Mean people and your executive presence

I’ve never understood why overbearing people think they have power. It’s obvious they don’t. Nobody trusts them or authentically has their back. They are always exhausted trying to make themselves look good at other’s expense. Their insecurities reek in their behavior. And their leadership has no sustainable effect because the people they play to are the first ones off the ship when it starts to go down.

If you can’t achieve your goals without manipulating, controlling, condescending to, backstabbing, and intimidating other people along the way you’re weak and you will ultimately fail. Period. I’ve seen it in corporate America time and time again. It may not be right away. But it will happen. And your legacy will precede you everywhere you go after that.

The real problem with mean people is that they are intrinsically unhappy, insecure and have minimal self-awareness. The root feeling behind their behavior is anger coupled with an uncomfortable sadness they don’t want to deal with. They aren’t particularly coachable because they lead their life from a defensive posture. They react negatively to constructive criticism and take aim at anything or anyone who threatens the façade they work so hard to uphold. They aren’t aware enough to realize they’re biggest challenge is their own ego which is screaming to be validated. And when it isn’t, take cover.

In the workplace, their strong sense of certainty and charisma often gets mistaken for leadership ability. The same thing happened in history. Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin had a compelling assurance about them that instilled confidence. People place their trust in someone who is confident, not hesitant because, surely, they must know what they are doing. Unfortunately, they usually do and often it isn’t what it seems.

The best tactics for dealing with mean people:

1. Don’t allow your emotions to shadow your instinct.

Don’t let them anger you because in that state of fight-or-flight you get stripped of your executive presence and cannot reason well. At that point you revert to survival behaviors such as lashing out or withdrawing. View the mean person from a mindful third-party perspective – as if you are a fly on the wall. No judgment. Observe yourself the same way. Remove your ego from the equation.

2. Name how the mean person makes you feel? 

Threatened? Angry? Intimidated? Judged? Name the feeling to disseminate its power over you before you turn away from this uncomfortable feeling the way the mean person does and you do something you regret.

3. Imagine the mean person is a neglected seven-year-old. 

That is likely how they feel. Be compassionate.

4. Get curious.

What does the mean person fear? Imagine the mean seven-year-old is in an interrogation room and you are behind the mirror. Imagine all of their bad behaviors are hanging on a shower curtain between you and that shower curtain gets whisked aside. What is left? What do they fear? Not looking good to supervisors? Being inadequate? Not having value? Being abandoned?

5. What does the mean person need? 

Attention? Power? Recognition? Control?

6. Validate that you understand what the mean person wants and recognize her/his value.

This is hard but if you give an angry dog a juicy steak he will usually leave you alone. That is what you want – to be of no threat to his/her ego and left alone. “I understand that you are disappointed. In your role you need (XYZ) to succeed and I want to provide that for you.”

7. Ask the mean person, “What do you want and how?” 

Most of the time she will not be able to articulate this well and will say something too broad. Make him give you specifics. “So that I may understand what you want, if I were to do that what exactly would it look like?” “Can you be more specific?” “How should I prioritize that against (A, B and C) responsibility?” They don’t like to look bad and won’t want to be caught having to make judgments in areas where they are not an expert. Always go for specifics of what they want when they interrogate your performance. Keep asking, “How would you do that?”

Diffuse a mean person by giving them what they need – power – and by asking them to define precisely what they expect of you. They will likely move on to more vulnerable, less savvy targets.

If you want more executive presence tips here’s a link to the FREE eBook – 31 Executive Presence Practices for Leaders in the High Stakes Corporate World.