Training The Alpha

Dear Dr. Darcy, I recently started my first real job. I was nervous at first as the team is made up of mostly men who are much older than me and I wondered how they would treat me as a young woman. They've all been great and the only problems I've encountered thus far have been with the only other woman on the team.

I thought we were getting along well for the first few weeks but she is very passive-aggressive. One minute she will be undermining me, making a sarcastic reply to one of my questions in front of our coworkers and the next asking me to go to lunch with her. I am newer than her to the company and the role and she appears to delight in telling me what I'm doing wrong at every opportunity, also in front of our colleagues.

She also seems to get very jealous whenever I am praised for my work. I do not feel competitive towards her because she is the only other woman and it annoys me she obviously does feel that way towards me. I'm a quiet person and avoid conflict but I'm worried I will have to look for another job if her childish antics continue.

Another example from this week is when she started acting in a standoffish way towards me because someone had called me to say they would be late for a joint meeting we both had with them and they had not called her. I had more contact with the person so it made sense for me to be their main point of contact.

What can I do about this woman without leaving or making a formal complaint? Help!

ANSWER

This woman sounds hateful. She would never get away with her behavior were she dealing with someone older. She’s taking advantage of your age and your desire to have peace over pride. That said, this is no longer a pride issue. If you’re seriously contemplating filing a formal complaint and/or leaving, you need to put on your big girl pants and deal with this woman directly.

Part of the problem is that you’ve let her get away with her bullshit for however long you’ve been in this job. It’s easier to set a boundary from the beginning than to set one when you’re already into a relationship. Nonetheless, based on her history, I’m confident that she’ll give you another opportunity (and several thereafter) to correct her behavior.

The next time she is even remotely rude, condescending or passive-aggressive, you need to send her a look (in the moment) that communicates the absurdity of what she just said. Then, when she tries to speak nicely to you afterwards or when she asks to have lunch with you, respond with the following:

“I’m confused…(pregnant pause here – look her directly in the eye).  Why would you [insert offense here] and then attempt to have a civilized relationship with me? It’s a little crazy-making, and quite frankly, I’m not interested in having a pretend relationship with someone who treats me the way you do.” And then go back to your computer and end the conversation. You’ll have to hold this boundary because no doubt she’ll test you to see if you mean what you say.

You think you're avoiding conflict by failing to set boundaries when in reality it's the avoidance thereof that leads to conflict - and I'm betting that this is a pattern in your life. You have to reframe the way you view conflict. Begin associating it with allowing yourself to be bullied - not with setting boundaries. We teach people how to treat us. You’ve ‘approved’ her behavior for as long as you’ve been working there by letting her get away with it unchallenged. My guess is it will take a month at the most to teach this dog a new trick. The question is, can you behave like an Alpha long enough to make it happen?

Writer’s Stats: Female. Writer objected to disclosing her sexual orientation.

Note to Writer: Your sexual orientation is not non-applicable. I will decide what is N/A on my blog.  I just gave you an hour of my time answering your question for free. In exchange, it seems reasonable that I provide my readers with consistency regarding writers’ gender and sexual orientation. Moving forward, you will not get a response to a question unless you comply with this rather simple quid-pro-quo.

Lessons Learned From Sandy Hook Elementary School

Welcome to Format Free Fridays, the one day a week when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense that which we rarely welcome in life: Unsolicited Advice.

A week ago today, a sociopath broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut and murdered 26 innocent people, 20 of whom were children.  According to ABC News, this massacre was the 31st school shooting since the Columbine school shooting in 1999.  In the same period of time, there have been a total of 14 school shootings in all the other countries of the world, COMBINED.

Following each American tragedy, gun supporters quickly warn us that we can't have a conversation about gun control.  To raise the issue is to be accused of politicizing a tragedy or infringing on the Second Amendment.  I find such accusations to be a manipulative ploy intended to distract us from the real issue.  Today’s post is not a plea for gun reform. It is a Call To Action for Gun Reform.

The causes of school shootings are complex and many factors do indeed contribute to them. I am an expert on the subject. I dedicated my dissertation and PhD research to identifying the epidemiology of bullying in an effort to end school violence. With that said, and as important as it is to understand those contributing factors, the solution to school shootings is painfully simple. Video games do not kill people.  Music does not kill people. Unresolved mental health issues do not, in and of themselves, kill people. Do not be distracted by such divisive arguments. Those variables may be contributing factors and are worthy of long-term investigation, but only 1 thing killed people in each American school shooting: Guns. And the short-term solution is insultingly simple: Gun Reform.

Fear sells guns, and in the years since the Columbine shooting, Americans have been buying.  The gun lobby, like many American conservatives, fears a government takeover as well as thieves ransacking American homes and relies on the right to bear arms as the anecdote against it. As long as this paranoia remains an acceptable norm, as long as we nod in understanding instead of reacting in shock to this clinical level of paranoia, we remain part of the problem.

School shootings have become the modern day American terrorism. Today I’m asking you to decide not to tolerate it any longer.  What if we decided that there simply won’t be a 32nd post-Columbine school shooting? What would that look like?

The NRA wants you to focus on grief, which is really a manipulative ploy to let time pass in the hope that emotions will cool and your attention will be diverted by tomorrow’s news story. Don’t let that happen. They’re insulting your intelligence. School shootings need not be our normal. We can have a Zero Tolerance for School Violence. But you’ll need to do something today to ensure that reality for tomorrow. I challenge you to do more this time than you have following the last 30 school shootings by clicking here now.

Making Peace With My Bully

Welcome to Format Free Fridays, the one day a week when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense that which we rarely welcome in life: Unsolicited advice.

Earlier this week someone posted the equivalent of “hello” on my Facebook wall.  Nothing unusual, except this person referenced knowing me from high school, which again is nothing unusual.  Ordinarily, I try to write thoughtful replies to childhood friends, but for the life of me I couldn’t recognize this person’s name and her profile picture was of an animal so I couldn’t use that either to identify her.  Anyway, I had this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach all day long, nagging me, causing me to click again and again on this person’s FB wall, hoping I’d trigger a memory and recall who she is, but still nothing came up for me.  Until later that night, and then I realized why I had been distracted by this all day long.  The person who wrote on my wall was none other than my high school bully.

Let me clarify what I mean by high school bully:  I mean that for 3 or 4 years, this person capitalized on every opportunity imaginable to smack me, shove me, disparage my religion, humiliate me, hold me while others hit me, and eradicate any semblance of self esteem that a teenager could possibly have.  Do I sound bitter?

I judged myself too. I thought I’d overcome all that horseshit in my trillion years of therapy. I’m 42 years old, I’m fairly successful, I have a few fancy degrees from some fancy schools, I’m in a loving relationship, I’m more evolved than I’ve ever been, I have wonderful friends who love me and a hobby that fulfills me.  Why then, should I still be bitter?

I’ll tell you why:  Because that fucking abusive bully traumatized me, and adding insult to injury, this embarrasses me.  Just as it did when I was a kid.  It’s the reason why I never told adults, why I never complained and why I never backed down when she cornered me.  And from a professional standpoint, this makes sense.  I should know.  I am an expert on bullying, in large part because of her.  So I suppose I should thank her.

I am not that big of a person.  Instead, I messaged her on FB, as though I was in middle school.  I confronted her, in as adult a manner as I could muster.  And today I’m publishing that message to underscore that people shouldn’t be embarrassed into silence when they are victimized.

"I don’t even know where to start, frankly, to express to you the extent to which your torture in high school affected me. Suffice it to say that it was the driving force behind the topic of my dissertation (bullying), which I published 19 years after graduating high school.

I am not just a victim – I too was a bully, though I’ve come to learn that it’s a common response to being bullied. People like me are called bully-victims. But what sets me apart from you is that I made amends with the person who I abused. And I regret it to this day, knowing how I harmed her – how I may have affected her ability to trust others and form healthy attachments. I wonder…. Do you ever ponder the damage you inflicted on me? Do you ever wish you had gotten counseling instead of being physically and emotionally violent to a kid who was years younger than you, inches shorter than you and dozens of pounds lighter than you? I wonder…"

I didn’t expect a response from her, but go figure, I got one. She apologized, told me of some horrors that she’d gone through as a kid which caused her to become a bully.  I knew that something had to have caused it.  Kids are not born mean.  They are taught to be mean.

So now I’m 2 for 2.  My victim confronted me a decade ago and gave me the opportunity to apologize to her for what I’d done, and because of her courage, I in turn confronted my bully and received an apology.  In the final analysis, I think we all want peace in our lives.  I sure do.  So now there’s one less ghost in my closet.  One less burden to carry. We won't be having lunch together anytime soon, my bully and me, for obvious reasons and also because she has since unfriended me. If only things could have been that simple back in high school. I don't like you so I'm going to remove you from my list of friends...

So...the takeaways?  I hope that this post encourages some kid out there to tell an adult that she’s being bullied.  I hope I’ve dispelled some of the embarrassment that kids (and adults) often feel when they’re victims of this sort of thing.  And I hope that if you bullied someone as a kid, you’ll consider sending them an apology.