Interpersonal EDGE: Dealing with Emotional Terrorists
Sunday, February 26, 2012
By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services

Q. Our organization is considering promoting a current vice president to CEO. She is prejudicial and overbearing, has no people skills, calls employees stupid, belittles them many times, resulting in tears, is always right, and yells in public at employees. 

How do we deal with the situation if she becomes our permanent CEO? 

A. Unfortunately, if we work for enough years we are bound to end up working for everyone's least favorite boss, the emotional terrorist. There are two actions you want to take when you work for these abusive individuals:

-Always have an exit plan.

-Always appeal to their personal agenda if you want to be effective.

There are two additional actions you never want to take with emotional terrorists:

-Give up trying to be right.

-Never engage them in a power struggle.

Emotional terrorists often get promoted because they are talented or know the right people. They certainly don't get to the top because of their people skills. However, their inability to get along with anyone will also eventually be their downfall. The problem you have is surviving long enough that your own career is not affected.

When my clients have the misfortune of working with someone like your vice president, the mistake they have usually made is getting into a power struggle. Listen carefully to what I say next: It doesn't matter if you are right. The emotional terrorist will only do what you want if you can show them how it will serve their personal agenda.

My idealistic clients get quite upset when I tell them this workplace truth. They talk about justice, fairness and the American way. I let them vent and then go back to talking about what works.

If your VP is old enough to be promoted to CEO, it's highly unlikely you are going to change that many years of bad behavior. Make sure you have good social support off the job where you can vent and think about ways to solve the problem. 

Also avoid the temptation to join the ranks of coworkers who will make complaining about her a full-time hobby. I promise you'll be quoted about something negative you said at the worst possible time. Remain unquotable if you want to ride out this storm.

On the really bad days, keep in mind that emotional terrorists will be one of the people you'll need to learn to work with if you want a rich career. Your current VP is showing up for free for you to take the "Emotional Terrorist Skills" class. After you get done venting about her, use every resource you can find to learn tools to neutralize her abusive style. Someday she'll be history but you'll still have a powerful kit of tools to deal with difficult people in your future.

The last word(s)

Q. I work with a guy who thinks he's God's gift to the workplace. He keeps telling our team he can work miracles. Is there a way to get him to get real?

A. Yes, give him an opportunity to make good on his offer of miracle production publicly. The higher someone thinks they can fly, the further they have to fall to get real.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker.  She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). Contact  her at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.

This was printed in the February 26, 2012 - March 10, 2012 Edition

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