On being an easy target, part 2...
October 10, 2018 6:40 PM   Subscribe

A few years ago, I wrote this question about being an easy target for people who had bullying or predatory tendencies. Now that I've actually come across another person in the workplace, it's time to work on applying those skills...

I very much appreciate the thoughtful responses to my earlier question. I now get that people push little boundaries and watch my response to gauge how likely I am to acquiesce to their manipulation or maltreatment, and that it isn't necessarily anything intrinsically about me that makes me a target, but rather the little ways I tolerate/endure others' belittling remarks or other boundary crossings that reveals my seams for predatory people to start working away at.

In the years between my previous question and now, I have (hopefully) grown and matured, but I think there is still something about the way I interact, particularly with very senior white men that communicates to them that if they pushed hard enough I would eventually relent. How does one respond in a way that communicates to people in power that I'm not to be messed with? I feel like I've already improved a lot at responding firmly but around 5% of the time I still respond in my knee-jerk overly apologetic, deferential, disempowered way.

Now I have a supervisor who I feel like (or worry that) he is somehow able to smell it on me-- I am anxious that he can see that vulnerability in that 5% of my interactions with him, like a hawk. I don't usually have issues with colleagues or supervisors, and my relationships are happy and healthy, but somehow I feel like this supervisor knows how to find or create whatever he's looking for. Does this make any sense? I feel like "normal" people float by in this normal, securely-attached, solid-boundaried world and remain blind to the drama of this other group of emotionally sensitive, slightly wounded-at-the-core type people who frivol away their time seeking love/validation/whatever they are in want of. Usually it's people who have had some taste of trauma or neglect in their youth... I just know one when I see one, because I think I have a small streak of that within myself. I'm very worried that my supervisor can sense it in me and that I will have an exhausting working relationship with him because he can exploit that vulnerability.

I endured a whole week of belittling comments and I keep second-guessing whether it's significant enough to either call him out on it or talk to another supervisor about my concerns. He does that thing where he diffusely puts me down and then randomly drops a compliment or nicety. And then I think, "aw, it's nothing, I shouldn't be so sensitive" but it's still kind of bothering me and feels a lot like my interactions with the man who ultimately sexually assaulted me in the past.

Do I just call him out on it? He writes my evaluations so I don't want to anger him, I don't want to cause trouble or be seen as overly sensitive. I'm not even sure how I would begin calling him out on his behavior. Other people seem to think he is a nice guy, and nothing concrete has happened, so... what do I do?
posted by gemutlichkeit to Human Relations (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
He knows you don’t want to cause trouble, that’s why he keeps doing it - because he’s getting away with it.

This is a ballsy move and I’ll understand if you wouldn’t want to use it but next time he belittles you, make a show of asking him what the time is and if he can please say that comment again - you want to make sure it’s accurate when you write it down on your list. “So, it’s... what, 2.47 on the 18th of October. And you just said “Michelle, did you honestly think the tps report goes there, a monkey could do your job.” Then actually write it down, with dates, times, everything.

When he looks at you slightly fearfully and asks why you’re keeping a record, just smile sweetly and tell him you never know when it could come in handy. Then say you’ve really got to get back to it. Watch him sweat.

He’s trying to see how much he can get away with. Make it clear that the answer is nothing. He gets away with nothing.
posted by Jubey at 7:22 PM on October 10 [31 favorites]


I feel like this supervisor knows how to find or create whatever he's looking for. Does this make any sense?

Very much so and it’s not that uncommon a coping mechanism for people carrying a certain type of trauma. While it’s not the full solution I highly recommend developing your sense of compassion for what it must be like to live in his head. Having pity for him will cause you to put off an entirely different vibe.

Of course having compassion doesn’t mean excusing the behavior. Writing down the incidents sounds promising, just do it kindly and with the understanding that he’s living with the fallout of something in his own life.

I feel like "normal" people float by in this normal, securely-attached, solid-boundaried world

I’ve met very very few people I would consider "normal" by your definition. On the other hand I’ve met quite a few who don’t have the ability to self-examine and therefore present as "normal" even to themselves. It’s not until you get to know them that you realize they’re still angry with their mother about being forced to eat broccoli when they were five and it comes up every time they have dinner together, and they’ll have no clue what you’re talking about if you mention it.

and remain blind to the drama of this other group of emotionally sensitive, slightly wounded-at-the-core type people who frivol away their time seeking love/validation/whatever they are in want of.

Who the heck cares if they’re blind to it? I guarantee you there are more of us than there are of them, which means we’re normal and they’re weird. Leave them in their odd little boring box.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:30 PM on October 10 [13 favorites]


Geezus Christmas! Tell Me No Lies wrote an eloquent answer we both needed today!

On a practical note... I agree sometimes the best response is to show someone like this your boundaries by EFFECTIVELY pushing back. Often that works.

Some people, like you describe, do not relent. The best move in this case is to transfer away from them, or adopt a neutral-but-slightly-deferential stance towards them until you can get away.

I agree that predators are the abnormal types in society.
posted by jbenben at 8:59 PM on October 10


Easy targets don't document their abusers' machinations. Take Jubey's advice.
posted by flabdablet at 5:30 AM on October 11


Talk to HR or another person with power atthis organization whom you respect, bringing a list of dates and examples. You can also try "excuse me, I don't appreciate being called names" or similar.
posted by slidell at 6:02 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]


" I guarantee you there are more of us than there are of them, which means we’re normal and they’re weird."

Isn't there a problem with considering "normal" whatever happens to be most common?
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:36 AM on October 11


Can you give an example of something he has said to you that bothered you at the time?
posted by Julnyes at 9:52 AM on October 11 [4 favorites]


I have been both wrecked and empowered by my interactions with bullies or other boundary-pushers. I have been praised for my handling of difficult situations and I have been the one to retreat and have a good hard cry in private. For me, the difference was getting caught off-guard. When I know someone is difficulty or creepy or otherwise problematic, I do my best to prepare myself. Think about what that might look like for you.

Things to consider:
- Have a safe way to vent productively (friend, partner, journal, therapist, etc). Don't make things harder on yourself by venting with a gossipy coworker, for example. Think about what will help you move past the difficult interactions.
- Now you've got some experience with his MO, what can you see yourself doing to push back? Speak up in the moment? Document and bring to a trusted manager or HR rep?
- If you're going to speak up or bring the issue to someone, plan out what you're going to say and practice. Oh my goodness, practice has made it so much easier for me to stand up for myself or nip things in the bud! If it's in the moment, think of phrases that will convey the pushback (surprise, disappointment, confusion, etc). Whatever the course of action, rehearse what you want to say and practice on your own or with someone you trust. Then you'll be so much more likely to pick the empowering words you want to use.
- Some possible scripts: "Excuse me, did you just call me/my work XXXX?" "Let's keep comments and feedback on topic." "How unnecessary/rude/inappropriate! What's next on the agenda?" "I have been called X, Y and Z by Supervisor on the following occasions. This is counter to stated expectations/professional norms/handbook. What do you recommend in these situations?"
- Can you use humor? Only you can judge, but it could diffuse things while also registering "don't mess with me." When I was much younger, a "nice guy" manager was testing out my boundaries. He started calling me Susie Q (my name is not Susan). I don't know what possessed my 22-year-old brain, but I responded with "Oh, we're picking nicknames? I'm going to call you Pookie!" We went on to have a decent working relationship and he seemed to register that I was not going to deal with his nonsense.
- It is also a perfectly valid choice to decide that you don't want to report to him. You can consider transfer, a new job, etc. Taking good care of yourself is worth it!
posted by annaramma at 10:17 AM on October 11 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry. A lot of these things are so subtle, that if you were to raise them to HR or someone, someone would think you were being petty.

"Normal", securely-attached people have problems about these things too. You are not alone. That is why there is Ask Metafilter -- for people to talk about subtle conflicts and the intricacies of human interaction of which there is no easy rule book or answer.

For your situation, I think it is best if you have someone whom you can talk to, someone who knows the supervisor and can see the situation (and all its complexities) first hand, someone who has good EQ and situational awareness. Is there anyone like that in your office who is like that and you can trust?
posted by moiraine at 11:24 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]



>> I guarantee you there are more of us than there are of them, which means we’re normal and they’re weird.
> Isn't there a problem with considering "normal" whatever happens to be most common.


"Normal" is a pretty squirrelly word, but that’s the dictionary definition. Of course in a different context normal also means "completely perpendicular to."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:16 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]


Him: "I can't believe I have to explain this. It's so easy a monkey could do it!"

You: "I'm not sure I'm parsing what you just said correctly. I think........you just called me a monkey and I'm not sure how anyone in this organization would construe that as helpful or professional. I must have misinterpreted what you just said. Can you repeat it or say it in a different way? Let me write this down so I make sure I don't forget" Look at your watch and then start writing.
posted by jasondigitized at 5:52 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]


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