Listen to the Audio Version of This Article
How to outplay a narcissist boss in education (or any workplace).
I’m not talking about the 80’s TV show, I’m talking about bosses who are arseholes!
Yeah, I said it.
Some people are nasty, vindictive arseholes and sometimes they are our bosses.
Which sucks, big time.
But hope is not lost, you can fight back (trust me…I have had to in the past!)
1. Accept the reality of the situation.
2. Protect yourself.
3. Grey Rock.
4. Let it go (it’s not your problem, it’s theirs).
Read the full article to find out how to apply these steps.
This article was written by guest contributor, Matt Davis. Matt is a Psychologist, Writer, Teacher and Coach. His field of expertise is abusive personality types and recovering from abusive relationships. His new book “The Vampire Hunter’s Field Manual: A Survivors Guide to Narcissistic Abuse” is available on Amazon.
As the teaching year heads into the actual New Year, and teachers and students alike have managed to catch their breath and grab some time with their families and friends, it feels like there’s new hope as January hurtles in.
That festive spirit is strong within us and hopes are high for a better 2020.
Teachers and students are reunited and the good stuff can start all over again. Off we go, back into the fray, newly determined to get stuck into the seriously fun business of teaching and learning and make sure that we and our students are doing the best job we possibly can, and that’s why we do this after all, isn’t it?
And then, on about day 1 or day 2, a peculiar cloud drifts across our newly-bright sky.
It’s a person-shaped cloud.
In fact, it’s that individual that we’ve all encountered at some point in our teaching careers; the Head of Whatever that seems to have made a New Year’s resolution to be the biggest douchebag education has ever seen.
They won’t have welcomed you back with a heartfelt “Happy New Year” and taken the time to ask how your festive season was.
Even if they did, they won’t have listened to the answer. More likely what’s happened is that they’ve brought you back to Earth with a jolt and done everything in their power to make it feel like Christmas never happened at all and that all the “problems” that were there before you left have just been on hold until you got back.
Talk about buzz-kill…
I’ll call these people members of the A-team. I’m sure you can figure out what the “A” stands for.
Spoiler alert…he means “Arseholes“.
And they’re everywhere. They’re the ones you can always rely on to be just plain weird.
They vibrate with some other-world energy that means they simply don’t make sense. Our human minds just can’t get a handle on their oddness and yet they occupy a position of responsibility in a system we all know is broken and desperately hope isn’t.
From a human perspective, we can’t connect with them at all because they appear to be a personification of the “machine” that education has become.
If there’s one thing guaranteed to speak of everything that’s wrong with the education system at present, it’s a member of the A-team.
But they’re your boss or something, right?
And you have to deal with these ridiculous individuals, right?
And you’re reading this because what you’ve tried up ‘til now hasn’t exactly made you feel like New-Scrooge on Christmas morning, right?
Well, what follows here is a brief guide to managing a member of the A-team that should help you minimise the impact of these Grinches and help you on your way to being a happier and healthier teacher for you, your team and your students this year.
I can’t promise you it will be easy, but I can promise you it will work if you’re prepared to see it through.
Up for a challenge?
Damn right you are!
Step 1: Accept Reality.
I’ve written extensively elsewhere about what drives such individuals, so I won’t dwell on it here. Suffice to say that if you think they’re miserable, it’s because they are.
I’m not kidding.
Some people are just plain miserable and if you think you’re dealing with a member of the A-team, you are.
I don’t care why they’re miserable and neither should you. They just are.
One of my favourite phrases is “Trust your Gut”. What that really means is to stand by your instinct.
Please don’t go about the place assuming that you’re dealing with a good person in difficult circumstances because you’re not.
You’re dealing with a member of the A-team.
They are not some poor, long-suffering martyr that’s trying to do the best they can for the kids; they’re a member of the A-team.
They are not some misunderstood hero figure that’s doing everything in their power to lead a team in difficult circumstances; they’re a member of the A-team.
Decent people behave like decent people all the time because that’s who they are.
If they don’t behave like a decent person it’s because they’re not one.
I have yet to meet a teacher that couldn’t recognise a member of the A-team on sight, but I’ve also met very few teachers that are prepared to behave as though what they’re dealing with is the reality.
I think it’s something to do with the naturally empathic nature of teachers, but in this situation that empathic nature is working against you, so do yourself a favour.
Accept the situation for what it is. What you’ve got in front of you is a member of the A-team.
If you’re in any doubt about that, ask yourself this simple question: “Would I treat my students the way this person treats me?” If the answer to that is “No”, you’re dealing with a member of the A-team.
Please trust your gut and accept reality.
Step 2: Protect yourself.
Once you’ve properly carried out Step 1, you’re going to need to protect yourself.
Because you’re about to change and all abusive personality types (including members of the A-team) hate it when people change because it threatens their sense of control.
You might not notice the small changes in how you behave once you’ve accepted reality but I guarantee the A-team member in question will because they are way more attuned to it than you are.
The very first thing they will do is try to push your boundaries.
They will want you “back in your box”.
Be prepared for the individual in question to cosy up to you / talk to others about you / increase your workload / pull you in for “chats” / “drop by” your classes etc, etc, etc…
You know the stuff.
The reason they do this is that they’re trying to figure out where the hell you’ve gone.
You’re not where they left you and now they feel threatened.
This is where the teachers’ best resource comes into play: other teachers.
I’m guessing that a large part of the reason you’re still teaching is because of your colleagues?
Now’s the time to start using that amazing resource to protect yourself.
Talk to your colleagues.
You don’t have to get all militant about it, just explain that you’ve had enough of being treated badly.
You wouldn’t do that to the kids, right?
Neither would your colleagues, and that’s where your common ground is. If the member of the A-team in question is treating you badly, I guarantee they’re doing that to your colleagues too.
Abusers operate in the shadows, and the more light you throw on their behaviours the happier and more secure you will become and the more afraid the abuser will become.
Oh, and if you haven’t already, join a union, preferably a big one like the NEA in the United States or the NEU in the United Kingdom (Formally the NUT) (or UCU if you’re in further or higher education) and explain your concerns to the branch representative in your place of employment.
Abusers think twice before going after someone in a union for reasons of their own petty rage because it almost always ends badly for them.
The bottom line with the need to protect yourself is that you will have just done exactly what the member of the A-team doesn’t want you to do: change.
At the heart of this article is the need to do something differently. Your A-team individual is not going to do that; you are, so be prepared, OK?
Step 3: Grey Rock.
There’s this amazing technique in dealing with members of the A-team that puts you back in control of your part of the conversation.
It comes from the literature on abusive relationships, but it applies to all interactions with people who behave in abusive ways.
It’s called Grey Rock because it involves giving as much emotional response as a rock.
Using it means responding neutrally, without emotion.
There’s plenty of stuff out there on the interwebs about it, and I can’t cover it all here, so please have a look at how Grey Rock can be successfully implemented.
(I’ve added a video below about the grey rock method).
At work, it’s pretty basic. Just let the member of the A-team do all the talking and then give responses that are neutral.
“OK”, “Uh-huh”, “Yup” and so on.
For sure you can commit to carrying out whatever it is they want you to do (even if you know it can’t be done), just don’t get drawn into a fight about it.
If the member of the A-team asks for your input, keep your responses short and factual, never emotional.
What you’re aiming for are responses that only deal with the facts at hand, not how you or they feel about them.
Abusers love drama, and they’ll try to create one whenever possible because it puts them in control. Your job by using Grey Rock is to retain your control and stay out of the drama.
Does it work?
In part, that’s because being a professional requires us to stick to the facts and avoid drama, right?
Moreover, it works because members of the A-team cloak their desire for drama in concerns about job performance or outcomes.
When we focus on the facts and not the drama, we remove their power.
They’ve still delivered the message, but they didn’t get their little jollies off in the process so they’ll move on to another target where they can do that.
I’ve witnessed this first-hand at my last place of employment. My members of the A-team were drama incarnate and when I went “Grey Rock” they started to avoid me. Not only that, they started to treat me with a damned sight more respect.
Because they didn’t “get” me anymore.
They couldn’t figure out my triggers or where to push to get a reaction because I’d taken them all away.
Grey Rock makes you the very thing that abusers hate most: someone they can’t control.
Step 4: Let it go.
If you’ve just been inspired to sing that famous line from “Frozen” here, please go right ahead. Sing it loud and sing it proud, because I really hope it’s going to become your new mantra.
You know that feeling when you’re anxious, stressed and depressed about, well, pretty much everything if you’re a teacher?
That’s happening because you haven’t let it go yet.
You’re heavily emotionally invested in whatever is occurring and what’s driving those feelings of anxiety is one of two things: Fear or Shame.
The Two Types of Anxiety.
If your anxiety is fear-driven, one or more of these will probably ring true for you:
Fear of failure; Fear of letting yourself down; Fear of letting down the students; Fear of loss of position; Fear of loss of resources.
If your anxiety is Shame driven, one or more of these will probably ring true for you:
Feelings of inadequacy; Feeling like a bad person; Feeling like a bad teacher; Feeling isolated; Feeling disliked or unloved.
Letting it go doesn’t mean you stop caring, quite the opposite in fact.
Letting go of Fear or Shame actually allows you to be better at what you’re doing because your judgement isn’t clouded by emotion, your energies can be better applied to the job at hand, you’ll recognise the good in what you’re doing more readily and you’ll start seeing the positives that surround you every day.
Members of the A-team actively want you to feel Fear and Shame.
I’m not kidding. It’s sick, and it’s tricky to believe, but it’s true.
These individuals feel that way all the time and if they can get you to feel that way, they actually feel better.
But that’s how abusive personality types operate. They project all their negative emotions onto those around them in an effort to stabilise themselves.
If they can’t achieve that with you, they’ll find someone else to do it to. It’s why Grey Rock works so well.
If you’re still having trouble believing me, ask yourself this question: “Do I feel this way around everyone I encounter or just this member of the A-team?”
If the answer to that is “No”, you’ve just identified the problem, and it’s not you.
This particular individual is doing their utmost to destabilise you and make you feel the Fear and Shame they feel all day, every day.
And, what’s worse, they’re doing it to make themselves feel better and they don’t give a damn about you.
So, how to be like Elsa and let it go?
The easiest and most effective way to do that is to recognise that your feelings are not coming from you.
They are coming from that member of the A-team.
Please stop believing that those feelings belong to you because they don’t.
They weren’t there before the member of the A-team got involved, they’re not there all the time and there are a ton of times you don’t feel them at all.
The way the member of the A-team is behaving is explicitly or implicitly projecting their bad stuff onto you.
If they want to feel Fear or Shame then fine, let them. But you don’t have to.
As with all things negative, the antidote is Self-Respect.
I don’t need to meet you to know you’re a great teacher and I say that with 100% conviction.
The reason is simple: you’ve taken the time to read this article, which means you care about your job.
Elsa looked pretty confident when she let it go, right? She started respecting herself and you deserve to do that too.
In practice, letting it go is actually pretty simple.
Whenever you feel those emotions of Fear or Shame after dealing with a member of the A-team, take a moment.
Actively say to yourself: “These are not my feelings. They belong to the A-team” and then let them go.
It may take a little practice, but you will get there and the more you do it, the better you’ll become at it.
When we let it go, we’re sending a clear message: Fear and Shame are your stuff, not mine. I respect myself, and I won’t own your negative emotions.
What we’re not doing is letting go of our passion for teaching and our commitment to being the best we can be.
In fact, we’re doing the opposite. We’re disowning the negative emotions that are getting in the way of achieving that.
So let it go please, people. Let it go.
So there we are; 4 steps to help you on your way to being a happier and healthier teacher for you, your team and your students this year.
Members of the A-team will always be there. We can’t change that, and we damn-sure-as-mustard can’t change them.
But we don’t have to play by their rules and we can change ourselves.
You deserve to be the happiest, healthiest and best version of you that it is possible to be and I wish you all the very best for an Acceptin’, Protectin’, Grey Rockin’ and Lettin’ it go 2020.
You can find my new book “The Vampire Hunter’s Field manual: A Survivors Guide to Narcissistic Abuse” here:
Here are some more articles you may find useful: