on the Job . . .
PROBLEM PEOPLE AT WORK - Trolls and Gremlins
Employees sometimes encounter difficult people at work. Encountering just one of these individuals can end a promising long-term career with a company and can transform an otherwise desirable job into a nightmare.
The following are some personal observations culled from decades of client tales about bad bosses and about techniques that have been useful to clients dealing with these difficult individuals at work. They are sometimes humorous, but then humor can also be a survival strategy. Specific fictional case examples are provided as well.
For analytical purposes, we have divided the world of difficult people at work into trolls (bosses) and gremlins (peers and subordinates). Unfortunately, the catalogue is more illustrative than comprehensive.
Troll Classification GUIDE
We have all had a troll encounter at sometime in our lives. The following is a guide to recognize and handling some of the worst of these disagreeable authority figures in our lives.
The Basic Troll is your basic over-aggressive boss. He yells all the time and explodes under pressure. He is also very competent except for his inter-personal skills.
The Basic Troll either owns the business or is indispensable in some way, because if he wasnít, his lack of interpersonal skills is such that no one would put up with him. Sometimes reasonable individuals evolve into basic trolls when they are given a great deal of power. Judges are often basic trolls, for example.
You are dealing with a basic troll if your boss:
Secret Trolls hide. They even hide the fact that they hide things. Above all, they do not want their true identity disclosed. To this end, they will exert enormous self-control to disguise their true emotions and to avoid any kind of conflict that might expose the deception.
A Secret Troll will appear at first blush like a friendly helpful person. In some ways, a Secret Troll is the opposite of a Basic Troll. A Secret Troll is pleasant to deal with and never scary. At least until itís too late and the damage is already done.
First and foremost, a Secret Troll wants to appear like a Nice Person. Although the Secret Troll is always truly self-interested and lives under the Bridge in a Dark Place with other trolls, this is not apparent. Secret Troll bosses usually have excellent interpersonal skills, and they appear to be your friend and to be very understanding. They also never get angry.
Everything this troll does is calculated. Their primary motivation at all times is how they look to their superiors and whether or not any action they take is likely to advance their career. Fundamentally, Secret Trolls have no ethics and are completely ruthless. They are also often extraordinarily successful.
The Love Troll is on a permanent power high. The Love Troll usually works for a company where managers have special protection because they perform an essential irreplaceable service, they are the owner, are related to the owner or something similar).
The Love Troll regularly makes sexual overtures towards employees of the sexual persuasion to which they are attracted. The Love Troll promotes their attractive and flirtatious friends and give them special attention while ignoring others. They are often married.
To the extent that the Love Troll's sexual harassment behavior is part of a general willingness to abuse power, he or she may have other ethical issues as well.
The Good Olí Troll can be a serious problem for employees who are not good olí sorts themselves. This is not necessarily gender based because there are Good Olí Girls as well as Good Olí Boys. If you are not comfortable working with groups and are not connected to people based on relationships, you will have trouble. This boss will not evaluate you solely based on the merits of your work.
If, on the other hand, you are the preferred type, gender and attitude, you will be rewarded with a truly loyal and sympathetic boss. One of the unusual features of these bosses is loyalty is so important that if you get in trouble, they will support you no matter how damaging to their own careers.
These bosses are trouble for the following types:
The Good Olí Troll tends to be a competent people-oriented manager, but he may overlook stuff, cut people too much slack, and ignore procedural, legal and more abstract ethical considerations that do not affect relationships on the job.
The Good Olí Trolls are generally decent ethical individuals, but they do not relate to abstract notions of fairness. Fairness to them is personal and within the Good Olí family.
The Dopey Troll is, well, a dope. He may not be deficient in IQ points, but he is certainly deficient in sense and confidence. His orientation is based on hiding this. He is susceptible to predatory sociopathic employees who manipulate him by helping appear competent. These employees prey on the Dopey Troll by building his self-esteem, but their real motive is to gain power and wield it over others. Some of the most corrupt and difficult office environments are created by Dopey Trolls.
Unless you are a predatory employee (or in cahoots with one), these bosses spell disaster.
The Messy Troll is very disorganized but may be a creative genius. Messy Trolls are often successful entrepreneurs and founders of companies.
The Messy Troll needs help from his employees to be more organized and effective. Employees who are very concrete and literal cannot work for this type of boss. The Messy Troll needs employees who do not listen to his specific words but who can understand his intent and deal with him appropriately. He also needs employees who are able to take the initiative in structuring him and who can check in with him at appropriate intervals and ask questions so that they can translate appropriately.
Employees who are too timid or who require someone to tell him or her exactly what to do will clearly have trouble. Employees who do not check in or ask questions will not understand what he wants.
The Vain or Narcissist Trolls must maintain the reality at all times that they are both competent and virtuous. These Trolls usually have issues in one or both of these areas because they are unwilling to see flaws in themselves. Since they cannot see the flaws, they cannot compensate for them.
The Vain Troll bends reality to perceive it in accordance with his narcissist needs. He thus never recognizes that he has made a mistake--someone else is always at fault, such as you, his employee. You can never criticize a Vain Troll to his face: this is career suicide. It is consequently impossible to give this kind of boss honest feedback.
Unlike the Secret Troll, the Vain Troll is not particularly insightful about the political environment in which he operates. Because of their vanity, Vain Trolls are easy to deceive and manipulate. The Vain Troll is distinguished from the Dopey Troll because the Vain Troll is usually a true leader, a hard worker and often genuinely talented and charismatic as well.
The Vain Troll tolerates incompetent subordinates if they make the Vain Troll feel competent.
The Creepy Troll boss has serious psychopathology. He lacks boundaries, sexual and otherwise. He may be extremely seductive to employees. He can behave like your best friend/confessor/parent giving freely of his time and of material things as well.
The Creepy Troll latches on to any employee in trouble. If an employee is lonely and going through a divorce, this boss is anxious to help and provide a shoulder or more (if you are of the opposite sex) to cry on. The Creepy Troll wants to be primary in your life, before any other relationship.
This kind of boss is dangerous--both to your career and to your own mental health. He wants to break down all barriers between you and eventually break you down into his mindless puppet. And he will be remarkably successful, if you let him. There is absolutely no way to work for this kind of boss and stay healthy. Moreover, the Creepy Troll will go to great lengths to hurt you if you ever attempt to assert your independence or turn away in any healthy way. Get out!
The Creepy Troll is generally very unethical at the core. Moreover they secretly think of themselves as Masters of the Universe.
The Abacus Troll is more comfortable with numbers than with people. Abacus Trolls are hard-working and usually promoted in spite of their lack of people skills because they are great at faithfully following rules and focusing on budgets and short-term concrete goals. Abacus Trolls seem to come to the forefront in companies whenever companies are in financial panics or being transitioned to ďlean and meanĒ with emphasis on mean.
These guys are the hatchet people. They are comfortable laying off long-term employees, reducing benefits, and imposing impossible goals on others. They speak and think in corporate double speak and are no doubt the inspiration for the devil boss in the comic strip, Dilbert. The Abacus Trolls see their job functions purely in process terms--i.e., they are successful if they meet abstract numbers; the fact that the core business is falling apart for long term purposes may not even register on their screen.
Working for the Abacus Troll is difficult for employees who are more people-oriented or big picture oriented. And if you do not like playing numbers games and REALLY care about what you do, this Troll is definitely your enemy.
Ways to recognize the Abacus Troll include the following:
Gremlins are peers and subordinates who are difficult problem people. Unlike trolls, gremlins hide their true identity to maximize their power. This tends to make them extra dangerous. Although occasionally a gremlin will creep into the best-run office, unhealthy offices to provide the best enrichment for gremlins to flourish.
If you are for any reason facing a gremlin or two at work, this will help you analyze the situation and consider some options. Some common types of gremlins include the Green Gremlin, the Jilted Gremlin, and the Wronged Gremlin.
One of the biggest dangers for employees comes from the Green Gremlin. These are unethical and ruthlessly ambitious employees who feign kindness, helpfulness and loyalty.
The best defense here is an early warning system. Recognizing this individual while you are still in a position to protect yourself is key. When they grow up and becomes a boss the Green Gremlin turns into a Troll--most likely a Secret Troll and sometimes a Vain Troll or a Creepy Troll. The following are signs to pay attention to:
Employees who are ruthless can ruin careers of others, particularly other employees who befriend them or trust them. They can secretly criticize you to others or fail to support you during crucial moments. The fact that you treat them as friends or with respect when they undermine you to others often gives them extra clout--i.e. it appears as though they are people worth listening to based on your attitude. They are often masterful at scapegoating you while appearing to support you.
The Jilted Gremlin feels hurt and rejected. Sometimes, these are simply overly sensitive pathological types. More often, it is someone who was your friend/date/lover who still cares about you, but in a negative way. The following are suggestions for dealing with Jilted Gremlins:
In general the best precaution for not having problems with this type of employee is not to get too involved with these individuals in the first place. It is best to avoid sexual relationships or other intense special intimate relationships with your peers at work. If you do think about getting involved in such a relationship, understand your vulnerability and think seriously about the emotional maturity of the individual with whom you are considering becoming involved. Getting involved with the wrong person can spell disaster at work-- particularly when the relationship breaks up.
Ways to recognize employees who are a special risk to become overly involved with include:
Often this Gremlin presents as the perfect employee who is absolutely loyal to their boss. They live and breathe to protect their boss. They lack boundaries and have merged with their boss as much as possible. Vain Trolls are often attracted to this kind of Gremlin.
These employees are characteristically negative people and they can single-handedly sour the work environment. Wronged gremlins are often in subordinate positions. These employees create problems for others because they transfer their problems and issues to other employees rather than dealing with them directly. These employees are often passive-aggressive and/or narcissistic. They work subtly by imparting misinformation, information out of context or one-sided information. These gremlins almost always lack insight into their own behaviors and they rationalize their behavior by their view of themselves as victims of other powerful and evil employees.