The Pirate of Woe at Work

by Susie Amundson

The Victim will be sure to test your human wholeness in the workplace.

You know who they are. You’ve seen them coming down the hallway and you’ve dived into any empty doorway available – to avoid them.

You’ve seen them at the photocopy machine when you’ve needed to run something off. But instead you go back to your desk and find carbon paper. (Is that stuff still around?)

They end up on lunch break with you and you beeline for your car to eat that micro-sprout and cheese sandwich. Shivering in your down parka when it’s 5 below outside.

But then there’s the team meeting. Whether it’s a formal or informal one, it’s here where The Victim has you. You cannot dive any more. There’s no running away. Here’s where you sit (or stand) and take it. You’re the captive audience.

Incoming Stories of Woe

“Well I worked for 2 weeks on the unit design and then Brit just dissed it. She’s such an ogre.” “I get up early to work out, arrive at the office early, and you’d think someone would have the common courtesy to let me know that the coffee machine isn’t working.” “How do I know what to bring to the meeting when Lars doesn’t send out an agenda until the hour before?” “I can’t get that part of the curriculum completed when Kelsey doesn’t show up.”

It only takes about two stories from The Pirate of Woe and discomfort starts brewing within you. You may shift to demonstrate empathy and respect. But The Victim seems to want more. Justice? Protection? Nurturing? Your ear? It’s hard to know.

Note, We’re Not Getting Any Work Done

The workplace team struggles when this pirate holds it hostage with too much floor time. Work slogs down. Problem-solving plummets. Team discussions go wonky. Indecision can reign for what feels like decades. You get addicted to pain relievers.

On a side note, team members start isolating or colluding. Some get so frustrated with the lack of work getting done and the circuitous team-numbing process, they scramble to leave – physically or mentally. Others will toss verbal grenades, cop an attitude, or just simmer. And still others may try to take care of and protect this vulnerable team member.

It’s a wearisome, no-win situation.

Stop the Whinging

Whether you are in a leadership or co-worker position, you’ve got to take on the whinging and its owner that’s overshadowing the team’s performance, its efficacy, and its satisfaction.

Why? Re-read that last line. Because this is going to be the rationale and science used when you confront the team member who is usurping the team’s energy.

Little Things Transform A Team

  • Keep the goal of the team prevalent. If it’s to construct a marketing plan for a client, stay on task. If it’s to negotiate work tasks and assignments, be there. Get out of the weeds.
  • Use relational norms to keep the entire team focused. Terms of engagement to keep a team on point sound something like this:
    • All problems must be presented with a solution.
    • We respect each other’s time – begin and end meetings on time.
    • When anyone feels we are off-track, we will refer back to our agreed upon key performance indicators and our shared purpose.
    • We challenge ideas, not individuals.
    • No over-talking (aka interruptions) or under-talking (side conversations) allowed.
  • Make it everyone’s responsibility to move the team forward on its goals. No one person dominates. Not even the leader. Hold one another accountable to stay on topic.
  • Stop judging the team pirate. Each one of us has a little Victim in us, a part of us that doesn’t want to take responsibility for ourselves. There’s a little room for all of us to “grow up” at times.
  • Don’t take behaviors personally. This team pirate is not setting out to get you. She is just struggling to work through past injustices, destructive story lines, and feelings of powerlessness. Her behavior is just that – hers.
  • Should this pirate continually disrupt the team’s work and relationships, it’s the leader’s responsibility to step up. Yes, I know – you don’t like conflict. You’d rather have smooth relationships. But . . . this is your job. Take a breath. In a private one-to-one discussion, start slowly with an open-ended question and proceed: “What’s going on that you seem to be unhappy on this team? How are you contributing to your own displeasure? How can you take responsibility? How can I support you in this?” OK. This isn’t an easy conversation.
  • Later, the leader must get assertive if the whinging continues: “I hear you getting side tracked and blaming others for not getting your work done. When you push the responsibility onto others, it decreases the work performance and the spirit of the team – the team’s effectiveness. I’d like you to be cautious about your stories that blame others for your situation. Then, we can all work more cohesively and effectively together.”

Your Human Wholeness Buoys Even the Pirate

Remember too your human wholeness and connectedness are contagious. When you act from this integrated core place at work, your integrity, goodwill, and respect will flow onto others and positively influence them.

Spread it around fearlessly and wholeheartedly.

As always, may you be wise at work –- and in those other places of your life.

Susie