The rise of the “mean man” is an emerging problem in our country and our workplaces.
Mean men are people with entrepreneurial characteristics that have been taken too far. Some characteristics of entrepreneurs include a need for achievement, drive, being action-orientation, a need for autonomy, a desire for high levels of control, high impulsivity, suspicion of others, a predisposition to take risks, high self-confidence, and a high need for approval.
When some of these traits are dialed up, we start seeing sides of people that can be dark and worrying — especially when that person is your boss or coworker.
Here are six types of mean men:
1. The Two-Face
The two-faced mean man is someone who has one side that is caring, empathetic, and patient. Then there’s another side that can be problematic when it rears its head. An example of this type is Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator who was charged with sexual abuse.
2. The Opportunist
People in this category expect recognition and privilege just because of who they are. They are unscrupulous, amoral, and comfortable deceiving others to get who they want. The poster boy for this type is Lance Armstrong, the former cyclist who was banned from professional competitions after he admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.
3. The Hothead
Hotheads are famous for their adult tantrums. They attack other people, go into fits of rages, and show hostility. Harvey Weinstein, the film producer who produced Pulp Fiction, among others, is known for being quick to anger.
4. The Cowboy
When someone pushes the propensity to take risks, you get the cowboy. These are risk junkies who often end up looking stupid rather than courageous for the risks they take. For example, former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick took outsized risks to build the organization, some of which have backfired.
5. The Dogmatist
This type is endlessly argumentative. They take great delight in contradicting you. They’re less concerned with the logic of their reason and more concerned with frustrating or undermining the other person for control. Steve Jobs was an example of this type.
6. Mr. Dissatisfaction
This type feels like life hasn’t given him his due. He feels deprived, and at his core, he remains insecure about his power. An example is Dov Charney, founder and former CEO of the now-defunct American Apparel.
How should you react to these people?
1) “What is happening right now?” Take a second to detach and bring rationality into our emotional state.
2) “What are the facts?” Assess your personal needs and summarize what is it about the way you were treated that bothered you and what you want to accomplish?
3) “What is he doing?” Think about what specifically the person is doing to push your buttons. What is he doing that is triggering a negative reaction?
4) “What am I doing?” Don’t blame yourself as the victim, but it can help to think about how you’re responding and whether changing your reactions would help.
5) “What are my options here?” It’s important to create boundaries between you and people who can make you feel horrible or doubt yourself.
In general, it’s better to not engage. If they call, let it go to voice mail. If they send you an email, don’t respond right away. If they are parading around the workplace looking for someone who they can take their frustrations out on, go to the rest room or just hide for a few minutes until they leave. By taking subtle — and not so subtle — steps back, you’re signaling to them that you’re not a target for their games.
Mark Lipton is a professor of management at The New School and author of Mean Men: The Perversion of America’s Self-Made Man.
As told to Kirsten Salyer.