Life Lessons Series: Six of One Dozen of the Other- "Don’t Let the Turkeys Get you Down"
There is a wonderful book by Sandra Boynton "Don't Let the Turkeys Get you Down." Boynton comments on cynics and dream-stealers who say negative things about others. She asserts that Turkeys possess absolutely unwarranted yet unshakable self-confidence. They insist on constantly being the center of attention and can show up in the office, at the gym, at a party, at a conference- really anywhere in life. In the end, the wisdom is in accepting that a Turkey never knows that it is a Turkey. Excellent advice to avoid falling prey to the Turkeys.
The Jive Turkey
I enjoy having a new job every two years. I like to meet new people and learn new things. In my years of working with this never-ending quest for change, I have encountered gaggles of Turkeys. As I enter new jobs, I have learned to listen more than speak. To observe the people, processes and surroundings to best assess and understand. Almost without fail in each and every situation, a Turkey emerges. I have found the most annoying to be the Jive Turkey. I first heard the phrase Jive Turkey in an episode of the Jefferson’s sitcom television show. Clearly this phrase is associated with the 1970s – the beloved decade in which I grew up. I liked it so much I looked up the definition which was “a Jive Turkey is someone who is unreliable, makes exaggerations or empty promises, or who is otherwise dishonest.”
Jive Turkeys aka Toxic Co-Workers
I think the phrase Jive Turkey (JT) is such an apt description for a toxic co-worker. Toxic behavior can manifest through words, body language, disrespecting boundaries, hoarding information, purposely undermining others, not following through on promises or commitments, insults, rumors and more. It only takes one toxic worker to create a cancerous environment negatively impacting an entire office. JT’s not only make work dreadful and unpleasant, they also harm the productivity and morale of literally everyone around them. They create unnecessary drama, erode the culture, undermine the values of the company and destroy trust within the team. Most companies I have worked for have had at least one JT on their payroll. I have never understood how and why they are not dealt with in short order by management. The damage they create to companies is significant and happens fast, almost like a pandemic!
I read recently that according to a Fierce Inc. study, four out of five employees currently work or have worked with a potentially toxic coworker. Randstad conducted a study exploring why employees leave their workplace and found 58% have left or are considering leaving due to negativity, office politics and disrespectful behavior. Wow talk about support for leadership to swiftly take action with JT’s!
My most recent Jive Turkey (JT) encounter involves a 30-something whose ego entered the room well in advance of his physical being. When he started with the company, my phone literally rang off the hook for more than a month with business colleagues in shock that JT was hired offering their condolences knowing what I was in store for. One associate shared that he felt by hiring JT the valuation of the company was significantly reduced. (Without question that remains as some of the most humiliating employee performance feedback I have heard in my career!) Nonetheless I started off wanting to help mentor and on-board JT.
JT started off by sending me emails to call him, for me to set up conference call numbers, fill out menial administrative paperwork and more. It became readily apparent JT’s intent was to demean and demoralize me. JT’s behavior reminded me of earlier days in my career when it was a power play to email someone and tell them to call them. I used to sit and think “do the phones not dial out from the top floor? Wow that is crazy we can answer and make calls from this floor!”
Not to be deterred, I continued on the path of good intentions. I attempted to set up live calls thinking this would be better than emails to communicate. The first call was a disaster. JT talked very fast, going from one thought to another without so much as a transition. When I attempted to clarify for understanding, JT talked very loudly all over me. I was barely able to get a word in edgewise. My questions were not answered, instead JT lectured down to me.
I participated in other calls in which JT exhibited similar behavior- talking all over others on the call, the inability for others on the call to get a word in edgewise, not listening to the context of the conversation and feedback being provided. In one call, after JT’s suggestion was discussed and dismissed, JT followed up with an email summarizing use of the dismissed idea.
Soon I began getting calls, emails and stop and chats in the office about JT’s comments about my work. I listened to secondhand feedback asserting my overall stupidity in business, suggesting I had all but lied, cheated and stolen from the Company. It became apparent JT was working to put himself up by putting me down. Each time I responded calmly and thoroughly to the accusations. Each time I reached out to JT to ask for a meeting via a call, email and attempt to find JT in the office. Not once did JT respond.
I continued to work hard to not let the JT’s words and actions hurt me. I worked to take the higher road and not engage in retaliatory behavior no matter how appealing it became as a response. I found it to be easier said than done to not allow the toxicity to affect my own work. Working with JT was a powerless and draining experience.
How to Confirm a Jive Turkey
So how can you best work in the presence of a Jive Turkey? First, I always try to be sure it is not just a personality conflict. I look for these three classic signs that have identified my past experiences with a Jive Turkeys:
1. Victim/Persecutor/Rescuer Syndrome: a JT will talk about how much they hate their job, their boss, their team or the Company. There’s a difference between having a bad day and everyday being bad. This is further defined by an employee who revels in creating misery for others. They make excuses for their performance. When constructive feedback is provided, they see this as a personal attack against them. They hold grudges and never lose a chance to share how they’ve been wronged. This continues even when situations have been rectified.
2. The Gossip: let’s face it, gossip is bad. It breeds negativity and spreads quickly. It can be the root of many internal company problems. A JT uses gossip to their benefit by constantly talking about others behind their backs. They put themselves first- always. They use others’ misfortunes as a way to move forward at work. A JT doesn’t care at all about others.
3. Passive Aggressive Comments in lieu of Compliments: JT’s are often those who purposely undermine the capabilities of others so they can stay ahead of their competition. They thrive on finding fault, negativity and holding people back. They well embody an air of superiority, a cynical attitude, frequently make excuses, blame others, offer sarcasm or insults, reject feedback and others’ perspectives.
How to Work with Jive Turkeys
Once I have confirmed the presence of a Jive Turkey, I accept I can only control my actions and not theirs. My experiences have had limited ability to even partially influence a JT's behaviors. Instead I work hard in my efforts to take the higher road and surround myself with positivity. This includes:
Surrounding myself with uplifting coworkers; those who take responsibility and learn from their mistakes.
Willfully excusing myself from any conversations when a Jive Turkey starts gossiping.
Directly stating that I don’t like to talk about office politics.
Keeping a diary of my achievements.
Saving emails, texts and voicemail messages with compliments that have celebrated my accomplishments and using them to boost my morale.
Looking for the good in people both personally and professionally and celebrating it publicly.
Making sure I have scheduled "fun time" activities I can look forward to after work.
What I know to be as fact in the presence of a Jive Turkey is that they will always exist. They thrive on being the center of attention. They will always talk far more than they listen and embody the “seldom wrong never in doubt” attitude. They will put themselves up by putting others down. In my experience, the best path in response is always to take the higher road. Don't let the Turkeys get you down. It is not worth the effort of increase in your blood pressure. In the end, Karma will get even with them. You may not be around to see this happen yet know that it does. The Jive Turkey will absolutely be found out and even at the bitter end will claim to be the victim and find fault with everyone else never once looking at changes or improvement in their behavior.
To cope, I suggest you focus on some Turkey Fun Facts:
An adult Turkey has approximately 5,500 feathers.
A wild Turkey’s gobble can be heard up to one mile away.
Wild Turkeys have very powerful legs, they can run at speeds of up to 25 mph.
Turkeys see in color and have excellent daytime vision- they can see three times better than a human’s
And always remember Sandra Bonyton’s words of wisdom that a Turkey never knows that it is a Turkey!
What is Your Life Lesson….
How many "Jive Turkeys" are employed in your Company?
What techniques have you found to be effective in managing a Toxic Employee?
Have you ever played Bullsh*t Bingo?
As a postscript to this chapter, should you encounter a Jive Turkey you may want to try out the Standard Turkey Unconsciousness Factor Test (S.T.U.F.T) in Sandra Boynton’s “Don’t Let the Turkeys Get you Down.”
You may also want to try your hand at BullSh*t Bingo to not only more easily survive but also enjoy the experience. I was introduced to this by an executive more than 25 years ago and still find it amusing. I will never forget being on long, long, long conference calls with gaggles of Jive Turkeys in which more than one person forgot to hit mute before yelling out BINGO!
Before (or during) your next meeting, seminar, or conference call, prepare your “Bullsh*t Bingo” card by drawing 5″ x 5″ squares. Divide your page into columns, five across and five down to give you 25 one-inch blocks.
Write one of the following words/phrases in each block (or include other fashionable, fuzzy words used by your Jive Turkey)- remember your free square in the center box:
At the end of the day
Take that off line
Tee it up
Check off the appropriate block when you hear one of those words/phrases.
When you get five blocks horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, be sure your phone is muted.
Stand up and shout “BINGO!”