Why Do Some People Badmouth?

Question:

There is a person at work who gets everyone to dislike the boss and/ or another employee who is the lead line person. It has been told that this troublemaker tells the supervisor & HR person about everything that happens in the plant. He is playing both sides. This person is very manipulative & has been doing this for years, but at the same time very good at it because he has almost everyone fooled. What makes a person want to disrupt at every chance? Is there some mental or psychological problem?

Signed,

Why Badmouth?


Answer:

Dear Why Badmouth?:

Yes, those, who continuously see the shortcomings of others and paint them as evil, have problems with their sense of self worth or they may be bored and find this as a way of arousing attention. Transactional psychologists have popularized this as I’m OK; You’re not OK behavior. Putting others down to feel better than or to get a leg up on them is another way to understand the manipulator. Such patterns can become a habit–seeing even the weather as too hot, too cold, too rainy, the world in general out to get you, your shoes pinch and throat is sore. For others, trouble making is political manipulation in search of securing one’s position or personal advantage.

In some cases, it is one way to get back at not being in charge–a desire to be independent, and that is good, just as it has been good for those counties under the tyrannical rule of colonial powers. In democracies, such a trait shows up positively in scrutiny of authority–a watchful eye prevents its misuse. Dislike of authority and criticism of those in power, however, when constant feeds alienation and hatred–what can be seen in too many talk-show personalities. Politicians who manipulate us by broad brushing evil motives on opponents and fostering fear and seeing terrorists around every corner also prevalently employ it.

In your workplace, this individual apparently is a gossip who gets attention by pointing to flaws both in those above and co-workers. Is there real harm in this? Does it foster a hostile work environment? Probably you can point to specific conflicts caused by this individual’s badmouthing and a general malaise. At the very least, your description says nothing happy and harmonious about your working climate.

Might there be a way to create a positive and transform a negative climate? What if a professional sports team had such a downer on the team–one who badmouthed the coach, manager, and kissed up to them by disparaging teammates? What could be done? Trade the guy or gal. Confront him by saying, “That’s not the way I see Jon or Jane. He/she does not come across that way to me. Let’s talk with him/her about what you say to see if we can straighten this out.”

Or a team coach in the locker room and workplace can lead frequent before and after skull sessions enjoining all members to address the questions: What have we been doing well? What do we need to work on? Are we working together as a team? Are we cheering each other on? Any ideas about how we can improve the quality of what we do to delight our fans and/or customers? Are we excited about what we are doing and having fun?

A focus on quality improvement and making teammate’s jobs easier can do much to transform hostile work environments, and maybe even help your badmouthing trouble-maker see things more positively.

Can you checkmate this individual and do what needs to be done to make constructive attitude the norm in your work group? That is the question that your e-mail raises. Thanks for sharing your frustration. Feel free to keep us posted on what you do–what works and what does not.

WEGO mindedness begins with asking what can I do and involves asking what can we do.

William Gorden