Workplace Incivility Supported By The "Two-Headed Snake"

A couple of years ago, a local civil servant passed away after a long battle with cancer. I knew this individual personally and had the pleasure of working with him a number of years ago when we both held different roles in different organizations.

Our interactions, while not frequent, were professional yet friendly and I always appreciated the way he came prepared to our meetings and got straight to the point as we were both quite busy.

I respected him and his work because, while he always advocated for his workers and the importance of their work, he also recognized the needs of the bigger picture.

However, if there was one thing that made the greatest impression on me, it was the fact that even though I was far more junior than he in both age and role, he never pulled the "I am a manager and far more important than you" card or made me feel inferior. 

Now, I do want to point out that the words you have just read are words I wrote in complete honesty and are words I would have written even if he had not passed away. This is something that not everyone can say.

After this gentleman passed away, many came forward making statements of how much they respected him, how much they enjoyed working with him, and how highly they thought of him.

While this may sound nice on the surface, it actually illustrates why so much workplace incivility continues to exist in workplaces today...Namely, it is the work of the "two-headed snake" in action. 

The Two-Headed Snake

The "two-headed snake" is one of the roles a worker or manager can occupy in an organization that significantly contributes to the amount of workplace incivility, conflict, harassment, and bullying that occurs. 

The "two-headed snake" can best be described as:

"Any person who is nice to your face one moment only to release their venom towards you behind your back to coworkers, managers, and even customers the next moment."  

Generally speaking, these people demonstrate a lack of courage as they attempt to cause you harm behind your back without your knowledge when they have a problem with you rather than approach you regarding their concern. 

To the "two-headed snake", disrespect and deceit are the norm as, after they have just spread a vicious rumour about you to someone else, they quickly put a smile on their face and greet you like a best friend when you walk into the room.

Similarly, as in the case of the recently departed, many in various political and senior management positions came out afterward with words of respect and praise from their one head. Yet, previously their other head had ruled their actions as they had spent the previous few years doing nothing but criticize, question, insult, discredit, and even tarnish the departed's competencies, decisions, and reputation. 

If these "two-headed snakes" had truly felt such admiration, one must ask why they had not indicated this through their words or actions in the past.

Why did they exhibit such animosity and contribute to so much workplace incivility? 

Too Many Management Teams Are Willfully Blind

Now, think of your own workplace. Why are the "two-headed snakes" allowed to spread their poison relatively unhindered? Is it because management isn't aware?

Possible but improbable.

Chances are, if workers know who these snakes are, so does someone in management. However, knowing about and effectively dealing with these two-headed snakes are two different things.

I have written in the past about willful blindness...the idea that it is easier for a manager to put their blinders on and ignore the acts of incivility that occur rather than tackling them. 

When a "two-headed snake" is allowed to roam freely, it is most often because those who know (or should know) what is happening are afraid to get involved because they simply don't know how best to handle it. 

Workers may be afraid to raise their concerns about a "snake in the grass" because they don't know how to approach management without appearing petty, spiteful, or like they are overly sensitive and raising false alarms.

How To Neutralize The Two-Headed Snake

Managers may be afraid to tackle the issue head on because they don't know how to raise the issue with the  snake and what actions they can and cannot legally take, or they are intimidated by the vile employee.

Either way, the first step towards ridding a workplace of the "two-headed" snake is to provide employees and managers with the concepts and tools they need to know how to approach the snake or management and how to effectively handle the situation without fear and without backing down. 

It is these skills we teach in our Personal Mastery Program, our seminars and workshops, and our soon-to-be-released Professional Mastery Program.

Dealing with a "two-headed snake" is hard.

However, to do effectively requires that:

  1. Managers are made aware of the ongoing inappropriate behaviour if not already;  
  2. Managers know exactly how to confront the snake in a direct yet respectful way;
  3. Managers gain the courage (from having new competencies) to follow through with introducing the promised consequences if the snake's behaviour doesn't change; and
  4. Managers close the loop, ensuring those who raised concern over the snake's actions that the behaviour has been dealt with and to once again approach the manager should they see the snake continue with their uncivil behaviour.

If you have two-headed snakes in your workplace and previous attempts to prevent their harmful behaviour have failed (yet you want to keep them as an employee), consider the Cooperative Action Intervention process. For more information on how 2% Factor experts can deal with these people with and for you, click the button below.