38. When to Address Appearance + When the Boss’s Boss is Toxic

Episode 38: When to Address Appearance + When the Boss’s Boss is Toxic (Summary)

How do you react to others’ appearance in the workplace? How do your beliefs and perceptions about what’s professional influence your thoughts and actions? We’re getting into all of that, plus a listener’s question about the boss’s boss being toxic. Right now on Boss Better Now.

Links:
To learn more about Joe Mull, visit his website ​Joemull.com​.
To hear more from Joe Mull visit his YouTube channel​.
To learn how to invite Joe to speak at an event, visit ​Joemull.com/speaking​.
To check date availability or to get a quote for an event, email ​hello@joemull.com​.
To explore options for coaching from Alyssa Mullet, visit ​Joemull.com/coaching​.
For more information on the BossBetter Leadership Academy, visit Joemull.com/academy.
Email the show at bossbetternow@gmail.com.
To leave comments, ask questions, or to message us visit our Boss Better Now Podcast Facebook Page.
Connect with Joe on Instagram.
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Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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Transcript – Episode 38: When to Address Appearance + When the Boss’s Boss is Toxic

Joe:
How do you react to others’ appearance in the workplace? How do your beliefs and perceptions about what’s professional influence your thoughts and actions? We’re getting into all of that. Plus, a listener’s question about the boss’s boss being toxic, right now on Boss Better Now.

Alyssa:
You’re listening to Boss Better Now. Please welcome speaker, author, and flyer with a preference for the aisle seat, Joe Mull.

Joe:
It’s in case you have to pee. That’s right! We’re back at it again, BossHeroes here on the show that aspires to bring you advice, humor, and encouragement as you do the hard work of leading people and building teams. If you’ve been listening for a while and you enjoy the show, we’ll ask you to please send a link to other bosses in your world and encourage them to check it out as well. Who knows? You may introduce someone to their new favorite podcast, which, hey, every little bit of workplace street cred’ has got to help. Right? Please welcome my cohost, professional coach extraordinaire, Alyssa Mullet.

Alyssa:
You’re really… You’re really working that triangle for me.

Joe:
Triangle = Strength.

Alyssa:
That’s what I’m going to just keep telling myself. *ding*

Joe:
It’s probably not a forever thing. Like, I’m going to just to keep you on your toes. Maybe I’ll randomly drop a different shot of sound in there or something. I’ll be like ‘professional coach extraordinaire, Alyssa Mullet.’

Alyssa:
Oh, it feels like I’m falling flat on my face. Which is generally what I would be doing. Oh, well, you know, the whole aisle seat, I think I get it, but it’s been so darn-tootin’ long. I mean, years. Literal years.

Joe:
Oh!

Alyssa:
Since I have been on a plane that I would probably, once I got onto said aircraft, I would just not want to get up again. I would just find my seat and sit and could try to contain myself.

Joe:
Yeah. And it’s funny because if I’m… If I am… I fly a lot and have over the years. And so, because I’ve earned status on airlines, I get bumped up to first-class sometimes. And so, when that happens, I don’t have a preference cause both the seats are fine. Um, if I have a really tight connection, sometimes I like to be on the aisle cause every minute counts getting off the plane. But if I’m flying in, in coach where they shoehorn you in there, um, I always want the aisle seat because you know, if, if it’s tight, if there’s a bigger person sitting in that middle seat, um, you know, at least I can lean out into the aisle a little bit and get a little bit of space. Some of the smaller planes, if you’re on the window seat, that wall curves up over your, your head. And, uh, it can get a little cozy with the stranger and that’s not always my jam.

Alyssa:
Coziness.

Joe:
I’m big on personal space and no touching.

Alyssa:
Wow! See, you know, this brings up the topic that I, uh, brought for us to digest today.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
Which is personal space. We’re going to flow into what…looking into this professional mirror. Right? When I was in the corporate, uh, arena, um, I had this very specific idea of what professionalism looked like. I mean, it was a lot – a lot – to do with appearance. Number one, uh, you could be “acting professional”, quote-unquote, but if you didn’t look it to me that knocked you down a few pegs in my book.

Joe:
Ok.

Alyssa:
And so, as an HR person, I was constantly trying to evaluate whether or not my biases on what was ‘professional’ were impeding my ability to hire and/or lead effectively the right people.

Joe:
Right.

Alyssa:
Because I mean, I remember in that, not so unfortunate past, not so distant past, it’s unfortunate past, uh, I actually ended up, I hired this one woman who I later told, I almost didn’t hire you because you didn’t wear a jacket to the interview.

Joe:
Oh.

Alyssa:
And I think back on those kinds of things and think to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, look at all of the time I wasted. Look at all the talent that I potentially didn’t get to work with because I had this very specific image of what ‘professional’ was in my life.’ And I think that now is the prime time as we’re hitting reset, right, on a bunch of stuff for ourselves in the workplace to think about that concept of what is professional and does it fit anymore. Right?

Joe:
Right.

Alyssa:
There’s some level of, you know, civil decorum. Right? That we don’t walk around naked generally in our workplaces.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
But like I have my shoulders out today. Would that be acceptable in, in, in your workplace today? Would it not be acceptable? What if I had a tattoo, a visible tattoo? Would that be unprofessional?

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
So, when I think back to all of the tens of dress code policies that I helped, not only like write, but I like held people accountable to. I helped discipline people! Discipline! Professional people according to this policy because their hair was an unnatural color! Oh Lordy! I give myself the shivers and the headshakes at my own past behavior. So, I wonder what your thoughts are now. You know, you’re obviously you’re out on the planes, like actually looking at people.

Joe:
‘On the planes’. I’m not like out in large fields, not the plains, but I’m on the airplanes. Okay. Got it.

Alyssa:
You’re going to see the peoples is what my point was. And I wonder if you’re noticing any what, again, the perception might be that we’re eroding this ‘what is professional?’. When I now think maybe we ought to just blow the whole concept up. What say you?

Joe:
Well, maybe, maybe we have blown up the whole concept. Maybe the, um, the combination of work from home, the combination of virtual and remote work has relegated some of those issues into corners that we don’t have to pay attention to anymore. Certainly, the talent pool would influence it. Right?

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
If you need people, you’re probably going to be less picky about a purple streak in someone’s hair or a piercing or a tattoo. I mean, I’ve even noticed that right now in, in restaurants and retail. I went into a restaurant the other day and the young lady who was, uh, at the hostess stand, who was doing, who was the, uh, uh, what do they call it? Um, the seat, the seating, the greeter! That’s it! Let’s call it her, the greeter. She would, you know, take you to your table.

Alyssa:
The hostess?

Joe:
The host or… Well, ‘hostess’ is a gender term and I want to be careful not to use that. Right?

Alyssa:
You’re right.

Joe:
Um, and so, but she had, uh, a very pronounced nose piercing. Um, and I mean, very pronounced. I mean, I think I could have done pull-ups off of that thing. And I just remember thinking to myself, I wonder if the, our, our, um, tolerance for what is permitted or is, is relative to the talent pool and the availability of people right now. And, and, and like, I don’t care what she had in her nose. It doesn’t bother me in the least. But it was, it was hard to miss it. Right?

Alyssa:
Uh-huh.

Joe:
Um, that thing got to the restaurant a minute and a half before she did. And that’s how…that’s how big it was. But I think that if we are being honest, that there’s a correlation there, right? If I am in an industry that’s very competitive and people are trying to stand out and get hired, and it’s hard to get hired. Then the people doing the hiring get to be pickier about some of those things, don’t they? Right, wrong, or indifferent. Let’s at least acknowledge that that’s truth. You know?

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
And you used the word ‘bias’, which is absolutely part and parcel of this conversation because some folks are openly biased to ‘I want people who look like this, who dress like this, who don’t have piercings who don’t have tattoos who only have short hair’. But then are also more unconscious biases that we know are in place when it comes to hiring decisions relative to gender, relative to race, relative to age.

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
Perceptions around socioeconomic status, perceptions around education. All of these things factor in. Um, so I guess I have a couple of questions for you because you’re a convert, right? You just sort of acknowledged that ‘I had some pretty conservative or limited ways of thinking in terms of what was and wasn’t professional’ that now you can look back on and say, ‘oh boy, there’s a lot going on there that was working against me’. And, and you talked about biases. You said that you’ve been, you were thinking about ‘Am I falling victim to these biases?’ Were … are you aware, back then, that there were biases you had to be careful about, or have you only come to that later and with the opportunity to reflect on how you used to show up?

Alyssa:
Yeah, it’s definitely the latter in terms of, as I have learned more about myself, about, um, engendered terms about sexuality and fatphobia and all of the rest of the things. It’s only, now that I’m able to hopefully, consciously, start making better or more informed, um, conclusions about my, my past behaviors.

Joe:
Uh-huh.

Alyssa:
I mean…and to your point about the whole industry-specific thing – I worked, uh, for the first part of my, uh, decade of HR, um, experience, um, our, I spent a decade of HR experience in the hospitality industry.

Joe:
Right.

Alyssa:
Specifically, hotels. Right? And so, I mean, we used terms like, okay, well, are they front of the house or back of the house material?

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
And that was a covert term of they meet the face factor of…

Joe:
It’s coded language. Yeah.

Alyssa:
Yes! Of, you know, are they pretty enough to be front? Are they out…they front of the house material? And I mean, it makes me disgusted. But that’s, that’s the reality. I have to be disgusted at my former self…

Joe:
Ok.

Alyssa:
…so that I can do better now. Right?

Joe:
Ok.

Alyssa:
I think the, the, the thing that I am trying to go forth now with is in trying to receive… Okay? Or, uh, perceive other people’s judgment. Okay. Giving, giving judgment. I’m trying to consciously replace that with curiosity.

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
Like where does that come from? Right? Oh, I, you know, I, I have this thing of, ‘Okay, somebody arrives to a meeting virtually or whatever, disheveled or larger in their body shape than what I had pictured in my head’. Which is ridiculous, right? That I, I envisioned people a certain way. Where’s that…where’s that coming from? What…? Get curious about ‘Okay, well that…I have this kind of thought pattern that, you know, maybe it was from the TV I watched, maybe it was from the small town that I grew up in that if you weren’t manually working hard, physically working hard, then you were lazy.’.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
‘Therefore, only bigger people were lazy.’.

Joe:
Hmmm.

Alyssa:
‘Because if you were working hard, you were thinner.’ Which is completely inaccurate!

Joe:
Right.

Alyssa:
That’s not at all logistically how the human body works. So, it’s trying to unlearn some of those things, but get curious about myself. The other things that are building upon trying to get that education for myself and those perspectives, you know… I’ve talked to you before and I don’t know if I’ve converted you yet or not. Are you on Tiktok yet? Cause you gotta be on TikTok, man.

Joe:
No. I’m tapped out, Alyssa. I have no space for it in my life. And maybe I’ll get there eventually, but no, I’m not on there right now.

Alyssa:
I, you know, for all of those folks who are just like, oh, it’s a timewaster, you know. Yes, absolutely. It is. Abso-friggin’-lutely. But it is also a place where I have learned so much from people who do not look like me, who do not sound like me. And it is not this filtered, Instagrammed, social media person that you get. You get the real deal. There’s mental health talk there’s… But my point in bringing it up in this conversation was I heard the most poignant, but simplistic person…Saying from a person on Tik Tok and it went something like this. It’s uh, it’s the five-second rule. I’m calling it the TikTok five-second rule. If it concerns someone’s appearance, hair, clothing, et cetera and they can’t fix it in five seconds, like, you know, they got food in their teeth or their shirt’s tucked into their underwear, something like that, then you don’t freakin’ mention it. If it’s a person who shows up or is presenting as a male to you in your mind in what is your image of a male and they have fingernail polish on.

Joe:
Right.

Alyssa:
Get curious about what your reaction to that is. You’re not going to need to say anything about it because it’s not something they’re going to need to fix for you in the next five seconds.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
But rather an invitation to get curious about what that means to you and therefore going a little bit deeper about, does it need to mean anything to you other than opening up your perspectives and getting a lot more curious about those kinds of biases that you have consciously or unconsciously worked yourself into?

Joe:
I think social media and I think the internet age has helped us turn this big ship very slowly in a slightly different direction. This big ship that we call society because I think there continues to be a, a creeping, slow, agonizingly slow increase in our, for lack of a better word, tolerance and hopefully, better word, acceptance…

Alyssa:
Hmmm.

Joe:
…for people who don’t look like us or who don’t fit the mold of what we would call ‘professional’. Right? If, if 1999 Alyssa walked through the door and saw someone working at the front desk of a hotel with a piercing and tattoos, uh, who had, um, you know, streaks of color in their hair who was wearing an outfit that, oh gosh, heaven forbid didn’t have a jacket, um, I’d like to think that if 1999, Alyssa had been living in this world for a while, there’s a better chance that it wouldn’t register as strongly on her radar, because I think we’re getting to see more of that, uh, in the world, people who express themselves in their own ways. Uh, this is an interesting conversation because, um, I’m suddenly thinking about my daughter, Lily, who for a couple of years asked for a shaved haircut. And she’s 11 now and, uh, she saw one of her, um, softball teammates back when she played softball, got like a half shave on the side. And she thought it was the coolest thing ever. And she was like, I want that! And I was immediately like, ‘No, you’re seven.’ Um, and said no for two years, but she kept asking it. And then she got to be around nine. And I kind of had this moment where I was like, it is way more important for me, to me, that she love who she is and celebrate who she is and have confidence in it. Even if everybody else in the world tells her, uh, that’s dumb or stupid, or it doesn’t fit. I want her to have so much self-confidence that she’s going to, she’s going to be her, whoever that is.

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
And I need to allow her to bring that out. And so the next time she asked, I was like ‘Yep. And I’m really sorry that you had to fight so hard to get to a yes on that cause so let’s go do it.’ So, she’s had this kind of shaved undercut under her hair and not a lot of kids her age have it. She loves it, um, and I love that she loves it. And so, uh, you know, I’d like to think that we all go on our own journeys with that stuff. I think what’s even more important right now is that organizations are committed to having the kinds of conversations and training and ultimately policies that prevent the kinds of unconscious biases in hiring and selection decisions that do a lot of harm. Uh, and so I’m going to ask you that question next in a minute, uh, Alyssa, what are the steps we can take to create standards that are culturally competent to, to ensure that we don’t allow these unconscious biases to influence our hiring decisions and our performance management decisions? Uh, and before I, um, turn it over to you with that, I wanted to bring up something that I read about a couple of years ago that I, that very much applies here that I thought was fascinating. And that is that the changes that professional symphonies have made to how they audition. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about this. Um, there’s a lot of bias that goes into selecting professional musicians to work for professional symphonies. And as this was being studied and understood, we were seeing a lot of, uh, skewed decision-making. Um, and so a number of years ago, symphonies started, uh, testing a blind audition process where the people evaluating performances could only hear, but could not see the player. They would literally set up a black curtain onstage. You could not know the name of the person playing because you could get a bias from a name. You could not know the gender. You could not know the age. You could only evaluate their playing. The sound that they produced from behind the curtain. And there was a pretty startling response to a pretty startling result that came of that, uh, which was that suddenly more women, more people of different ages and different backgrounds were being selected for roles that were traditionally, uh, not accessible to them.

Alyssa:
Hmmm.

Joe:
Because of the skewed biases that were operating in the minds of the people evaluating it based on gender, based on age, based on race, et cetera. Um, there, there are a lot of lessons in that for the rest of us. Um, so with that, how do we fix this? And then we’re going to talk about what do you say when you need to address someone’s appearance?

Alyssa:
Yeah. So, I think for me, uh, nothing short of, if you have a dress code policy in the workplace, you gotta blow that damn thing up. Truly, as an HR person, as a leader, you, you, you need to be going through it because professional… Professional, isn’t a state of your body. It isn’t a state of your appearance. It is a state of mind. Certainly, for some people, what you wear, the jacket, the power suit, the, you know, whatever makes them get into that state of mind or helps them to achieve that state of mind for themselves. But that is not everyone. That’s not what makes everyone their best possible self in the workplace. So, for me, it’s like going back to square one. Is it a matter of safety? Okay, can I not have my arms out because I might get an armpit hair in the food? Like, okay, that’s a safety thing. A health and safety…

Joe:
Thanks for that, by the way. Yum!

Alyssa:
I hope nobody’s listening over their lunch! But you know, these things, like we see it in the schools, right? Where the girls, you know, the schools that had these dress code policies, where the girls were not allowed to wear tank tops, because it was quote distracting for the boys. These kinds of sexualizing of, uh, dress codes, whether, you know, it’s male, female, whatever engendering it, period, it’s got to go. I, to me, nothing short of blowing it all the heck away and starting from: what is the bare minimum that we need to…

Joe:
Right.

Alyssa:
…How we need to appear in order to be safe and healthy in the workplace. That is it. And even healthy is a, is a broad term because, and it has plenty of encumbered biases in that term. So maybe just safety. Period. *ping* That’s it.

Joe:
Yep. You know, because we have folks out there right now, we have bosses listening to this right now who are being asked to enforce dress codes that create, um, issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
And they’re creating barriers and obstacles to creating more equitable and inclusive workplaces just by the very conversations that those bosses are having to have with their direct reports. I think that it can be really difficult if you’re a supervisor who sees this and knows, I’ve got to go have this uncomfortable conversation with this person about our dress code policy that was written in 1954.

Alyssa:
Right.

Joe:
Um, and that we need to be re-evaluating. Uh, the other thing that popped into my head is a couple of years ago, during a workshop that I was doing, I asked participants if… We were doing a feedback training… If anyone had had to have a conversation with a direct report about inappropriate dress, and one woman said yes. And when I asked her to tell us about it, she said that she had an employee. She said, ‘I told her she was very well endowed and that I wanted to make sure that when she was with the doctor, he was looking at the patient and not her’ and kind of the room froze.

Alyssa:
Oh!

Joe:
And I said, ‘so what happened next?’ And she said, ‘well, eventually I had to write her up.’ And we ended up having this interesting conversation where I told her, I said, ‘do you recognize that you implied that the doctor can’t control himself? And that, that was the responsibility of that woman to cover herself. You know, that, that this behavior of the doctor wasn’t the problem. It was what she was wearing. Um, and I actually felt badly because she was really shaken by that. She came up to me later and said, um, ‘I would never, never mean to imply that, um, and was so worried that she had, um, acted inappropriately with the doctor.’ She wasn’t at all concerned that she had insulted the woman. That wasn’t even on her radar. It was just that I would never ever mean to imply that about the doctor. You know, we, she had this gentleman up on a pedestal. And so, these are the unconscious biases and the, the, the, the gendered-ness that flows into the conversations we have about dress and professional appearance and the etiquette around those things. And so, let’s, let’s do this Alyssa, cause I think this is really important. Um, when you have to have a conversation with someone about their appearance, what do we want to be careful to make sure that we do and don’t do.

Alyssa:
I think I’m going to go back to my very simplistic, uh, answers, which are number one, uh, blow up your dress code policy. Number two, if you think you need to have that conversation, ask yourself the TikTok five-second rule.

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
Is it something that they can fix in five seconds? Or is it something that is about their well-endowment or something that is part of their body that they cannot fix in five seconds?

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
And then if you, if they can’t fix it in five seconds, then you probably don’t need to be having that conversation. You got to really look in that professional mirror and sometimes like you had to show that woman, she can ram herself into it and still not see what she’s missing.

Joe:
Right. And safety, which I think was another great point.

Alyssa:
Right.

Joe:
Which is if we are having a conversation about a change that needs to be made, is it rooted in safety?

Alyssa:
Right.

Joe:
Uh, is it, and is it rooted in quality control? Right. Uh, hair in the food is a great example. Sometimes we have to have hairnets. So, we have to tear…to tie our hair back because of quality control.

Alyssa:
Right.

Joe:
Um, those are, are legitimate steps to take around creating policies and procedures around things people have to wear or their appearance. Um, but beyond that, um, when we get into these subjective areas of what is considered…if we would place the word ‘professional’ with ‘classy’, if we treat them as a synonym, right? If every time you have to sit across from someone and say, ‘I want to talk about our professional dress policy’, and you replace it and say our classy dress policy. Then every time we have somebody who’s not conforming to this, are we willing to sit across from them and saying, you are not classy.

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
We, that your appearance is second classy.

Alyssa:
Oh! That’s good. I like it. That’s uncomfortable.

Joe:
Right! You know, so, so anything that you commit to policy, boy, it better really be important. And you better be willing to potentially sacrifice talent and, in some cases, you may be creating a workplace that isn’t equitable by writing that down on that paper. So, we got to, we got to really evaluate whether those things belong.

Alyssa:
Look in that mirror.

Joe:
Well, this is something I’d love to hear from our listeners about. Where, where are you on the idea of professional dress and appearance? What do you say to a dress appearance? Uh, how do you navigate, uh, a time and a place where we need to be aware of these unconscious biases and more culturally competent, um, where we need to be aware of ageism and sexism and all of the forces at work, uh, that allow people to be who they are? Uh, how are you navigating that? We’d love to hear from you. Email the show at bossbetternow@gmail.com or if you’re watching a video online, you can drop a comment in the box below. Thanks for bringing that topic to us, Alyssa. That was a neat conversation. Neat. Oh, I can do better than that. Um, that was a complex, rich, conversation that, um, we certainly didn’t capture the full scope of, and that we — I’m certain, we might revisit.

Alyssa:
Thank you. My pleasure.

Joe:
Well, that music, which doesn’t fit what we just talked about at all, is your cue for everybody’s favorite segment: The Camaraderie Question of the Week. Bosses build camaraderie on teams by making it easier for people to find things in common with each other. That’s why here on the Boss Better Now podcast, we bring you a question on every episode that you can use at meetings to facilitate connection and build camaraderie. When we help people find things in common with each other at work that don’t have anything to do with work, our teams perform at higher levels. It’s science. So, here’s our question, Alyssa: what is the best compliment you’ve ever received and why?

Alyssa:
Oh my gosh. Um, well, you know, I saw her from recency.

Joe:
We all do. It’s science.

Alyssa:
I mean, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve been the recipient of, of lots of, you know, nice professional kudos and all of that thing. There’s that term again, professional.

Joe:
Classy.

Alyssa:
But the things that really like means something to me in my heart, um, I have had, um, several, um, clients, uh, in my coaching clients that is, who after going through, um, my living priority life, um, process and truly articulating their values and their authentic selves, um, have come back to me, you know, and either through like, you know, saying, oh, this was what happened today, you know, or blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Um, sometime in the, in the, um, after they’re done with coaching and, and saying, and then I got the biggest gift that you have that I’ve ever gotten in my life, which was for them to say, and then I remembered who I was and how I operate at my most authentic self. And you taught me that.

Joe:
Oooo!

Alyssa:
So being able to hear people, not that what I would say, not what I would do, but rather what they… I help them know what they wanted to do, what they knew they needed to do to be their most authentic self. That is like the highest level of compliment that I think I will ever be the recipient of.

Joe:
Well, then I’ve got one more perfect sound effect. When we talk about Alyssa Mullet, professional coach, extraordinaire. *Sounds of clapping* Drop that little applause sound effect. That’s amazing. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of those I get like, what would Joe do? We, our staff talks a lot about, we see your training and your program and whatnot. And we always say, you know, what would Joe say, or what would Joe do? And so, I’ve, I’ve been on the other side of that. That’s, that’s pretty great. But the fact that they’re saying, what would I do because you’ve worked them through that internal process. That’s even more powerful.

Alyssa:
Yeah. So, what about you? I mean, you, I get to be like the…through like the…like in the periphery of sometimes watching people, you know, in real-time digest your content, your wisdom, your knowledge, that you’re imparting upon them. And then they get to like, give that compliment back to you and I get to just bask in it, but tell me what’s most meaningful for you.

Joe:
It’s funny, I’ve found this question it’s in, in a podcast interview set of questions and I thought, oh, that’s a really neat question. I want to use that as a Camaraderie Question of the Week, but I, I didn’t immediately have my answer. And, and a few minutes later it popped back into my head. So, there’s a little backstory here. Um, I was presenting at a large healthcare conference in California a couple of years ago. And as a lot of the listeners know, I love social science research and helping understand what makes us tick and bringing that into the different kinds of training that I do and trying to translate what can be some complicated research ideas, uh, into simplified, usable ways to apply them in our daily life. Um, and there, there was a book written a couple of years ago by a gentleman named Daniel Kahneman. And the book is called Thinking Fast and Slow. And it’s an absolute manifesto on understanding the shortcuts, our brains take around, um, processing emotions and reacting to people and how we assess risk. And when you read this book, you cannot help, but think you are reading about one of the smartest human beings on the face of the earth. And so, I’ve consumed a lot of Mr. Kahneman’s, uh, material over the years. Uh, he also spent a lot of years working with another researcher named Amos Tversky. And so, Daniel and Amos were kind of research partners forever. Um, uh, Michael Lewis wrote an incredible book called The Undoing Project about these two gentlemen, by the way, if you’re looking for a great read, it’s not like a science-y read, it’s a really compelling story about these two, their friendship and their work, and all of the odds that they overcame to really create the field of behavioral economics.

Alyssa:
Hmmm.

Joe:
Um, so check that out. If you’re looking for a really good book to read. Um, anyway, so I, I use a lot of their research in some of my training. I was doing this program in California and at the end of the program, there were a couple of people waiting in line to chat with me. And the very last person in line, uh, was a woman in her forties. And she came up to me and she said, ‘you’re not going to believe this’. She said, ‘but I know that the theories you shared with us today are based on the research of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.’ And I went, ‘yes! How did you know that?’ And she said, ‘I used to be a graduate assistant researcher for Amos.’ She said, ‘I worked with him for a couple of years, and I wanted to stand here and tell you, Joe, that I have never seen anyone take these complicated theories of social science research and explain them in such a way that was usable to an audience, and to do it so smoothly and quickly. I just had to tell you that.’ And I was speechless. I was absolutely knocked out that someone would say such a generous, kind thing to me. I’ve never forgotten it. Um, it was one of those things where it was like, okay, I haven’t, maybe I do have a knack for this. And how, how amazing that my world could intersect with their world in this very sort of not direct but direct way. Um, and so that story, that moment popped into my head. When I saw this question, what’s the best compliment you ever received and why? And I thought of her.

Alyssa:
Oh my gosh. I got all the feels, I got the chills and all of it. And then you say, and it was it, you know, maybe I do have a knack for this. Uh, yeah, I think you got a knack for it.

Joe:
Thanks, friend. So that is the Camaraderie Question of the Week.

Joe:
Okay, BossHeroes, what’s your favorite boss book? What book do you passionately encourage other leaders to pick up and read from, start to finish? We really want you to tell us about it. And if you do, you can get some sweet BossHero swag. So, here’s what you do. Record a short clip using the voice recorder on your smartphone, where you tell us your name, your favorite book, who wrote it, and why you like it. Keep that clip under 60 seconds and email it to us at bossbetternow@gmail.com, along with your mailing address. And if we play it on a future show, we’re going to send you some fabulous podcast merch. Merch is like what the kids say when they talk about merchandise.

Alyssa:
It’s the slang. The hip slang.

Joe:
It’s the slang. All right, Alyssa, we’re going to wrap up today with a question that I got from a listener. And it turns out that the question that was asked and this person asked that I don’t even say her name. So, I’m not even going to say a name. She just said, can you ask this question anonymously from a fan of the show? And I think you’ll understand why for, uh, in, in just a moment. Uh, but this question is also one of the questions I get asked the most after keynotes. Probably every third keynote, somebody waits in line to ask me this question, which is this: What if the toxic person, what if the weed in my garden that needs to be pulled is my boss. I’m a, I’m a manager, I’m a supervisor I’m standing between my team and this abrasive person, or this toxic person, the problems stem from, flow from the boss’s boss. Then what do you do? And so, um, I wanted us to chat about this for just a few minutes. As we wrap up this week’s episode. Where do you want to start? When the boss’s boss is the problem.

Alyssa:
I’m trying to regulate myself…

Joe:
Right.

Alyssa:
…from going back into regressed mental behavior, because it brings up so much of my past.

Joe:
Yes. Yes.

Alyssa:
I totally feel this with every fiber of my being. And I don’t know if I have an answer because what worked for me is not necessarily what would work for others. Number one, I think, um, knowing your boundaries, knowing who you are, right? And, um, recognizing, allowing yourself to acknowledge how much that other person affects you. You can build all of the, you can do all of the good work. You can be the best filter of all of that nonsense toxicity up here and not let it get to your team, but it’s going somewhere. And most likely you’re absorbing it in one way or another. And the ability to be self-aware enough to know when you have reached your limit and what you can do about it. For me, um, I had to leave the workplace.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
I had to leave that workplace because there wasn’t a way that I could talk up the chain about it. No, it was not going to change. Um, and that doesn’t mean I didn’t try in one form or fashion or another, but there was a point where I reached that it was not going to be worth any more of my own mental health to continue to fight that battle.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
Um, the other thing that I can say, so building self-awareness for yourself about that, the second thing is start surrounding yourself with peers on your level of the professional atmosphere that you’re in, um, that are not in that direct report scheme so that you can understand more and get another perspective. Is, is this isolated within my area of the organization, or is this a pervasive kind of cultural thing with the layer up above me in the hierarchy, right?

Joe:
Your answer and the nuances of it very much align with some of how, how I have answered this question these last few years. And so I’m going to tell you and our BossHero listeners, how I answered this question when somebody comes up to me after a keynote, and that’s kind of why I put it at the end of a show because this is a topic certainly that we could get into for 35, 45, 50 minutes, but let’s just take, take five or 10, because sometimes we need to be able to, to answer this question succinctly and be crystal clear about what our options are. Um, I also want to say that my answer to this question has been heavily shaped by what I’ve learned from a friend and colleague, a woman named Bonnie Artman Fox who specializes in abrasive leadership and teaching about it, speaking about it, writing about it. Uh, she’s a licensed marriage and family therapist, um, and you know, we’ll link to Bonnie’s site and, um, her online presence in the transcript for the show here, because certainly, it’s worth checking out more of what she has written about. Um, but here’s what I’ve learned from her. And here’s ultimately what I say when I get asked this question. The first thing I tell people is: Know, without a doubt, that it is not your job or responsibility to fix an abrasive boss. That’s the company’s obligation. That has needs to come from top-down. You can’t fix that. It’s not your responsibility. Your ability to influence another person’s behavior in this way? Extremely limited. So don’t take ownership of that. It’s not a failure of your leadership of your team if you can’t fix the person above you and prevent their harmful behavior from trickling down and harming your team. Don’t, don’t take that on. The second thing I tell people is that what I’ve learned from Bonnie is that often toxic leaders, abrasive leaders, have little or no awareness about the impact of their behaviors. Which seems absurd, doesn’t it? But this is something that we’ve seen over and over again in social science research. Um, there are a number of reasons they could be acting that way. Maybe it’s conditioning, maybe it’s upbringing, maybe it’s neuroses, who knows. Um, but in a lot of ways, they are unaware. And so really there are a handful of options that people have, and they’re all related to the level of risk that someone is willing to take. Um, many of your options start with a conversation. What that conversation sounds like and who it’s with are going to be influenced by your level of risk tolerance. You know, one is a direct confrontation where you sit across from this person and you say, you’re in your behavior is impacting me in these ways. Um, maybe that conversation needs to be neutral and calm, dependent, depending on your tenure and the leverage that you have. Um, I have seen leaders who have worked with an abrasive boss for decades who have gotten to a place where they can sit across from that person and say, let me tell you what is going to never happen again. And it can be a much more direct conversation, again, based on your risk tolerance. Um, if we’re not going to confront the behavior, then sometimes we have to try to work around it. Um, and so that’s an option wherein the face of abrasive behavior, we work to just remind that person that we’re an ally, that we want the same things that we’re on their side. Um, and I’m going to try to continue to support you in this way. You’re basically rolling away from their resistance and working to try to survive in those kinds of conversations. Um, another kind of action is, is a complaint. We can register a complaint with somebody higher up on the org chart. Um, obviously there’s risk here in a variety of ways. Uh, and our tolerance for that risk may not be at a place and so sometimes we see organizations who have anonymous ways to submit those complaints. Sometimes we have to go right into an HR professional’s office. Sometimes we have to go to the boss’s boss’s boss, uh, with documentation. Um, there are a lot of different ways to have that, to, to choose that path. That again are going to be shaped by your risk tolerance. Uh, and then you hit the fourth one, Alyssa, which is you leave. You say, ‘Hey, this is not going to change. Um, I am not going to be able to fix this person. I am not going to be able to continue supporting the people that report to me. The only thing that happens if I continue to suffer at the hands of this abrasive leader, is that I will suffer.’.

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
And one of the consequences of continuing to employ toxic leaders is that we lose talent and people leave. Uh, if you decide to leave, if you have taken some steps to try to, to remedy the problem. And if you’ve given that person feedback and you leave, you have done everything you could to try to survive that circumstance. Um, I would love to suggest that if you leave and that person is the reason why that you make somebody there aware of that, which I think is an act of empathy for the people that are being left behind. But I also know that’s not always possible, um, for a variety of reasons. So, um, that, that’s what I counsel folks around that it’s not their fault, that how they intervene is really going to be tied to their risk tolerance. And it’s really either going to involve a conversation with the abrasive person or with somebody else who can help. And if none of that works, it might be time to leave.

Alyssa:
Yeah, those are all very solid action points. And I just, all I can say is I feel you. I feel you, whoever you are out there. I feel ya.

Joe:
Well, and let’s just end with encouragement for those folks today. Um, we know there are folks listening right now who are in situations where they are suffering at the hands of an abrasive leader. And, uh, maybe you’ve resigned yourself to it. Maybe you feel like that you can’t escape. Um, that’s not true. Uh, know that you are worthy of being treated with dignity and respect every single day. Um, that nobody has a right to, uh, take away your dignity. Nobody has a right to treat you with anything other than a high level of professionalism, courtesy, and respect. Uh, and believe me, when I tell you, there are a lot of places out there right now who would welcome and value your talents, experience, and efforts in the workplace, and that you don’t have to stay and suffer at the hands of an abrasive leader.

Joe:
That’s our show for this week, friends. We hope if you like our show, you’ll subscribe and tell others. If you see us posting clips online, then we always appreciate when you click that share button. And when you leave comments, I’m not sure if you know this, but the microscopic monkeys that live inside the Google and that make the internet work though, they get so excited when they see shares and comments and they move our show up in the rankings. So, in the meantime, thanks for being with us. Thanks for all that you do to take care of so many.

Alyssa:
This show is sponsored by Joe Mull and Associates. Remember, commitment comes from better bosses. Visit JoeMull.com today.

Joe (Ad):
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