Wednesday 08th July 04:01

"The Superman Solution"

MTL Newsletter: March 3rd 2013

Hi everyone,

Not so long ago, when we were running Assertiveness courses up and down the UK, one of our most frequent types of course participants were people who had suffered at the hands of aggressive, overbearing, and bullying managers and colleagues. These people had stories that used to make our hair stand on end. Often our training room and coffee breaks were close to tears as we heard how managers routinely selected the most vulnerable of their team to bully. More often than not, the people picked out did excellent work, often without any demand for recognition - people we like to call, "the quiet heroes". When we asked why they didn't just get up and leave, many were afraid they would not get another job, a belief encouraged by their abusive tormentors. The final humiliation for our trainees was that, when appraisal time came round, the manager would criticise these members of their team for being weak and send them to people like us for training in how to stand up for themselves!

The Superman Solution: Working for Difficult Bosses

I was reminded of these course friends this week when reading a new book by Oliver James, a psychologist and broadcaster in the UK. James's book is called "Office Politics" and in it he says that workplaces are riddled by 3 types of dysfunctional personalities:

1. the psychopath, who competes for domination and attention and has no worries about trampling over others

2. the Machiavellian, who likes nothing better than to plot and scheme

3. the narcissist, who puts themselves at the centre of the team and talks about nothing else but themselves.

James warns, "The likelihood of your daily working life being sacrificed by a person who is some mixture of psychopathic, Machiavellian, and narcissistic is high. If you do not develop the skills to deal with them, they will eat you for breakfast."

Developing the skills to survive in a culture that allows such people to thrive is no easy task. Assertiveness in all its shapes and forms is one way to respond and works for some people. Fighting back by outsmarting these people is another but not within everyone's capabilities. Finding someone in a position of influence and power who has the decency and willingness to help you overcome these people is another. But not until we became acquainted with Steve Chandler and Duane Black did we come across a solution that we now use on all our Assertiveness, Bullying, and Harassment courses. We call it "the Superman Solution."

The Superman Solution: Don't Fight Back, Just Deflect

Steve Chandler explains "the Superman Solution" by telling a story about how his little boy, Bobby, once asked him just before bedtime, "Dad, who would win a fight between Rambo and Superman?" Steve gave it a bit of thought and replied, "Superman". When Bobby wanted to know why, Steve explained that Rambo, for all his muscles and weapons, could be brought down by a bullet to the heart, whereas if someone fired a bullet at Superman, he'd just push it away with his hand and move on. He had the power to deflect rather than overcome.

When we repeat this story to trainees on our courses, we hope they see that no matter what kind of person they have to work with, -whether psychopath, Machiavellian, or narcissist, - their own inner strength is infinitely greater than their outer strength. They may not have the power that comes from winning at office politics nor a toxic personality to match but they have the same power as Superman and that is to deflect anything that comes their way that doesn't align with who they are. They don't ignore what others say or do. In fact, they are able to accept what is fired at them and deal with it calmly and dispassionately. But they can choose not to let it get into their heads, into their hearts and into their souls. The people in Oliver James' study are people who have outer power and the stress, insecurity, and vulnerability that go with it. But the people who are like Superman in Steve Chandler's story have a different kind of power, one that is about choice: the choice to let go, forgive and release. It's about surrounding yourself with a wall of possibility and deflecting what doesn't serve. And that is real power.


(c) MTL 2013