Destructive reprimand is one of the most widely used practices and one of the most feared by people working in an organisation. We’ve already seen how some “real leaders” use it.
Why? For many different reasons.
The destructive reprimand is characterised by a few patterns, which are worth learning to recognise and analyse.
Let me recommend a little detachment: if you manage not to identify with the characters, you’ll find it easier to 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 anger characterises the destructive reprimand. 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 staff member’s behaviour inadequate.
- The pattern of interaction 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 staff member’s attempt to defend himself usually creates more tension; the boss raises his voice with no real intention to understand.
- Occasionally, anger may also grip the staff member. 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).
- The public represents 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?