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

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

Discourtesy and Contention At Work: Describe it Correctly

The most pervasively negative
workplace behavior:
Discourtesy and Contention

It is trendy to call obnoxious people bullies, to to describe unpleasant supervisors as toxic. However, there are less dramatic ways to discuss behavior that should be corrected–then, correct it. 

The behavior I consider the most problematic in workplaces is behavior that is:
Impolite, unmannerly and rude
Pestering, stress producing and disruptive 
Devious, unfriendly and undermining
Obnoxious, offensive and irritating 
Argumentative, uncooperative and self-serving
Tormenting, sniping or purposefully hurtful

Any of those behaviors could be described as discourteous.  If they are unrelenting, frequent, habitual, regular or pervasive, they more likely fit the description of being contentious–part of a long-term conflict or frequent behavior that a reasonable person would consider unpleasant, disrespectful or uncivil to others. 

Those two terms–discourtesy and contention–are not so dramatic sounding as some of the other terms that might be used, but I think they are more apt because they:
• Are less emotion-laden and offensive than bully, toxic or evil
• Describe behavior instead of labeling a person. 
• More clearly describes the reality of workplace communication problems.
• Do not automatically place people in the roles of aggressors and victims. 
• Provide supervisors and coworkers with acceptable terms for documenting complaints.  

However, do not doubt that discourtesy and contention can take a terrible toll on employees and the workplace.

Be on the look-out for these examples of discourteous and contentious behavior: 
*Facial expressions and gestures that are rude, mocking or demeaning.
*Purposely not smiling or responding to attempts to be appropriately friendly. Stone face.
*Using email to escalate a conflict or make someone look badly by forwarding or copying messages unnecessarily.
*Mocking, smirking, eye-rolling, smothered laughter or looking at others when someone else talks.
*Practical jokes that disrupt the work of others or create stress for them.
*Refusing to assist or pretending to not notice that assistance is needed.
*Using a tone of voice that is snippy, irritated sounding, hostile, contemptuous or sarcastic.
*Confronting people about a conflict in an excessively aggressive manner.
*Accusations, excessive emotionalism.
*Finding fault; excessively correcting others; pointing out flaws in an unhelpful way.
*Making work more difficult than it needs to be or purposely delaying work.
*Disingenuous remarks designed to create problems for others.
*Responding to requests with heavy sighs, resentful actions, anger or excessive questioning.
*Stomping, slamming doors, drawers and phones, making unnecessary noise and clamor.
*Purposely or repeatedly doing things that are unpleasant, foul, obnoxious, distracting and disruptive.

Why supervisors and managers should take immediate and strong action about discourtesy and hostility:

  • It can demoralize and demotivate the target and those who witness it and creates stress and uneasiness for everyone.
  • It takes the focus away from work and puts it on the unpleasantness.
  • It encourages people to take sides, or to encourage discourtesy byothers as a way to stir up problems.
  • It prevents or reduces effective communication.
  • It can be the source of actions and reactions that result in lawsuits, complaints andviolence.
  • If someone is discourteousto coworkers or you, they will almost certainly be discourteous to others when you are not around.
  • It puts the focus of supervisors onquarrels and upsetsinstead of key work issues.
  • When others are aware of it–and they will be–it presents the supervisor or manageras being either unwilling or unable to intervene.
  • Discourtesy is like a weed–it spreads and chokes out everything good you try to cultivate in your workplace.

A mental survey: Look and listen in your workplace this week:

1. Which employees interact the most courteously with other employees in the office and within the organization?

2. Who are some who are not particularly courteous, even though they are not obviously rude?

3. Who says or does things that, if you weren’t so used to them, you’d immediately think of them as discourteous? What are the things they say or do? Do they limit it to only a few or are they that way to everyone? Are there some mutually discourteous relationships?

4. Who says or does things that, had those habits been known, the person would likely not have been hired?

5. Would life at work be better if relationships that are now marked by discourtesy or hostility were civil, cooperative and pleasant?

Pay attention to courtesy and discourtesy this week–and notice how you act as well! Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “there is always enough time to be courteous.” Take the time.

April 16th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | no comments

Discourtesy And Contention At Work — Finding A Reasonable Perspective

Teasing, tormenting, taunting.

Since I wrote Parts One and Two  of this series about the over-use and misuse of the description bully for bad behavior in the workplace, three things have happened:

1. I have gotten many messages about the topic. Almost of all of them agreed with my overall view and had examples to share. Some of the writers shared personal stories about situations in which they felt someone tried to bully them, but they stopped it or found ways to handle it. I have appreciated all the responses.

2. I have done further research about the term and how it is used in books, articles, and internet forums, as well as reading hundreds of examples of what forum contributors consider to be bullying.  

3. I have given considerable thought to exactly how I do feel about the concept of bad behavior at work and how bullying fits into that issue.

The bottom line on my perspective about bullying behavior in the workplace: 

  • Bullying –cruel and misery producing behavior to someone who is powerless to stop it– is wrong and inexcusable.
  • I have stopped others from cruel or aggressively hostile behavior when I have known of it and I always will.
  • Working with or for someone who acts in a bullying manner is one thing–being bullied is something else. Being bullied is what we allow to happen to ourselves over time, when we fail to take any constructive action to deal with the behavior.
  • If someone–even someone who can fire me or hurt my career–behaves toward me in a way that seems to be intentionally and unbearably mean, I will find an appropriate way to stop it. If I cannot or will not do that I will either learn to manage my reactions to it or I will leave that job or position. I am not powerless.
  • I think the way the term bullying is used in some writings and research, incorrectly increases the number of accusations about it and makes it seem more prevalent than it is.
  • I believe some people use the term bully as a defensive weapon to present themselves in a better light, and an offensive weapon to hurt the reputation of others without having to present verifiable evidence.
  • Labeling someone a bully can itself become a form of bullying, because it can cruelly harm someone’s reputation based solely on a description that may not apply to the situation at all.
  • If someone is a bully their behavior should be stopped, not just labeled and complained about.

In the next two articles I will discuss productive ways to deal with discourtesy and contention at work.

April 12th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Supervision and Management | 3 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