As we binge-watch the ongoing tragicomedy that is the 2016 presidential campaign, a question relevant to the workplace arises:
What do you do if you have an Office Trump?
I don’t mean a real estate mogul, specifically. I mean a person who, like GOP candidate Donald Trump, is brash, insulting, proudly not politically correct and, to some, offensive.
An Office Trump.
We might like to think that the modern-day working world wouldn’t tolerate such behavior, but either from personal experience or anecdotes from friends, we know that it does. And Trump’s omnipresence makes it likely that some workers will feel emboldened to drop the workplace-decorum filter that has been holding them back.
“I think Donald Trump has created a new normal for a lot of people,” said Michele Woodward, an executive coach and a political veteran who worked in the Reagan White House. “And I think it has unleashed and empowered certain people to have these similar views to voice them where they might not otherwise.”
She said Office Trumps are likely to be people in positions of power, as it would be hard for a low-ranking person to get away with such behavior. Given that, the chances of changing the individual’s behavior or getting the company to rein him or her in are slim.
Woodward suggested that, when dealing with a brash boss or colleague, follow Maya Angelou’s advice (as reported by Oprah Winfrey): “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
“The first thing we need to do is really say, ‘I observe this. This is who this person is; this is the reality of the situation,’” Woodward said. “You don’t have to fight against the reality. I see this a lot in my coaching. People come and say, ‘But it shouldn’t be this way.’ There’s your trouble. It is this way. So you need to understand what this person is and accept who that person is.”
The next step is to make “small corrections.”
For example, say your Office Trump echoes some of the real Trump’s comments about immigrants. And say you have a family member who is originally from Mexico. You might casually bring that up — “You know, my grandmother is Mexican” — and see if it nudges the person to be more considerate.
While you may not be able to alter the person too much, Woodward said the goal should be this: “Ultimately, you hope to get in that position where you can say, ‘Oh, Don, there you go again.’ The Office Trump knows that you know what they’re about and what they’re doing. It can become that sort of thing where you can say, ‘Oh, there you are again, being you.’”
Adam Brady, a certified instructor through the California-based Chopra Center for Well Being and a yoga and meditation expert, has written about dealing with difficult people in a more mindful manner.
He echoed Woodward’s thoughts on recognizing the reality of the person in question, then stressed the importance of putting your ego aside.
“For the ego to win, that means somebody has to lose,” said Brady, who was not speaking as a representative of the Chopra Center. “The other person doesn’t want to lose, you don’t want to lose and it becomes a battle of wills. ‘For me to be happy, I have to change what you’re doing. I have to make you do something different or make you stop.’”
The better bet, he said, is to take the view from 10,000 feet and say: “My happiness is not going to be dependent on what you do. I can re-contextualize what I’m experiencing and see it through a different lens. I can see it in a way that adds some compassion and some understanding.”
Brady recommends responding to an abrasive co-worker using the STOP method: Stop what you’re doing. Take three deep breaths. Observe how your body feels. Proceed with kindness and compassion.
That’s not something you’re likely to be taught in business school, but compare the reasonableness of that approach with self-defeating options like getting mad or getting in an argument that goes nowhere.
Another technique Brady recommends is “defenselessness.” I know, that sounds like the wimpiest thing anyone could do, but again, this isn’t about ego, and it’s not about winning. It’s about learning to live with and navigate around an Office Trump.
Being defenseless means you’re willing to let another person express an opinion or point of view without bringing up your counter-opinion or point of view. You let the difficult person talk, you listen and you don’t fall prey to the natural desire to inject your worldview.
“The idea behind defenselessness is not that you don’t have a point of view; it’s that you don’t need to fire it up and engage it all the time,” Brady said. “Some get so caught up in that sense of self that they feel like they constantly have to be projecting what they are and how they feel about things. If you can take some time away from that, it frees up so much energy. It doesn’t mean you’re being passive; it doesn’t mean you’re giving up.”
It just means you’re stepping back, and that, Brady said, “is a really powerful thing to do.”
Much like the actual Donald Trump, the Office Trump is not going to simply go away. If you have one, there’s a good chance you’re stuck with him or her.
So forget being aggressive — that’s like banging your head against the wall.
Be strategic. Be pragmatic. Be a little mindful.
Step back and let the Office Trumps think they’re winning. In the end, they rarely do.
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Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @RexWorksHere.