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Recognizing previous experiences with power thieves can prepare you to spot the next saboteur. Recall a time when you were attacked—either in a group or one-on-one, by a boss, a peer, a client, a competitor, or even by someone who reports to you—and you failed to stick up for yourself.
- Where did you let your guard down? How did you feel during and after the attack?
- What kept you from sticking up for yourself? Was it that you couldn't think of the right thing to say in that shocking moment? Were you afraid that fighting back would put you at risk for an escalated attack and further humiliation? Were you afraid your voice would shake because you were so angry, or that you'd tear up and look weak? Did you secretly feel that they attacker was right?
- How much ruminating did you do about what you could have said, what you should have said, the ramifications of not having done so, how others who witnessed the encounter had changed their opinions of you? Were you distracted that night at dinner, with your husband or kids, because you were absorbed in replaying the tape of the attack? Did you find it hard to fall asleep that night because you couldn't stop thinking about what had happened and also because being so pissed off—both at your attacker and at yourself—kept you awake?
- Did you spend precious time worrying about when and where and how the next sneak attack would be? Did you especially dread team meetings he or she would be attending because you feared that you'd again be knocked of guard and made to look powerless, weak, or stupid? Did you obsess about all the possible ways that your power position in your company—with your team, with your direct reports, with your boss, and across divisions—had been weakened? Not to mention your reputation in your industry at large?
Exercise: See Them Coming and Protect Yourself
Use the following exercise to power up by learning to spot power-draining people in their various incarnations:
The Heckler Underminer. Take a moment right now and think of your least favorite, most draining coworker—that person who can never restrain himself longer than five minutes into a team meeting before voicing a negative, sarcastic comment.
The Mind-Game Power Thief. Now think of someone in a senior role who loves to play mind games with you. She'll say, "Are you sure your going to hit your quarterly target? Are you sure? What if you overshot your projections?" But you know you're right—and you think she knows it too.
The Nasty Naysayer. Identify that division head—your peer in a different department of your company, with whom you and your teams must work in order to achieve larger objectives, including regular product roll-outs and promised client deliverables and deadlines. For example, you're senior V.P of sales and marketing, he's senior V.P. of engineering and new product development. He constantly yells in meetings, bullies you and everyone on your team: "That's an impossible client demand and a ridiculous strategy and timeline. What is this company paying you %$# people top dollar for? What do you do with your days—surf the Internet for new porn? As far as I can tell, you've accomplished absolutely nothing since our last joint team meeting. Is anyone in charge here?" It's not uncommon for your direct reports as well as his to end up in tears after reading an email from him or taking one of his barking phone calls. You don't cry—you're just outraged, yet uncertain of how to handle this volatile, close-minded person.
The I'm-Just-Concerned-About-You Naysayer. Think of a person in your life—be it a colleague, family member, or someone else outside of work—who always thinks they know, better than you do, what's best for you; that person who often questions the decisions you make and subtly tries to plant seeds of doubt in your mind about those choices. "Are you really sure this choice is in the best interest of your career, your family, not to mention your own well-being?" Or "Are you really sure you should accept that promotion? It's going to require you to travel 50% of the time. Aren't you concerned that all that time away from your husband will jeopardize your marriage?" Or "Are you certain want to take that job? It seems very risky—it's a start-up company—what if they go under?" Or "Are you really confident you have the capital to start your own business? What if there's another terrorist attack and the economy crashes again? How will you pay the bills?"
The Passive-Aggressive Power Detractor. Identify someone you work with, or someone in your personal life, whose style of being critical is to never explicitly say the words conveying that you'd made a misstep, but their tone signals shock or doubt and that maybe you should rethink your position. After you've told one of these folks a big goal you've just set, they say, "reALLy? By such-and-such date? Oh. Well, good luck. But I'm worried that you won't be able to make it on your own."