Constructive ConflictIn a previous article, I mentioned Corporate Invalidators – the corrosive individual that causes the failure of organizations. One of the biggest obstacles to intrapreneurship is the corporate invalidator – and the way to deal with them is spot them, stop them or remove them.

The principles of corporate invalidation stem from the book by Jay Carter, Psy. D. called “Nasty People: How to Stop Being Hurt by Them without Stooping to Their Level

Spotting Corporate Invalidators

Research suggests that invalidation is propagated in our society by about 20% of the population but only 1% does this consciously. In business, however, you could probably point to 2-5% of colleagues that are obstructive, manipulative and ‘political’ as the chief cause for this habit is due to stress and a sense of inferiority.

Corporate Invalidators are more visible during times of (either positive or negative) corporate change.

Carter describes an invalidator as one person injuring or trying to injure another which can range anywhere from a shot in the back to a rolling of the eye balls – and, in the corporate environment, it is usually the sneaky verbal or non-verbal invalidations that cause the most damage. In a book that I am currently researching on the subject of constructive conflict, I refer to overt and covert conflict.

Much the same way, the overt invalidator punching someone on the nose is obvious and the punched nose can be treated. The covert invalidator… the sneaky individual can undermine a person’s confidence and self-esteem – it is hidden and harder to treat although the increasing recognition of stress in the workplace is shining a light on this.

The key message that rests in almost all of my work is this: don’t take what they say or do personally, but if you let things happen to you, it’s your fault!

The key way to build Collaborative Intelligence (CQ) in this aspect is through awareness – what is being done by the corporate invalidator?

    This invalidator rarely gives you an answer – just vagueness – no commitment. This makes you feel unsure of your environment for long periods of time, until your adaptive ability begins to fail. In addition to this, you don’t know where you stand with them – are they helping you? Do they like you? Can you trust them? They love the fact that you are modifying your working life to suit their mood.

    The invalidator takes their own feelings and puts the responsibility for them onto another person, as if these feelings originate with the other person. For example, a person who doesn’t like you says, “I don’t think you like me.” This statement perhaps gets you questioning yourself. It thereby puts the attention on you, and you start looking at your own feelings instead of noticing the other person’s feelings. This provides a good hiding place for the other person. The one doing the accusing is often calling you to task for things that they themselves are doing. Remember the last time someone suggested to you that you were always late with a report or a presentation? How speedy are they with their work?

    Generalizations are simply exaggerations of small truths. The more truth there is in a generalization, the more it can be exaggerated. A person who uses generalizations does so to be in control of another. As above, “you are always late with your reports.” Always? Every single time without fail? Would I be right in saying that they say this within earshot of managers / directors?

    “I think I can speak on behalf of everybody here that you are always late with reports – you hold up so many projects with your lack of responsiveness.” The corporate invalidator is doing a few things here – they are making a generalized statement and deciding on behalf of everyone else in the room what the impact of this is. The outcome is that you are bending over backwards to have every single report on people’s desks before the deadline – just to please one person who, in all likelihood (due to projection) never produces a report on time themselves.

    Corporate invalidators need to be in control (the loss / lack of control exaggerates their destructive behaviors). They will say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and if that doesn’t get them what they want, they resort to methods of manipulation or even domination to get what they want. The director involved in a corporate transformation sees that their own job is at risk in a restructure – they will comply, they will ‘assist’ and they will guide people to reconsider the reorganization. If this fails, they will obstruct, stall and even use their position to dictate what will happen. Without a strong CEO, this director will get away with it.

    Sneak Attack
    Corporate invalidators couch their invalidation in ‘nice words’:

      “I don’t want to upset you but…”
      “I don’t mean to interrupt…”
      “Don’t let this bother you, but…”
      “That’s a great idea but…”
      “I think we can definitely do this, however…”

    Always a yes… always a no!

    Double Message
    A double message is a little of everything – it’s a sneak attack, it creates uncertainty, it manipulates. It is well known that double messages in childhood contribute to schizophrenia. The mother who says, “I love you,” and then goes rigid when her child hugs her is sending a very destructive double message. Corporate invalidators get away with being seen as reasonable but are diametrically the opposite.

    Cutting Communication
    This is a very powerful tool for undermining people – the corporate invalidator will ask a question then cut you off before you finish answering.

    CI – “Why is it that you are always late with your reports?”
    YOU – “I’m never late with-”
    CI – “anyway, on to the next part of the agenda”

    Building You Up, Cutting You Down
    Corporate invalidators need to feel superior – they may have a hierarchical superiority (e.g. your line manager) but, as we are in a state of flux and we see intrapreneurship dismantling old-style structures, today’s boss can be tomorrow’s junior. So the corporate invalidator shifts into undermining your confidence and self-esteem. The best way for them to do this is through continual faint praise until you are almost dependent on them – the sole source of your confidence. Once they have you completely within their control, they can then start to seed in negative thoughts (the sneak attack; the double message).

    The Double Bind
    The corporate invalidator puts you in a position where you are “wrong if you do, wrong if you don’t” which makes you feel stymied or trapped – and this should be the signal to you as to what is happening! For example within an intrapreneurial context: a public sector manager seeks a solution to fund innovation and speaks to the head of finance about it.

    FD – “this is a fantastic idea – cost savings are high on the agenda”
    YOU – “so we can do this – we can invest to save money in the longer term”
    FD – “absolutely!”
    FD – “of course, we can’t do that because of public sector rules”

    The default position is to accept what they subject matter expert (the FD) says. However… on checking this out, there are no rules that prohibit the investment. The FD is relying on their position, mythology and the intrapreneur’s decision not to check this out for themselves.

There are ways-and-means to deal with the corporate invalidator – a lot of it comes down to making the covert overt – bring it out into the open – don’t let them get away with it.

If you are interested in building collaborative intelligence in your organization, contact me and let’s talk.

Spotting Corporate Invalidators