The destructive reprimand is one of the most widely used practices and one of the most feared by people working in an organization. We’ve already seen how some “real leaders” use it.
Why? For many different reasons.
The destructive reprimand is characterized by a few patterns, which are worth learning to recognize and analyzing.
Let me recommend a little detachment: if you manage not to identify with the characters, you’ll find it easier to avoid the emotional trap and you’ll better capture the structure of the communication.
The boss thinks he is in a position where he can mistreat his staff as he likes. Therefore, he feels free to humiliate individuals, both in private and in public.
The boss uses the destructive reprimand to reassert his role, boost his (public and private) ego and self-confidence, clearly demonstrating his power.
The destructive reprimand is characterized by the anger – whether latent or not – that assails the boss and manifests itself in the form of destructive energy.
Anger is triggered when something occurs that the boss doesn’t like or – more often – when the boss judges the subordinate’s behaviour inadequate: in other words, the cause is a mistake, or a slip-up, or whatever you want to call it.
The pattern of interaction between the boss and the subordinate who is the target of the destructive reprimand is well-defined: the boss attacks and the victim tends to reply by trying to justify his action, stand up to criticism and deflect the blame.
The subordinate’s attempt to defend himself usually only serves to create more tension: the boss raises his voice until he drowns out the subordinate’s, putting his case more insistently, with no real willingness to understand and discuss.
Occasionally, anger may also grip the subordinate. Reacting to the attack, he may lose control and move out of the attack-defence pattern, with consequences that are hard to control (resignation, threats, a fight, …). I’m sure I don’t need to tell you any stories here, we all know of such anecdotes, I imagine you’re no exception.
The public acts as a failsafe detonator. While a mistake could go virtually unnoticed in the boss’ office, in the spotlight of a meeting it becomes blindingly clear, and gives the boss a chance to unleash his narcissism.
One question arises spontaneously: is it possible to withstand a destructive reprimand without descending into open conflict?
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