Sometimes, what’s obvious isn’t what’s causing the problem.
I remember once when there seemed to be a colleague hell-bent on my undoing. It was odd to me because until a certain point, I thought that we were good.
In fact, it was so disturbing because this colleague seemed to be going to great lengths to undermine me, but I would learn eventually that what was obvious wasn’t the full story.
Has this ever happened to you?
I’d venture to say it has, but in another context. What I’m describing was definitely orchestrated, but it wasn’t by the colleague. It was, however, instigated by her toxic boss.
There is a concept in neuroscience called inattentional/inattentive blindness, and it refers to how our brains can be fixated on one thing while many other things, even the unexpected, are going on around us. It has been known to cause car accidents and even plane crashes. In fact, magicians use this concept frequently—they hold our attention one place while the “magic” happens in another place, within our field of vision, but completely unnoticed—and it creates an illusion. Most of us miss it—and that’s why it seems so magical.
Toxic bosses aren’t magical, but can leverage the same concept to trap you or trip you up at work. You’re busy with your head down, grinding, task switching, and otherwise focused on your work. Someone throws a fast one at you, and you fail to see the giant gorilla pacing the floor.
Fortunately, as I continued to observe this colleague and understand what I knew to be true about his/her character, I realized that the real problem was that her boss had given her a directive to act the way she was with little to no context or even misinformation or disinformation.
How can you avoid these situations:
✅ Slow down. Look around and try not to fixate on the colleague. Ask yourself about the larger context. Who or what are the things that you can’t see that could be driving the issue?
✅ Keep the lines of communications open with your colleague. Sometimes they will tell you exactly why they are doing what they are doing, but sometimes we never think to talk to them.
✅ Think about the motives of the people who your colleague reports to. Sometimes, the bigger devil isn’t in front of you.
Eventually, this colleague and I restored our friendship, but it wasn’t without some very honest conversations and some clashes between the two of us and next, our bosses.
Have you ever fallen prey to a toxic boss’ slight of hand?
Read more about inattentive blindness in the workplace here.