In 2007 I was hired on contract, by a very large search engine company. I was reluctant to take the job, as the interview process was incredibly hostile. The person who would be my manager, talked down to me and threw a few insults at me during my interview. This was the first time I would work with someone quite like him. Not being employed at the time, I was desperate and took the job.
My first week at this new job, this manager of mine, took me into an office to train me. Once I sat down, he began to scream at me. Pointing at my laptop he yelled, “WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF WE HAD A PRIORITY ZERO IN PRODUCTION?!”
As instructed I performed my duties under his screaming. He was yelling so much that his spit splashed all over my hands. At times he called me “slow” and even added an insult, “YOU COME TO OUR COMPANY WITH THESE SKILLS? YOU’RE LUCKY YOU HAVE A JOB RIGHT NOW.”
I felt ashamed. Defeated. Every day that manager screamed at me, or at my co-workers. He enjoyed making us feel small and worthless. Never before had I felt like a failure, but he brought those negative feelings out of me. It wasn’t personal, this manager treated us like crap and his boss treated him like crap. Our manager was once berated by his boss until he cried in front of his own team. The whole place was a nightmare.
Plan of Attack
The work environment there was terrible. Every day was a new exercise in psychological pain. My manager was constantly screaming at us… one of my co-workers confided in me that he planned to bring a gun to work and kill the manager, and then commit suicide. I had to report it, since it wasn’t said in jest. Every team was dysfunctional, shouting and screaming each other.
Rather than put up with it, I decided to manipulate the situation. At that time I was taught something interesting. I had learned a technique of dealing with difficult people. It was effective as it was simple.
Step 1: Know the Target
Finding a common reality was key. I needed to know all about this tyrant manager. Asking around I learned all sorts of things. He was a smoker, he had asthma, and he spent most of his time playing specific computer games.
Step 2: Build a Bridge
I had to connect myself to his reality. This affinity (for lack of a better word) between him and me would be the key to gaining control. I gathered some props to help with this.
Step 3: Run the Campaign
I needed to connect with the the manager. I knew he was a smoker, had asthma and he was a gamer.
Getting an asthma inhaler, and a pack of cigarettes, I put them on my desk in plain view, knowing how each morning he would scan my desk as he berated me.
He stormed in as normal, walked up to my desk and began shouting, “what’s the status with your project…” in mid sentence he stopped. He laughed, “dude! You have asthma? You smoke?! You shouldn’t do that,” he leaned in closer, “don’t worry, I’m a smoker too, and I have asthma!”
He was hooked. Now that he thought I mirrored his own nature, I worked his ego.
Step 4: Wearing the Mask
“The project… oh my god, I’m so stressed out I haven’t got the deliverables….,” I pretended to be under extreme stress. Just as I predicted, he jumped at the chance to help me… after all, helping me, was helping himself. I was allowing him to be the hero.
“Dude,” his town upbeat and positive, “relax. Come on man, let’s take a break and talk about it.” Take a break… he never allowed us to take breaks. I’ve seen him yell at people for eating lunch during a release.
We went outside, chatted, and he began to talk to me like a friend. I continued working his psychology. My contract was only for 3 months. The company had a policy to not extend contracts beyond 3-6 months. In the end I was extended 12 months. Not only was I able to manipulate my manager, but I also used a similar approach on his boss (the director of our department).
No longer were we at odds. No more yelling, screaming, belittling and no more insults. I was free, and when I wanted to leave I did. As it turned out, my work was so successful that this manager kept in touch with me for years after that job. I was present at his wedding, and even at the birthday parties of his kids.