Guest Post: Civility in the Face of Bullying

The following is a guest post by Jay Remer, known across Canada as The Etiquette Guy.

Bullies seem to rule the world today. Thanks to the abuse of power that fuels their egos, society feels the heavy burden of injustice and discrimination on many levels. There is little or no time set aside for dialogue or discussion. Every day we see news headlines demonstrating this sorry and frightening state of affairs. The rhetoric of fear used by today’s leaders to gain and maintain control over their employees and constituents has led many of us to step out of the fray and become bystanders. This is exactly what helps perpetuate the culture of bullying that is so prevalent.

Now is the time to stand up to bullies and take action. If we put ourselves in other people’s shoes to understand what it feels like to work in an environment where the deck is stacked in favor of aggressiveness, to feel oppressed, and to carry these feelings back to our homes and families, we would understand why we become frozen and unable to know how to make things better.

I have written about The Golden Rule and Common Sense for many years. We are inching closer and closer towards an Emotion Revolution, when we will understand how feelings drive our behavior and injustice will no longer be tolerated. A time when we understand that diversity, inclusion, and equality are essential to living the fulfilling life we all deserve – as a right, not as a privilege.

The question arises – what steps can we take to make that change? How do we go about moving from the awkward and uncomfortable position of the bystander into the role of resister and activist? Naturally, most of us are reticent to take on such a mantel for fear that we will lose our job, our friends, and even our families.

These changes must begin at home where our support systems are usually the strongest. As we build foundations of trust within the family, we can continue them into our communities. At work, leaders must understand that their employees’ engagement and productivity is dependent upon the support they are provided.

High-stress jobs, such as the armed services (including the RCMP), health care, and education, require far more support than they presently receive. We have all heard the old argument: that people who enter these professions should know ahead of time that the jobs are high stress. This argument does not mean that appropriate support is not essential. 

No one is going to argue that first responders and others are very susceptible to PTSD. For those of you unfamiliar with living with this painful condition, I can assure you that the agony endured on a daily basis is at time unbearable, hence the hundreds of suicides victims commit annually. Psychological and physical support must be improved and increased significantly to realize any real improvement. The change needs to be systemic; the old band-aid approach no longer is sufficient.

Most of us have experienced or have friends who have experienced difficult situations at work. These difficulties can take on a whole range of manifestations, none of which are enviable. What we can do about these issues is found within the Six Pillars of Civility, a framework I have devised that incorporates the essential life principles needed to create and maintain a sustainable and healthy society and a psychologically safe and fair workplace.

Our elected officials and corporate leaders must take the lead and be held to the highest standards. Inclusivity should be the goal of any healthy organization, where diversity is valued and recognized as an engine for creativity and innovation and is an automatic part of any workplace.

I was criticized lately for a stance I took on the radio about equality. I stated that I was baffled by the need to have such discussions anymore. Not everyone agrees with me, nor does everyone believe equality is realistic or appropriate. Some early scientific studies suggest that men and women have clearly differing skill sets, thus justifying such companies as Google to hire a widely disproportionate number of men for programming and other high-tech jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The work currently being carried out at Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence provides quite a different and enlightened understanding of the subject. If we are to achieve cultural changes within organizations, we must treat everyone equally and with respect. Our communications must be honest and open. Remember the etiquette rule espoused by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where he advises us to never speak ill of someone not present to defend him or herself. 

Human beings have many more shared qualities than divergent ones. While both are essential, focusing solely on our differences allows us to fall into the trap of tossing out the baby with the bathwater. I suggest that we must refocus our attention on positive virtues, on encouraging others to achieve their best with the support required for the job at hand, and on insisting, either vocally or by the written word, that fairness must replace bias; that humility must replace bullying; and that honesty and civility must replace the distractions, diversions, and denials that allow bullies to run the show. The time to begin is now – first with us, then with our families, our community and our places of work. Imagine what a different world we would be leaving our children and grandchildren!

Illustration credit: Mike Shapiro/For Capital Business

The End of a Six-Year Vendetta

Over the last week, I have been inundated with questions about what motivated Barbara Coloroso to behave so recklessly and to put her reputation at such risk in our dispute.

For the past six years, I chose to take the high road in my dispute with Ms. Coloroso, despite her very public campaign to discredit me.  The question was why she went to the extremes that she did: committing perjury, cyberbullying, publicly calling me a liar, a thief and a cheat, and sending a mass e-mail to everyone on my mailing list, claiming that I fabricated research and falsified statistics.

I do not believe in coincidences.  In my book From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I advise people who think they are being targeted to "tie seemingly unrelated events, comments and situations together and they will usually add up to something.” Now that the legal disputes have been resolved to my satisfaction, I am now able to give my perspective on the reasons for Ms. Coloroso’s actions.

Between February 24, 2010 and July 30, 2011, Ms. Coloroso complimented me nine times on my work on our joint manuscript.  The last compliment was received two days before the expiry of our August 1, 2011 deadline to submit the completed manuscript to HarperCollins.

On July 4, 2011, I rejected what I believe to be a sexual overture made towards me by Ms. Coloroso.  She told me that she had seduced a gay Canadian Olympic athlete, after teaching him to kayak. Then she put her hand on my leg and said "I would love to convert you."  I tried to make light of the situation by gently removing her hand and telling her that I was not a convertible.

We met the next day with my assistant to finalize the manuscript. Ms. Coloroso was a bundle of nerves and we made little progress on the work. That day, July 5, 2011, is the last time that Ms. Coloroso and I have ever spoken in person or by phone, except for her calling me “you bastard” at my examination for discovery. 

On July 7, 2011, three days after the July 4 incident, Ms. Coloroso expressed concerns about my work for the first time.  Thus started her six-year campaign to destroy my reputation.

Coincidental?  I think not.”



Revolutionist of the Week: Frum Warns of the Possible Rise of an American Dictator

The world’s greatest democracy is in danger of ending not with a bang, but with a whimper, warns David Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic. His heart-clenching description of how the Trump administration might slowly and steadily destroy our form of government is sharply detailed in his Atlantic article, “How to Build and Autocracy.” In it, he writes:

“Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.”

I would like to call attention to the sort of autocrat Frum describes in his article. This is an absolute dictator and bully who will allow neither dissent nor disagreement. How many of us have worked for companies with a boss who fits this description? That is why people need reassurance that they can become activists for positive change, just as Frum describes and as discussed in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Frum is more than a fine writer who has sharply delineated the direction in which America might go if the people don’t rise up—he’s a political insider whose has allowed his beliefs to evolve and owned up to his own errors in judgment. This is why we are naming him as our Revolutionist of the Week.

Credit: CNN

What Depression Feels Like When it Doesn't Happen to You

By Catherine Faas

 Depression, anxiety, self-medication — these are things I know well. The conditions are not mine, but they are ever-present in my life. Whether you’re a child, a partner, a sibling, a parent, or a friend of someone struggling to cope with a mental illness, your life can be as upside down as theirs. At times, I’d argue it can feel worse.

When someone close to you is suffering, you feel it twice. The first time is through empathy. This is sometimes preceded by confusion, research, and diagnosis, if you were involved in that process. Your heart breaks for the person you love because you don’t want them to suffer. You try to be there, check in, dip your toes into the darkness as much as you can, or as much as they’ll allow. You read books, share links to helpful articles. You try to keep the household a calm space. You have a good talk, you help them pick up their prescriptions, you Google side-effects. You’re relieved you have an answer. You grab their hand, ready to take on this disease together.

 It hasn’t really hit you yet, I promise.

The second time you feel it is the last time you’ll feel it, and here’s the thing you’re not supposed to say and certainly no one wants to hear. It lasts forever. Some days you feel it like an itch or a paper cut, and other days it’s more like the weight of a truck pinned firmly against your chest. A weight that lays you on the cold bathroom tile at four in the morning because it’s the only time you can cry and scream into a towel without upsetting anyone.

That’s what no one tells you when you’re playing the supportive role. The doctor never turns to you and says, “Buckle up, because this is going to be extraordinarily hard for you, too.”

What is that weight exactly? It creeps up on you from a manageable place. You decide it’s not that big of a deal that they regularly fall asleep at 8 p.m. You tell yourself they don’t mean the awful things they say to you in fits of anger because they always apologize later. You make excuses for them when they break plans and promises. After all, they’re the one struggling. You say to yourself, this is the least you can do. This isn’t about you.

But it is about you. It has to be, or you’re not helping anyone. And those manageable issues can turn into an ugly manipulation if not kept in check.

Novice mental illness patient plus novice support system can equal a legitimate nightmare. Neither party knows what they’re doing. The patient cautiously tries to find a combination of treatments that work through trial and error. Sometimes they get frustrated and see how much they can get away with because it can be easier to self-medicate and give in to depression than to fight it. The supporter fumbles to navigate setting much-needed boundaries because this new world is full of different rules they don’t yet understand. And, oh, the guilt you encounter when sticking to those boundaries.

It’s a puzzle with no corner pieces to guide you. It’s a high-stakes, no harness tightrope walk you think you’ll never complete. And you’re so alone. Unlike other medical conditions, mental illness isn’t an issue many people feel comfortable rallying around (yet). Resources, especially for those without solid benefits? Limited. Shame, hurt, and fear? Unlimited.

Sometimes, in instances of self-medication, you uncover lies. You bear witness to hard falls from sobriety. The once solid parts of your relationship begin to deteriorate and are made worse by the smaller daily blows that can easily knock the wind out of you without a moment’s notice. There’s gaslighting. When things don’t add up, you’re told that you’re crazy for putting the pieces together. And what’s worse, you start to believe it.

(Pro tip: where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. Never, under any circumstances, lose the telephone line from your gut to your brain. The heart will try to snip the cord. You can’t allow it.)

If you get to that place, the disease becomes all-consuming. You are frozen in place, stung by pain and worry with no clear direction home. In the worst of times, I felt like I was free falling every day from the point I left them in the morning until I returned from the work day and they were home, if they came home. It wasn’t always pleasant, but it was one less uncertainty I had to endure after checking the car mileage, card transactions, and the house for evidence of lies.

Whether you’re bound to this person by marriage, familial ties, or friendship, it’s a desperate place to be. And it doesn’t matter which aspect of the situation is upsetting you the most. You will hit a breaking point, and it will collapse you. But after it collapses you, it can liberate you.

It took me years to get here. I’m fairly certain I did everything wrong along the way. I sometimes made things harder than they should have been. I was selfish when I didn’t have to be. I felt bad for myself for a long time, and I carried a sick anger for much longer. The situation broke me, but then I made a choice.

Through therapy, I learned I couldn’t control another human’s behavior. It’s a simple notion — a fact, really. But when you’re in the thick fog, it’s the furthest fact from your sightlines. I could only control me. I had to find a way to let go. I knew I couldn’t do it alone, so I enrolled in fitness classes, online courses, and made commitments I couldn’t break that would force me to focus my attention — and sometimes my body itself — away from problems at home.

All those healthy interactions, though uncomfortable at first, began to feel good in their distracting glory. In pouring myself into positive activities, I found a way to remember who I am, what I enjoy, and what I can do. I could be happy — a thought that hadn’t occurred to me in months.

Then, a wonderful, confusing thing happened. The more I made myself happy, the less patience I had for the things that didn’t. Conversations and behaviors I didn’t agree with at home were immediately, and politely, shut down. I couldn’t be shook because I stopped taking responsibility for anything that wasn’t of my direct doing. I stopped being a punching bag the minute I started hitting a real one. I found sure footing in my boundaries, the guilt subsided, and I liked the person looking back at me in the mirror. (This sounds so breezy, I assure you this process wasn’t.)

I loved them, but was unwilling to continue fighting if they were going to sit on the sidelines. I meant it. And several times I exercised that truth. I remember walking myself home from a party after being lied to. Old me would have stayed, choking back tears, because I was too afraid of what would happen to them if I left. New me stood my ground, walked out the door, and cried big, full beads that froze to my face the whole way home. I couldn’t tell if they were tears of sadness or pride, probably both. If they didn’t get home that night, it wouldn’t have been my fault. And I slept alone that night, but I slept soundly.

Day after day, I did more of the same. I slowly noticed them coming home when they said they’d be there. They began answering their phone and replying to texts within reasonable timeframes. They asked if I’d join them on a walk and held my hand. They rolled over one morning and hugged me without prompting and it felt as though I was weightless. They had returned to me slowly in these microscopic but massive strides.

They still falter, but it finally feels like we’re a team. It’s not always easy, but it’s a lot less hard today than it was last week, and the week before that — for them, and for me. We go full days now without feeling any darkness in the room. Each day without shadows is a victory we celebrate.

Once I saw it could still be what I hoped it would, I made the choice to stay. I’m so glad now that I hung on, though looking back I’m unsure how I made it through to the other side. I’m proud of him, proud of me, proud of us.

I sometimes still have my doubts. Nothing is for certain — least of all in life with mental illness.

CATHERINE FAAS is the social media lead and digital content producer for the National Hockey League Players Association

The Revolutionist of the Week: The Marchers

This week's Revolutionist of the Week goes to all of the people who participated in the Women's March.

In my new book, From Bully to Bull's Eye: Move Your Organization out of the Line of Fire (RCJ Press; January 10, 2017) I encourage employees who work in toxic environments to become activists to force cultural transformations, invoking the words of Mohandes K. Gandhi:

"It is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honor, his religion, his soul, and lay the foundation for that empire's fall or its regeneration."

The Women's March by all indicators was an incredible success in making people’s voices heard. From my perspective these events are just a beginning. Event organizers have indicated that they will be following up with other events and activities to become what in essence could be a powerful, and much needed, opposition as well as a check and balance to the new administration.

The current opposition parties and checks and balances are very fragile, and cannot be relied on to protect democracy and the hard-fought rights, privileges and core values that clearly are at risk. This void can be filled by the power of positive, effective protests and activism.

Here are my top tips for protest organizers and participants:

·       Be inclusive. What you are embarking on should not become a partisan undertaking. Given the diversity of the people involved, you should recognize that there is diversity in viewpoints and areas of concerns, and to shut these people out, will dilute your effectiveness. Also, realize that many Republicans share your frustrations and concerns; to become truly effective don’t limit your resistance to just the Democratic Party.

·       Define your purpose. Knowing what to fight and what not to fight is critical. Your purpose should be to protect democracy, rights, privileges and core values—not to mention keeping government honest and transparent.

·       Differentiate between dislikes and what is fundamentally wrong. There is no question that most people do not like the fact that Donald Trump is president. To try to unseat him because he is unpopular is not only futile, it is undemocratic. However, if Trump and/or his surrogates were complicit with the Russians in influencing the election, that would be considered fundamentally wrong—even treasonous. If this is not dealt with swiftly and according to the Constitution, then a demand to do so must be fought for with vigor. A recently launched twitter campaign to force Trump to deliver on his promises to release his tax information is an excellent example of positive and effective activism. Trump continues to ignore the demands of the people and give us the finger, as rationalized by senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, “He is not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care; they voted for him, and let me make this very clear: most Americans are very focused on what their tax returns will look like while President Trump is in office, not what his look like.”  Forcing Trump to release his returns should put to rest whether he misrepresented to the electorate and his financial relationships with other countries.

·       Challenge “alternative facts.”  This term was coined by Kelly Conway this weekend over the absurd debate about the size of the crowds at the inauguration. By whatever name a lie is a lie is a lie. Bullies are masters of manipulation, deception, deflection, deceit and denial. As an expert in adult bullying, there is no question in my mind that Trump is a bully. Every time he is exposed for using “alternative facts” inundate your members of Congress with calls, letters and social media to force them to hold Trump accountable for his lies.

·       Appreciate that “right makes might.” When you stake your position, make sure that right is on your side. There are many things that Trump will do that you may not like, but they may be things that he has every right to do. Yes, these can be challenged, but at the end of the day unpopular decisions are still his right. The most effective challenge is at the ballot box. Marshal your facts, consult with experts, and form alliances with like-minded groups to make real and lasting change—with right on your side.

·       Pick your battles—not everything is equal. Be viewed as enablers rather than restrainers. A key factor in what we are experiencing was caused by years of polarization and gridlock. Legislators of both parties became restrainers. Part of the reason Trump was elected was to break this gridlock. Adding more gridlock will make you part of the problem, not the solution.

Godspeed. You are on a critically important journey.

Credit: Chicago Tribune

Cabinet Nominees Need to Pass a Psychological Evaluation

During my years as a senior executive I found that one of the most important tools we had for hiring the right managers and avoiding bullies was a psychological assessment. The results spoke for themselves and most went on to be outstanding leaders. Should the top jobs in the United States government be held to no less a standard?

As excellent as some of the questions have been during the cabinet nominee confirmation hearings —kudos to Sen. Elizabeth Warren for being extremely well prepared—what is not being assessed is psychological and emotional stability. In my new book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire I have devoted an entire chapter to understanding a candidate’s emotional and psychological fitness. The congressional committees currently questioning Donald Trump’s nominees need this information in order to do their jobs properly.

What seems clear is that Trump is populating his cabinet with people who because of wealth or temperament are used to getting their own way and don’t factor in the information they need to make informed decisions. In this recent article in POLITICO, Trump’s biographers discussed how his competitive personality and fragile ego has created someone who prefers to pick fights and game the system for his own profit. The people he’s assembled (with perhaps the exception of Marine General James Mattis) seem to be cut from the same cloth. They are clearly lacking in inclusiveness, sensitivity and temperament. Sadly, the same can be said for the man who will be inaugurated tomorrow. His lack of psychological suitability is no surprise—The Atlantic wrote about it back in June—but a law requiring an assessment for these top jobs would go a long way to protecting the country, and the world, from unsuitable leaders. 

Credit: Washington Post

America’s Greatest Anti-Bullying Hero: Rep. John Lewis

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I’m honored to pay tribute to one of our greatest living revolutionists, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia as our Revolutionist of the Week. As you know, Lewis has been in the news because he declared Donald Trump’s campaign illegitimate due to the interference from Russia. Trump’s response was swift: in his now familiar bullying style, he tweeted that America’s most respected Civil Rights hero, the man who repeatedly put his body on the line in non-violent protest, was “all talk.”  

Trump is a textbook definition of a bully—attempting to deflect criticism instead of dealing with the real issues of foreign interference. The fact that he tried to turn Lewis into the villain is a perfect example of what I call “the bully’s trap” and the ultimate in a bully’s attempt at deflection. There’s a lot at stake here and I believe that Trump’s lashing out is indicative of someone who has something to hide. A person wrongly accused does everything he can to prove himself innocent—this has not been the case. We know quite a lot about John Lewis and his credibility. On the other hand, with every tweet and remark Trump loses credibility, often contradicting himself and his own remarks.

I was pleased and gratified to see that March, the 2013 graphic novel trilogy by Lewis with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell sold out over the weekend and became the bestselling books on Amazon—so much that all of the books are out of stock. It fills me with hope that Americans are following the example set by Lewis and his mentor, the great Dr. King. Both personify emotional intelligence; they are men who knew themselves and stood firm for their beliefs and values. They are the perfect role models for these times.

As Trump puts our democracy at risk, please consider their example. To quote Mohandas K. Gandhi, whose work inspired Dr. King, “It is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honor, his religion, his soul, and lay the foundation for that empire's fall or its regeneration.”

Credit: Public Domain

Thank you Rep. Lewis for showing us the way.

Predicting What Trump Will Do Next

We keep reading in the media about the utter unpredictability of Donald Trump, but I say this is nonsense. From my study of bullies and how bullying works, I know exactly what he’s going to do next. But first, let me give you some background.

Over the years I’ve become something of an expert on adult bullies—I was one early in my career until a wise supervisor set me straight, later on I sadly confess I was at times a bystander to bullying. I’ve been the victim of bullying so severe I was diagnosed with a form of PTSD, and today I’m an advocate for victims of bullying. I’ve dedicated my career to preventing and ending bullying in the workplace, which has inspired two books as well as my foundation’s current partnership with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and our joint Emotion Revolution in the Workplace initiative.

So I can reasonably declare that I’ve learned how bullies work. They are masters of manipulation, deflection, deception, deceit and denial and no one is better at bullying than Donald Trump. Bullies are particularly dangerous when their back is against the wall and the growing agitation about Trump’s connection with Russia is going to have his back against the bricks very soon. The onus is on Congress and the Republicans to force disclosure before the inauguration because it will be easier to prevent Trump from being inaugurated than to try to impeach him afterward. My prediction is if that happens he will do everything he can to maintain his power and control.  He will abuse the power of the presidency up to and including drastic things like martial law.

We only have one week to prevent this disastrous occurrence and I’m deeply concerned. I shared that concern in December when I wrote about my 97-year-old mother who was in the Dutch Resistance in World War II and whose greatest regret was that she didn’t do more to save the victims of the Nazis. That’s why I’m urging you to do what you can and inundate your representatives to demand full disclosure. Don’t let Trump and his people shut you down. Make your voice be heard before it’s too late. America’s future depends upon it.    


An End-of-Year, and Near End-of-Life, Message from My Mother

A recent visit with my 97-year-old mother brought home the sobering reality of the times we are living in. There’s nothing like the testimony of an eye witness to the Holocaust to make you really see the parallels of Nazi Europe with what is going on today in many parts of the world, which is why I wrote this piece, “What the Holocaust and Coming Out Taught Me About Hard Choices in 2016” that was published in the Forward. I’d be honored if you’d share it.

Photo: Courtesy of Willhelmina Faas. Willehelmina (on bicycle) with friend, taken in Holland c. World War II

Job Seekers: Check Out the Company While They Check You Out

I’ve read a few different articles lately about what people should look for in a new job, and I thought I would chime in. In much of the material I’ve been reading the emphasis seems to be on workplace culture, but only in a shallow sense: Does it seem like the sort of place you can see yourself? Do the people there seem like the kinds of people you would want to spend your days with? And so on. However, something that I really encourage anyone fresh to the job market to do is full due-diligence on whatever organization they’re thinking about joining.

In addition to checking up on the business online, either in the news or on sites like Glassdoor, feel out the contacts you have at the organization about how the culture really is. Instead of just speaking to your prospective new boss during the interview (which is still really important), try to get some time with the person you’re replacing at the organization. If you don’t have any existing contacts at the organization, ask if you can have some time with a few employees who will give you candid answers about how the organization runs. Don’t be afraid to ask what the turnover rate is, or what exit interviews for the company found as have employees left.

Additionally, be sure to ask about the performance management system in place at the organization, as that can give you a real clue as to what’s valued in practice at the business, in addition to helping you understand opportunities for advancement. I go into this in depth in From Bully to Bull’s-Eye  (RCJ Press; January 10, 2017), but I sincerely believe that our workforce has the tools to see a toxic workplace coming. Many of the people I’ve worked with in toxic work environments could have saved a lot of heartache if they understood that when you go in for a job interview, you need to evaluate the organization as much as they evaluate you.