Avoiding the Toll of Spite, Envy, and Jealousy on Professional Success (Weekly Prompt)

Insight into the personalities of those who see leadership as the domination of others through spiteful, manipulative and dishonest tactics allows us to continue to work hard with integrity and succeed. This ability is part of a reliable “emotional sense of direction.”

Warren Buffet has said that intelligence, energy and integrity are more important factors to one’s success than wealth, power or prestige. These are uplifting, beautiful sentiments; and yet, as our new year approaches we continue to be faced with examples on every front that tell us of attempts — many successful — to destroy the power and eliminate the voices of honorable, hard working people.

In my experience Buffet’s inspiring message is one we can incorporate into our “emotional sense of direction” by understanding key personality traits and how these traits are used destructively in both work and personal settings. Through this understanding we buffer ourselves and know how and where to turn if help and guidance are needed.

Spite, a malicious desire to humiliate and control another by inflicting harm and suffering, is the reason my client, Sally, contacted me. Sally had been hired as a writer in a large and successful public relations firm. However, the head of her department did everything she could to sabbatoge my client’s success. Brenda did not inform Sally of important meetings; she ridiculed her slightly Southern accent; she wrote cruel evaluations of her submitted work. In other words, all possible was done so that Sally would give up and quit, or be so overwhelmed by her treatment that she would make a huge error and be fired.

What was going on? To understand spite, it is necessary to understand envy and jealousy. Envy involves feelings and actions toward others motivated by their achievements and possessions. Jealousy involves destructive reactions toward others motivated by the quality of relationships they have been able to acquire or develop. Envy and jealousy are often confused with each other and can co-exist.

To compete for what we want is healthy. However, those whose competition is motivated primarily by jealousy and envy believe that spiteful, dishonest tactics are the way to win.

With maturity one competes with oneself — doing our best and wishing others who work hard and honorably well. However, those who believe that anyway they wish to act will be tolerated do not achieve this maturity. Insecure from within, and threatened by women and men with mature self-esteem, they act spitefully toward those not in their control and domination.

Through our work Sally was able to see that the head of her department was jealous and envious of what Sally had achieved in her life of hard, concentrated work. Further, she learned to take the cruel actions toward her seriously but not personally. In this way she maintained her focus and ability to treat all she came into contact with professionally. In a healthy work setting this determination will be rewarded. In time the leadership of Sally’s company saw precisely what was going on, and Sally’s department head was fired.

My client Evelyn felt as if she were hit by “an army of rocks” when her friend, Judy, turned on her cruelly during a holiday weekend shared by several couples. In her words, “Judy’s venom came out of the blue. After a couple of glasses of wine at dinner she tried to paint me as someone who had treated her unfairly. As she gave examples, amidst a temper tantrum, I did not know what to say or do. It was just horrible.”

A sad life reality is that as friendships seem to deepen, a reaction motivated by envy, jealousy, or their combination can flair. In processing her experience, Evelyn realized that Judy was displacing her deep well of insecurities on a well-meaning and caring friend. The more extensive this “unfinished emotional business,” the more impossible it is to address the issues. Evelyn knew that in this case there was only one choice — to let go of a doomed relationship.

Julie’s experience is a parallel to all of the pervasive accounts of sexual abuse in settings of prominence and power. But I assure you that this abuse can exist in all work settings and always has. Until recently, however, to dare to address it publicly would too often mean the end of one’s job, as well as poor references for another one. In Julie’s case, as in all cases, protection in a work setting depends on those who lead it. (If leadership is not respectful and protective of employees, consulting an experienced professional about direction choices and attitudes is key to an effective “emotional sense of direction.”)

Julie, who worked in a large professional firm, was consistetly harassed by Allan, a higher level colleague, with offers of advancement through sexual favors. During a closed door evening meeting in Allan’s office, he exposed himself and tried to draw her toward him. Julie ran from the room and in an appointment the following day told me about the voice of spiteful fury that followed her: “I will ruin you for this. Just wait and see how I will do it!”

Julie and I strategized. We realized that the head of Julie’s firm, who had hired her, would not tolerate this kind of behavior. The day after our appointment, Julie met with him and shared a list of the behaviors she had endured. In this case, as with Sally, the proper person was fired.