Are you feeling confused about where you stand with a female colleague?
Then you could be experiencing ‘The Hug Slap’.
‘The Hug Slap’ is all about inconsistency: sometimes you’re ‘in’ (Hug) and sometimes you’re ‘out’ (Slap) but you’ve no clue why or when it may change. This behaviour is a close cousin of ‘The Cold Shoulder’ discussed in one of my earlier posts. The difference is that ‘The Cold Shoulder’ is consistent: it’s a Slap, so you know you’re ‘out’ and BITC intends to keep you there.
‘The Hug Slap’ leaves you confused and wondering where you stand. That’s the point of this tactic, to keep you guessing. This is the perpetrator’s way of making it clear who has the power in the relationship … and it’s not you.
At least that’s what the BITC wants you to believe. She’s wrong: you do have power. You’ve the power to decide how you behave.
If you’re reading this and you’re being a BITC by using this ploy on someone else, I invite you to keep reading. Doing this isn’t good for you and you might learn something that helps you. You too have the power to decide how to behave. Besides, we’re about to ruin your little game, so you might as well get with the program.
How You May Be Feeling
If you’re on the receiving end of the Hug Slap you feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster. Just like the theme park ride, it’s a journey of highs and lows which leaves your head spinning when you hit the ground.
Here are some of the emotions that you might be feeling:
Hurt: You thought she was a friend. Why would she do that to you?
Uncertain: What did you do wrong? You go over and over events in your mind in an attempt to work out what you did.
Guilty: For whatever it was that you did wrong OR or feeling like you want to hurt her back.
Stupid How did you get tricked into thinking she was your friend in the first place?
Lame: For not knowing what to do now OR for hoping it’ll all go away and that you can be friends with this person.
Angry: With yourself for how you feel and with BITC for what’s she’s done.
Powerless: Because you don’t know what to do OR because you’re scared that if you do something it’ll make it worse.
If you’re feeling kinda silly – stop it. The whole purpose of this behaviour is to throw you off centre and undermine your confidence. Whatever you’re emotions, that’s okay; they’re valid. The question is, are they useful? Ask yourself how can you turn them around and help yourself?
It’s Not You – It’s Her
It’s important to recognise her behaviour for what it is … a power play by someone who’s insecure and feels threatened. A genuinely aggrieved colleague might give you the Cold Shoulder (Slap) but she’s unlikely to give you the Hug Slap.
Ultimately, the Hug Slap BITC is afraid that she isn’t good enough.
To recap, the gender culture that most women are socialised into is flat. If relative power and self-esteem are in balance, then the relationship works.
The building blocks of power and self-esteem that help to make a relationship in ‘balance’ are illustrated in graphic to the left.
If power and self-esteem are out of balance, BITC problems can arise.
The graphic to the right shows how the balance looks from the point of view of an insecure BITC who employs the Hug Slap.
You might be surprised the particular person has a sense of lower power or self-esteem.
That may be your perspective, so understand that the other person has a different perspective.
Know Your Foe
Once you’ve come to terms with this, step back, observe the Hug Slap behaviour and look for patterns. Are there particular circumstances or people in common when the Hug or the Slap occurs?
This is important because is gives you a clue to who or what triggers her behaviour.
If the Hug consistently gets delivered in front of particular people, then she’s feeling insecure about how these people view her. She might also be scared that you’ve more relationship power with them than she does. If it’s the Slap that’s consistently used with particular people, then she feels that she needs to boost herself by demeaning you. Think of yourselves as two candles burning side by side: she feels that her light isn’t bright enough, so she tries to blow out your flame.
If the people vary but there are common elements to the circumstances, then she’s concerned about her ability to perform well enough or about your ability to outperform her. Either way she’s worried about what others think of her and is measuring herself by comparison to others.
I worked with a BITC who was doing this with me. Even though I’d been there before, it took me a bit of work to get my need to please under control. Once I did that, I started noticing that the Hug came when there were people around that I had strong relationships with, particularly those who were in positions of power. Then I noticed that it wasn’t just me that she behaved like this to.
This BITC was the Princess of Perception management; she could turn on apparent warmth and charm at will. I worked out that her trigger was fear of failure in the eyes of superiors. She had just received a big promotion to a job outside her area of technical experience. In her previous job she was the top of the tree in her area, and others looked up to her. On the outside she seemed super calm and confident. Her inside world wasn’t that way at all. I later learned that she was prone to panic attacks!
Once you’ve observed your BITC enough and understand what triggers her insecurities, you’ve the key to managing the impact she has upon you.
What are your Hug Slap BITC’s triggers?
So How Can I Work With Her?
There’s always something that you can do to deal with these situations. But let’s start with one thing that you can’t do … fix your relationship with the BITC.
She’s in a bad place in terms of her self-esteem and has resorted to hurting others to make herself feel better. Dealing with people who behave like this is about self-management and risk management. It’s not about making friends. If you pour energy in trying to please her, you’ll end up feeling drained.
The number one thing at all times with all BITC behaviour is to stay professional. Keep your behaviour above the line: that means carefully choosing your behaviour from a positive mindset. Below the line behaviours are impulsive and typified by blame, denial, defensiveness and justification.
Are you above the line? Or are you below the line – finding it easier to deny, blame or excuse?
That’s got the HOW covered. WHAT you do then depends on how closely you work with her.
You’re Colleagues Not Co-Workers
If you work at the same place but she has no impact on your work or your reputation, just let it go through to the keeper. Find someone safe outside of work to vent to about her if you need to. Aim to find a mindset where you can laugh it off.
She’s A Co-Worker
If BITC is someone that you’ve got to work with, then concentrate on keeping your own energy in balance. Remember what I said about staying above the line in your behaviour, if you want to know more go here.
If she’s in Hug mode then don’t hug back, look her in the eye, smile and respond in a polite and professional manner, then withdraw from the situation. If she’s in Slap mode keep yourself physically centred, look her in the eye and deliver the verbal or non-verbal equivalent of a hand put up in a ‘stop’ gesture. Keep your tone and body language neutral, you’ll know you’re doing that if you feel it coming from the calm spot in the centre of your brain.
In the case of Princess Perception, we were peers and had to work together. When she was hugging for effect I would be pleasant and professional, then excuse myself and leave as quickly possible. This limited the chance for her to create a false perception with others. When she delivered the Slap, I would just smile and say ‘I can see that you’re having a bad day today, catch you later’ and made my exit in a calm and composed manner. Body language and tone are communication, so be careful to keep all of them neutral.
You might also want to take advantage of opportunities to let others know about her behaviour. Tread carefully if you go here, it can backfire on you. If you’re going to do this so be certain of your audience and keep your statements factual and non-judgemental. Any sniff of revenge will blow up in your face.
She’s Your Boss
If she’s your boss then it’s particularly tricky because avoiding her isn’t an option.
The first thing to do is to look after your emotional wellbeing. Get yourself some support outside of work to help you with this. That may be one or more different people depending upon the situation.
Secondly, if you don’t already have one, find yourself a mentor at work. Having a mentor is not just good professional and personal development, it ensures that someone other than your boss knows you and is looking out for your career. DO talk through how you can more effectively work with your boss, and seek suggestions. DO NOT bad mouth your boss to your internal mentor or anyone else at work.
If you do both of the above, you’ll find that you feel less isolated and more empowered when it comes to dealing with your boss’s Hug Slap behaviour. Remember she’s doing it because she’s feeling insecure. Understanding the triggers of a Hug Slap boss is ultra-critical because they’ll tell you what you need to do in your work help her feel more confident.
Because she’s your boss part of your job is to do your work to her satisfaction. So your responses to Hug Slap need to be slightly different than they are with a co-worker, particularly with the Slap behaviour.
There’s a distinction though. Personal Slaps, say like a comment about your hair, are best dealt with through your outside support network. But if you notice that these are triggered by a work event, such as a critical meeting, then get on the front foot and find out what you can do to help her feel more prepared for the meeting.
If you’ve tried everything reasonable and have reached the conclusion that this person is severely toxic, you have a couple of choices.
Raise it formally in your organisation. Use your external support network to help you with your approach. If the bully is your boss, and you’ve been working with a mentor, they’ll know what you’ve tried to do to work with her. I suggest you talk to your mentor about how to raise it, and use your own judgement about your mentor (do this only if you are confident that it is politically safe to do so).
If you think that raising it formally is not worth the grief, then look for another position, either in your organisation or externally.
If you feel that neither of these is an option for you, get some support from a counsellor or similar professional to help you manage the impacts of working with this toxic person.
Own Your Power
Working with someone like this can consume you, if you let it.
Do what you can. Stay professional and focus on doing your job to the best of your ability. Get support, personal and professional, when you need it. Don’t try and cope on your own.
Have you seen A Hug Slap BITC in action? What impact did that person have on the workplace?
Please share your thoughts and any constructive comments section below.