“If you don’t agree with the strategy, how would YOU do it ?”
I used to hear those words at work all the time. Aimed to make me feel like I had no knowledge when it came to organisational planning and strategy. It usually occurred after I had pointed out inconsistencies affecting the wellbeing of staff and kids. Often it was managers and higher ups trying to shut me down. It never worked, but it did succeed in making me feel stupid and worthless.
Unfortunately, the cumulative effect of the put downs I experienced as a wellbeing teacher were similar to those from my family growing up. At work I was labelled ‘maverick’; at home the family joke was I was a ‘stupid boy.’ Well, who got all the LOL’s?
Being bullied at work triggered memories of being bullied as a kid.
The best (read as ‘most traumatic’) example of this I can think of happened at a school that eventually lost all patience with me (a senior leader said, ‘don’t bother observing his lessons there’s nothing to see’). During a departmental restructure I told the headteacher and higher ups to observe good practice and let people continue to work within their expert fields. As a result, I was stripped of my own work specialism and heavied into moving back to an area I was not involved in for seventeen years. I became overwhelmed and as a result the wellbeing of the Wellbeing Coordinator (i.e me) hit the rails. One higher up said, “Well what did you expect?” as if by my offering any criticism I was not a ‘team player’ and therefore had brought about my own demise.
Maverick. It’s all I deserved.
She said those words in the middle of a crisis consultation I had asked for. It was to be the last conversation I had before asking my doctor to sign me off work with stress. The whole meeting triggered a flashback- a family argument from my teens.
The argument started when I called my mother a bully and ended up being given an open-palmed slap to the face by my stepfather. His prompt had been my shout of, ‘Go on then, slap me.’ This episode quickly became an anecdote for dinner guests, the latest ‘bon mot,’ about the hilarious antics of the ‘stupid boy’ who taunted the parent. What did I expect? The guests tended to laugh it up.
Stupid boy. It’s all I deserved. And I suppose the phrase “What did you expect?” felt just like my stepfather’s slap. Deep and utter humiliation and failure.
There is skill in being able to detect what demotivates staff and slows down productivity. That’s the truth of it. And there is a skill in recognising bullying behaviour when it occurs and calling it out. It does not deserve to an NDA as a response. It does not deserve violence as a response.
Looking at it from the school’s perspective – it’s easy to become domineering when we assume all knowledge about any situation. I have done that myself as well.
At the start of the pandemic, I was struck by the fact that there had already been two near viral misses in the UK pre COVID, and it felt inevitable to me that this disaster was going to take place at some point. I became smug and angry and heard myself say to a friend “Well, what did people expect?”. It was the words of that toxic higher up coming out of my own mouth. It pulled me up short. It made me consider my position and what I was saying.
Key lessons? Given that the pandemic is having a dramatic effect on all of our wellbeing, I thought it worth revisiting this topic to highlight the need for compassion.
When we work together to get tasks done, we need to frame our interactions with lovingkindness. We also need to work at a pace that is measured enough to allow for reflections and collaborative creativity. When we work too fast it elicits ‘fight, flight, freeze.’
I am not maverick; I am not a stupid boy. As a transformational coach I help others find their true calling and get in touch with their deepest core values. This helps them in turn enrich their own workplaces and enrich the lives of others around them.
I was made to do this.