coaching to improve their performance if you see an issue. Do not judge!
Tips for male colleagues who are supporters of women
- If convinced, reinforce the female colleague’s ideas. Depending on the composition of the team and management, this indirect endorsement can be most effective.
- Echo their message and offer explanations of why you agree.
- Support office “house” chores, like scheduling events, luncheon, or holiday parties, etc.
- Be aware of the unconscious bias and work to correct your behavior to avoid misperceptions.
Tips for Women
- Invest in DISC assessment to increase self-awareness.
- Continuously and effectively improve communication by assessing your interaction according to DISC and record lessons learned for best practices.
- Build alliances with other women and supporters of women in technology.
- Pursue mentorship with someone who is both committed and neutral to your position/group.
- Amplify the sister’s message. Confirm, echo, and support each other’s ideas.
Finally, remember to always seek legal counsel when in doubt.