Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Spite and Malice–Only Fun As A Card Game

Spite and Malice card game by Milton BradleySpite and malice harms everyone and should be stopped.

Whether you are a manager, supervisor, employee, parent, sibling, friend or just want to be a decent human being, be on the alert for indicators of mean-spirited, petty, maliciously vile behavior. Don’t do it yourself and don’t ignore it in others.

The card game, Spite and Malice, has been around for a long time under a variety of names. It can be fun to play when played in the spirit of fun, even though it certainly appeals to the competitive spririt as well. It’s described on one site as “a game with attitude.”  One reviewer commented on the fun of playing the “Stop anyone” card, when you see someone is on a winning streak. Another said, “This is a cutthroat game where you do what it takes to keep someone from winning, then they do it back to you.”  The Hasboro card box says, “If you can’t beat’em, annoy’em.” It sounds like some workplaces I’ve heard about!

At  work, these are often the indicators of spiteful, malicious behavior:

  • Sarcastic, snide remarks to diminish someone or their work.
  • Behavior or comments designed to make it difficult for someone to do their work effectively.
  • Waiting until others are around to point out a mistake or problem.
  • Doing something you know will result in a bad situation for someone else.
  • Facial expressions, gestures, comments or actions that cause someone else to feel unwanted, disliked, or demeaned.
  • Frequently ridiculing or mocking someone rather than talking to them directly about a problem or issue.
  • Being an obstructionist and stubbornly resisting someone else, just to avoid complying or just to create a problem for them.  (This is also a description of passive-aggressive behavior.)
  • Stabbing someone in the back and twisting the knife. (That’s a high-level psychological phrase.)

Spiteful, malicious behavior is a clear indicator of ongoing contention that harms everyone, even those who are not the direct target. It uses time ineffectively and often results in long, long meetings or frequent cross-purpose conversations that get no positive results. It creates tension and ill-will. It’s nasty. Even if there is someone who seems to be deserving of a slap-down or a put-down or a straightening-up, it isn’t the appropriate way to improve things.

If you are a manger or supervisor and you hear or observe something that seems malicious or spiteful: Stop the behavior immediately, investigate it further and if you were correct in your observations, direct the employee to never do it again. Make it clear that the behavior was not useful, not professional and not acceptable. If there was provocation, deal with that as well. But, make sure the petty, vengeful behavior stops.

If you are the target of spite and malice: Don’t respond with more of it. Get it out in the open and let the other person know you heard it or felt it. See if you can deal with the underlying problem. Find out if you have created part of the problem. If that doesn’t help, document what happened and the effect it had on you and others and ask for assistance in getting it stopped. Don’t drop hints, act like a long-suffering victim or gossip about the other person, just ask for help in a reasonable way.

Some good comments when confronting directly:
“You say that as though you’re joking, but I don’t think you mean it that way. How do you mean it?”

“It seems as though you are purposely resisting this. Is it because of me or because of the idea or both?”

“It seems like there is some hidden message in what you’re saying. If you talk to me directly maybe we can get things in the open and deal with it.”

If you are tempted to be malicious or spiteful: One indicator of spite and malice is sneaky, behind the scenes, manipulative behavior designed to harm someone else. But you can also be nasty and mean right out in the open. A good test is this: What results are you trying to get?

If you are trying to make life difficult for someone else or trying to harm them or their work in some way, stop yourself before someone else has to stop you. Find the root cause for your feelings of anger or agression and deal with those issues.

The bottom line: No one ever looked more professional after showing spite or malice. No one has ever brought about positive changes through malicious or spiteful behavior. Stop it when you observe it and don’t do it yourself.

In card games it can be fun to block other players in every hand they play, while chortling to yourself or openly about it. At work, the stakes are too high to play those kind of games.


July 7th, 2010 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 9 comments

Think Before You CC

Think before you CC on that emailMust You Copy Someone On That Message?   

Being able to send a typed message to several people at once is one of the great benefits of email.  However, many people misuse the benefit and make it one of the worst aspects of a great concept. 

Remember: Email doesn’t waste time. People misusing email waste time.

 Unless you have been directed, requested or begged to CC or BC a message, think before you do it.  Then, think again. There are certainly times when it is appropriate and effective. For example, when you are commending someone, want others to know about it, and want the person you are commending to see who you have copied. Or, when several people are working together and all must get exactly the same information.  However, often it is not appropriate or effective and makes you look badly.

You may add to email clutter.

Does the person you are copying really need to read the entire message? Will it help them do their work more effectively? When they said to keep them informed, did they mean they wanted to see all the emails about a subject as an “FYI”?  Instead of copying on every item, consider sending them a direct email with an overview of what is happening. If it’s not important enough to take the time to do that, maybe copying isn’t needed. 

You may seem to be trying to look impressive.

Are you mostly trying to show how effective you are? (Most of us have done that sometime.) Rather than making you appear saintly or impressive, the message may irritate or amuse those who are CC’d on it. They may not tell you, but mentally they may be sighing or rolling their eyes–or just hitting delete.

Instead of copying what you send to others, send a direct email to the person you want to inform about your work.  If you don’t think that would be effective or well-received, don’t CC on the messages either.

You may create or add to hostility

Will the original recipient view the CC as a way of tattling on them or emphasizing your status?  Your message can go from merely irritating to infuriating if the recipient thinks you are trying to get him or her in trouble or implying that you and the boss are in close contact.  Unnecessarily CC’ing a person higher up on a message can be like waving a red flag in front of the direct recipient.

You may stir up trouble

Is the message likely to create conflict? If you know or are reasonably sure that what you are sending will create negative feelings for those being copied or for direct recipients, don’t do it.  If you are venting and you only want the maximum audience, don’t do it. If you don’t have the courage to say something face to face, but you figure you can get by with it and sound tough by email, don’t do it.

If there is something going on that needs to be confronted, do it in person or by phone. If documentation is needed, follow-up with an email or an email with a document attached.

Some alternatives to CC

Instead of CC’ing someone, forward the original. Forwarding  allows you to add a message specifically for the recipient. It also prevents the recipient of the forwarded email from an awkward “Reply All” , which sometimes happens on copied mail. 

If you CC, consider saying in the message why you are doing it.  “I’m copying Bill on this, since he has to give approval next.” If you can’t think of a succinct reason for copying someone, don’t copy them. (How does this sound? “I’m copying Kristie, so she will see what I’m having to put up with.” Or, “I’m copying Chuck, so he’ll know I’m working hard on this project.” Or, “Kyle, I’m copying Vernon so you know I have his support. Nyah, nyah, nyah!”

Blind Copy, to avoid having all the recipients known.  When someone is blind copied their email address is not seen by direct recipients. This can be useful in many circumstances and is a valid action in some cases. However, it can have drawbacks as well. For example, it can seem sneaky, if the person you blind copied then writes directly to the person you were emailing or accidentally sends a “Reply All” message.  It is wise to send a direct message to the Blind Copied person telling them why you have done it that way.  (Forwarding the original can achieve the same purpose, without taking much more time.)

Make CC’ing a useful tool

Being able to send several people the same message at the same time is one of the great benefits of email. Use it unnecessarily or as a weapon and not only will your emails be dreaded by many people, you will lose credibility. Use it wisely and you will be considered efficient and effective by several people at once!

May 16th, 2010 Posted by | Life and Work, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Training, Technology, Blogs, A/V etc. | 8 comments

Who Is Responsible For Resolving Contention At Work?

There is a reason referees, not the players, decide about plays during a game. “You two work it out” is almost never an effective way to handle contentious situations between employees. It can create even more problems for several reasons:

*It is unlikely that employees will have the skill, the will, or the capability to improve the situation. If they have the ability to resolve a serious problem they probably would have had the ability to avoid it in the first place.

*If there is clearly an aggressor that person will not see a need to change and the other person may not feel able to communicate directly about it.

*If an effort is made by one or both employees, but it doesn’t change the situation, the employees may feel justified in negative responses.

*The “solution” decided upon by employees may not be in the best interests of everyone involved or the overall work group or organization.

*A hands-off approach by a manager can leave an employee vulnerable to increased hostility and an escalation of the problem.

*In every case the manager or supervisor fails to fulfill an essential role: To develop and maintain a work place in which everyone can stay focused on work.

How to know there is a need for supervisory or managerial intervention:

  • You have observed or heard about an ongoing conflict between employees. (More than one or two incidents or only one incident that created a work disruption for the employees or others.)
  • Someone has hinted to you about it. If it matters enough to mention it to you, it matters enough for you to do something.

The bottom line: When there is a conflict, disagreement or a situation that is often frustrating or upsetting to employees or that stops or hurts work for anyone because of issues about it, it is time for a manager or supervisor to find out more and say or do something directly. The employees can be involved in the process but they should not be left to do it alone.

One thing is certain: There has been a management failure when employees start accepting a breakdown in civility, cooperation or effectiveness as normal for work or something they have to learn to work around or through on an ongoing basis.

A large part of a supervisor’s job–and certainly the task of a leader–is to identify problems and work with and through others to help solve them. Situations that keep employees from working well together are problems that require direct involvement by a supervisor. The task cannot effectively be delegated to employees–especially not to the employees involved.

April 5th, 2010 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Supervision and Management | 6 comments

When Someone At Work Is Upset With You

Nyah nyah!The signs are obvious:  A coworker or someone you supervise is unhappy with something you’ve done or said. You may have been in the wrong–or not–but this reaction of pouting, sulking, or giving you the evil eye is certainly irritating. Other indicators that he or she is teaching you a lesson: She won’t make eye contact unless forced to; he gets quiet when you walk into the area; she answers questions as briefly as possible; he seems withdrawn in general and the communication level has dropped way off. 

What do you want to accomplish? Most of us just want to get over the rough spot and move on. But, you should also work to be an example or a model of how such things should be handled. Which means you can’t add to it with gossip, sarcasm or being even more rude back. (You also shouldn’t whine, beg or give in inappropriately just to restore peace.)

If the problem was caused by misunderstandings that need to be clarified or a situation that needs to be fixed not just moved past, you will need to work toward those improvements as well.  The focus of this short article is primarily on less complex situations–the temporary frustrations and irritations of work.

1. Communicate normally with the employee–neither more than usual or less.  Most well-adjusted people don’t enjoy sulking, so give them a chance to get back to normal. If you are still focused on work, they will regain their focus as well.  Ask for assistance as you normally would.  Discuss mutual concerns.  Almost always after a few days, things will improve. Just don’t lose track of what caused it in the first place. If you contributed to it, don’t do that thing again!

2. Give the situation a few days to improve.  If it hasn’t, approach the employee directly, with a concerned tone not an exasperated one.
 “Jan, since Tuesday, you’ve acted different than usual–not talking, not making eye contact, not responding when I talk to you. What’s going on?”

You may want to say that but be even more direct: “Are you angry about my remark during the meeting? I said that because I meant it and I still do, but I don’t see why we can’t work together in spite of our different opinions. I hate it when things are so awkward that we can’t even talk.”

Or, “Jan, I may not have fully apologized for what I said in the meeting. I meant to be funny but I could see it wasn’t taken that way. I hope you’ll forgive me and we can move past it.”

One approach is to act as though you don’t realize it has anything to do with you at all.  I only mention this because I know it can work (even though it is more manipulative than I usually would suggest.)  “Jan, you’ve acted a little down the last couple of days and that’s not like you. I heard you coughing awhile ago. Are you feeling OK?”

Very often the other person will grab at that reason for their actions. And who knows, maybe it’s true!

3. Be willing to listen–and probably listen more than talk.Someone who would treat you to a sulky spell is probably not as professionally skilled at handling conflict as you are–or as you should be.  Focus your talking on moving forward with work, not on a rehash of the thing that started it all–unless you truly do need to apologize for something or clarify an issue or get a commitment to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again.

4.  Recognize when your efforts aren’t being successful. This is the tricky part in some situations! If you are a supervisor or manager you shouldn’t allow an employee to be rude or to refuse to talk to you about resolving a conflict.  At the point the employee is not communicating but only being angry, you should draw the conversation to a close and say you will talk to them again later. Go to your own manager or to HR or other resources to discuss the matter.

If it is a coworker who is not wanting to resolve the conflict and only wanting to argue more, bring the conversation to a close by saying you’re sorry the two of you can’t find common ground about work, but you hope soon the employee will be able to feel better about it. Walk away and give it another day. After that, talk to your supervisor about it and get some advice.

5. Once it’s over, let it be over. Whether you talk to the coworker or employee or the situation fades on its own–or you have to get assistance that forces the employee to behave appropriately–you be the one who never falters in professionalism and mature behavior.  It’s over, move on. (I imagine you will have learned some lessons from the situation, either about your own conduct or about the conduct of others.)

Keep your goal in mind: To get back to work and, if it’s possible, get back to a comfortable relationship.  Live your life at work in such a way that when situations like these emerge no one thinks of you as the cause, because they know you are above petty behavior.

January 31st, 2010 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Supervision and Management | 10 comments

When A Coworker Is Getting On Your Nerves

There are many civil ways to say "Stop." Part of maturity and effectiveness at work is learning to deal with (translation: Smile, grit your teeth and tolerate) the behavior of others who have different styles, traits, habits and perspectives than yours. However, there comes a time when a coworker is negatively effecting your work or your mental or emotional state or when you are making unreasonable adjustments for their benefit. What can you do then? The answer isn’t the same in every situation, but some guidelines can be applied:

1. Make sure you aren’t part of the problem.  Could it be that the irritating behavior of others is a reaction to your own quirky behavior? If others have hinted to you or joked about something you do or say, or if you are well known for an approach that is irritating to others, face up to the fact that you might be part of the problem. Work to change before you work to change others. You may want to acknowledge your part of the problem to the other person and negotiate what you will both change.

2. Consistently and appropriately be clear about what what is bothering you.  Don’t expect someone to know you are upset if you ignore it most of the time, laugh or joke about it sometimes but only now and then act upset.

3. React in a way that is appropriate for the situation. Don’t react in a way that is rude, disruptive or hurtful.  When you fire back a nasty retort, use obscenities or rude gestures, or gossip and complain excessively behind somone’s back, you become the problem as well–and you lose the support you might have had. What you say or do will depend upon the severity and impact of the actions of the other person. You may say something with a reproving smile and gentle tone or you may have a frown and sound briskly adamant, according to the situation.

 Trying to suggest phrases is always difficult because there are so many verbal nuances that are missed, and you have your own verbal style. However, here is a mix of  mild, moderate and strong responses you might make.

“Stop. Stop. Stop.” (This can be said with a smile, a frown, while holding up a hand or while leaving the conflict, according to the situation. When you have the attention of the other person, talk directly but courteously about what is bothering you.)
“Uh oh, that’s getting close to being over the line!”
“Don’t.” (You may have to say it more than once, but often it is all that needs to be said.)
“That’s really distracting. Would you please stop?”
“Lisa, what caused that tone of voice?”
“I don’t understand why you did that. Tell me.”
“You sound upset, but I don’t know why. Are you?”
“How did you mean that the way it sounded?”
“You said that jokingly but I think you were serious. Were you joking or serious?”
“Greg, please don’t do that anymore.”
“That kind of remark makes me feel (how?).”
“Tricia, what would make you think I would respond well to that? I don’t. So don’t do it again.”
“That approach doesn’t work well with me, so you might as well stop it now.”
“Matt, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt about your motives, but this has got to stop. Now.”
“OK, I can see this isn’t going well. Let’s talk to (the supervisor or manager) and get this worked out, now.”

3. When your direct, appropriate communication doesn’t help the situation, get assistance. If you have communicated about a problem clearly and the coworker is aware of your feelings, but continues to do the same disruptive things, go to your manager, Human Resources section or someone else who can either advise you or assist you.  Don’t complain incessantly, vow revenge, play dirty tricks or seethe inwardly. Go to your manager and ask for advice or make a formal complaint, according to the seriousness of the situation. You will get stronger results if you write your concern or at least ask for a formal interview time with your manager, rather than complaining in a general sense but not asking for action to be taken.

 Be prepared to hear your manager sound less concerned than you are.  However, if you are told to continue to accept the behavior of the other person, courteously stand your ground and insist something must change–unless you feel you have no other choice in order to stay out of trouble yourself.  Many (if not most) managers hope a conflict or problem will go away so they don’t have to deal with it.  They are more likely to take action about something that effects work performance than they are about behavior. So, link the behavior to how it is effecting your work and the work of others or to the final work product.

Until you have directly talked to your manager, don’t make the assumption that nothing will be done. If you only complain in a general way or if you are a big part of the problem, you are less likely to get action.  But until you have tried to get help from a higher level, you don’t know for sure what will happen.

4. If the action continues, escalate your complaint but still stay appropriate. If you believe the situation merits it, write a strong letter requesting your manager investigate and intervene to ensure the behavior stops. If that doesn’t work, go higher. Take it as far as you need to take it, within reason for the situation. (Just make sure you are being a valuable employee at the same time.)

 The bottom line: Most problems between coworkers are never confronted openly and courteously, they are only complained about. Or,  the complaining employee will covertly sabotage the work or reputation of the other employee.  That is how conflicts develop and why they continue and get worse. You don’t need to be harsh to get your point across to a coworker whose work style or habits are bothering you. On the other hand, if you never say you are bothered, why should the other employee be concerned? As usual, honest but appropriate communication is the key to making things better.

Do you work with someone whose manner or actions disrupt, irritate or disturb you or make work more difficult? The situation won’t improve on its own, so do something effective about it–or at least try.

December 2nd, 2009 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers | 5 comments

Discourtesy And Contention At Work: Is It Bullying?

Bully: An Unproductive Label  

Sensational statistic: 37% of employees surveyed in a study by State University of New York, felt they had been bullied at work. Not an outrageous number, but enough that the authors were probably able to further justify their academic work that studies workplace agression. How accurately does it reflect reality?

Given the list of the behaviors that were considered bullying, I’m surprised that a full 100% did not respond that they had been bullied! Among the statements used to describe a feeling of being bullied are, “Had others fail to give you a promotion that you really needed.” And, “Not being given deserved praise.” Other behaviors certainly could be tormenting or unnerving, and some would be criminal.

Another overused label? It is easy to overuse and misuse an emotional term like bully. It dehumanizes the person being talked about. It also presents the image of a vicious thug who torments a weak, helpless victim (another label that accompanies bully) for no reason. The description might fit occasionally, but it has become a way for some employees to smear others without attempting to do anything to bring change.

Like many surveys there was no requirement to show evidence or to suggest the reasoning of the other person. We could have an equally high–or higher–percentage of affirmative answers if we did a survey that asked questions such as these:

  • Do you have a coworker who refuses to accept his or her role in problems?
  • Have you worked with someone who lied about how you or others treated them, in order to get sympathy?
  • Do you know someone at work who seems to look for reasons to be offended or hurt?
  • Do you know someone who covers up their own misdeeds by blaming others?
  • Have you heard coworkers accuse others of bullying but you could see two sides to the issue?
  • Do you know of someone who says they are being mistreated, but they have never taken strong, productive action to stop it?
  • Do you have a coworker who is disruptive in some way, but if you say something he or she denies it and say you are picking on them?
  • If you are a supervisor, have you ever been accused of bullying when you tried to correct poor performance or behavior?

I do not deny that harassing, mean-spirited, and vile behavior occurs in workplaces. I also do not want to diminish the toll such behavior can take–mentally, physically and emotionally. Whatever your organizational role, you should speak up and stop inappropriate, discourteous, demeaning behavior. (That will be covered in Part Three of this series. 

However, instead of focusing on what type of person is behaving badly–a bully, a jerk, a cruel, evil torturer, a vicious, vengeful witch, or, an inhuman, servant of Satan–we should focus on the behavior that is unacceptable and do something about it, whether is it directed at us or others. And, we must do it in a way that is direct and strong but appropriate, not in a way that only involves name-calling behind someone’s back. 

April 1st, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 7 comments