Do you know any paper tigers? According to Google, a paper tiger is “a person or thing that appears threatening but is ineffectual.” For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to stick with the definition that paper tigers are people who have strength for others, as Jamaicans would say, but only when they’re hidden. They roar and snap and bite and bully from behind the cover of emails and text messages, terrorising their victims and giving the impression that they are a big, bad force to be reckoned with. Then you meet them in person and they’re either uncomfortably awkward, with not the first clue about how to interact with others, not a trace of their virtual nastiness in sight; or they’re the king of all they survey, glad-handing with everyone, again not a trace of their virtual nastiness in sight.
I had a boss like that once, years ago. The second type, the glad-hander. He would send me nasty, offensive emails and copy them to others, dressing me down over imagined missteps that could easily have been cleared up with simple conversations, always trying to discredit and embarrass me. He was my worst boss and my experiences with him taught me to never respond immediately to an angry email, to always wait until I cool off, or take the issue offline and try to have an actual conversation about it. I found that man highly off-putting because he would send his nasty emails then minutes later, he would be smiling and laughing with me as if he hadn’t just tried to destroy me. My mother prayed him right out of my life. Thanks again, mom.
I now have experience with the other type of paper tiger – the awkward, antisocial type. It’s the “boss”. He’s back. Back as in, he’s living in this house again. He’s been here for 2 weeks now. Joy.
I think my parents were a little worried when I told them that he was coming this way again. I wasn’t at all. I knew that nothing about how I conduct myself would change. My intention was to handle him in exactly the same way that I do when he’s far, far away – I generally just act like he doesn’t exist.
It’s been working like a charm. Honestly, it takes absolutely zero effort on my part. He’s actually a very antisocial person who stays locked up in his room most of the day. He ventures out from time to time to get food or to talk to the girls who live here in the evenings when they get home. Basically, he ignores me and my other international colleague unless he has something he wants to talk about with either of us. He’s also a little creepy because sometimes he kind of lurks about and just drifts out of shadows and seems to be wandering around aimlessly, but I know he’s up to something, I just don’t know what.
A few days after he got here, he asked to meet with me to get a run-down of how things are going at this centre. We met and I updated him on everything I could think of. He didn’t ask my personal opinion on anything and I didn’t give it; I kept our exchange totally impersonal and professional. When I was done and had no more updates to give, he ended the brief meeting with, “Well, Kristine, I just want to thank you for your work and your professionalism. We have been very fortunate to have someone of your experience.”
Cue the crickets and my totally expressionless face.
I said, “You’re welcome,” and went back to work, totally unimpressed and unmoved, seeing as how this was the same man who, months before, had tried to shred me to bits, snarking about how unprofessional I am.
In the week and a half since that meeting, I think we’ve exchanged less than 20 words. Don’t get me wrong; there’s no malice or rancor in our lack of interaction. We just have no use for each other and we don’t pretend otherwise. I’ve clearly passed my sell-by date for him, seeing as he’s reassigned my responsibilities, and he’s clearly useless to me.
Funny enough, as he always does, he sent the girl who lives here to do his dirty work. A couple of days after our meeting, he sent her to ask me if I have any suggestions for changes at this centre. I said, “Nope,” and went right back to work. If he wanted to know my thoughts, he should have asked me himself.
His antisocial behaviour also extends to the local volunteers. He ignores most of them. I’ve seen it for myself. One afternoon, I was sitting at my usual afternoon work spot and a local volunteer math teacher was sitting next to me. We were chatting about the exam she was about to give to the students. The “boss” came out of his room, walked past us both, got some food about 5 feet away from us, then he went back to his room. He didn’t once acknowledge either of us in any way. All I could do was shake my head in bemusement.
Forget about us international team members – we all know about his foolery from first-hand experience. But he doesn’t even try to make a good impression on the local team members. Here was 1 of the people who helps keep this organisation going by donating her time and talents for free, and he’s the boss of the outfit. Any good boss would at least say hi, right? Nope, not this one. He has exactly zero people skills. I’d say he was the worst boss ever, but I don’t actually consider him my boss so he doesn’t qualify.
So, don’t worry guys, he’s totally a paper tiger. Lots of roaring and snapping, absolutely no substance. Not even worth my consideration.