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Insecurity breeds contempt

by Douglas E. Welch

May 7, 1999

If you haven't experienced what follows already, it is only a matter of time before you do. If we all lived and worked in a vacuum it might not occur but wherever people work together there will be conflict. While the severity of the conflict can vary there tends to be one main cause, insecurity. This can be insecurity about a boss, a co-worker or a job, but it leads to the same results, an uncomfortable workplace and sometimes-outright hostility.

Doing too good of a job

Several times in my career I have faced the dreaded, "you are making us look bad" from a co-worker. I freely admit that this has little to do with my "tremendous" work abilities and more to my upbringing. I grew up in rural Ohio where the work ethic is very strong. Almost any cliché you can come up with (honest days work for an honest days pay, etc.) would probably apply with equal authority. Unfortunately, the California work environment is a tad more laid back. This is not to say that it is a bad environment, just a different one. The problem is that someone, like myself, coming into that environment for the first time can generate a certain amount of animosity by being a little too eager to do a good job.

That said, the other part of the equation arises from the insecurity of the people around you. For a variety of reasons -- on-going layoffs, bad manager relations or personal insecurity about their abilities -- people will often lash out at those around them who seem, in any way, to be threatening their job and therefore their livelihood. In this way, one person's problems can effect an entire department or company. Of course the effect is magnified if the person is at a high level in the company.

You're after my job

An insecure person in a high-level management position can lead to disaster. In some extreme cases it can cause the loss of important talent, business opportunities and even the failure of the company.

Insecurity at high levels often manifests itself as capriciousness. Plans are made and cancelled on a whim. Employee input is ignored or assigned to some devious hidden agenda. To an employee it seems impossible to do their job since there is so little direction from above. Everyone walks around on eggshells unsure of what will draw the bosses' wrath next.

Often the manager's insecurity arises from the questioning of their own abilities. Perhaps they don't feel they are capable of doing the job. Perhaps they feel they are in danger of losing the job. They might feel they didn't deserve the job in the first place. In all of these cases, though, there is little an employee can do to change the circumstances.

The only way to cope with such a situation is to salve the manager's insecurity as much as possible. This often means diminishing your own accomplishments. The manager will not want to here how things might be better. They only want to hear how well things are going. They don't want to hear about your successes, only about their own. You may need to hide your own accomplishments instead of sharing them with your boss. To some people this can be intolerable and finding a new job or moving to a new position or department might be the only effective way out.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

Unfortunately for the insecure worker, their insecurity will quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They imagine that others sense their faults and they begin to react on these imagined attacks. They become difficult work for or with and people do begin to shun them more and more. Other employees purposely keep them out of the loop. They seek to diminish the damage that is caused by the insecure person. Eventually, the problems become obvious to upper management and the insecure person is fired or demoted. Of course, in their mind, this is only the end result of a long running series of attacks.

All of you will eventually come in contact with the type of person mentioned above. You will need to remember that attacks on your job performance (or over-performance) are more a reflection of their insecurity than any fault in you. It is always best to remember that doing a good job should never be cause for complaints. These complaints arise out of the other person's fear that they are not measuring up to some external, or more probably, internal gauges of success.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/

He can reached via email at douglas@welchwrite.com