Tall Poppy Syndrome can undermine you


Exactly what is Tall Poppy Syndrome?

Tall poppy syndrome is the term given to the act of discrediting  a person (typically a woman) who has achieved visible success. The ‘tall poppy’ will become the victim of undermining and other underhanded strategies by others who are jealous of the target’s achievements and elevation in business.

This leads to criticism of public figures, sports stars, musicians and actors who the public or media decide are not deserving of their success. But it also happens in the workplace and in the business world, where even co-workers will often try to pull down a successful colleague.

One way you can look at the tall poppy syndrome is through crab mentality. When you put several crabs in a bucket, any of them that rise higher will be grabbed by the rest of the group and pulled back down. In the business landscape, this translates as ‘If I can’t have it, neither can you.’

In recent years, tall poppy has unfortunately become more and more common – and it’s not uncommon to see it flare up on social media in the form of ‘trolling’. So it’s important to know the signs and be able to spot the behaviors as early as possible. Following are the top five most common forms of tall poppy attack in the workplace.

1. Negative Comments

The first sign (that you are a victim of the tall poppy syndrome) is that negative comments are being made about you regardless of whether or not there is any truth to them. You may also find that once negative commenting starts, more than one person will spread the comments and you are in danger of becoming a source of damaging gossip.

What to do

If the negative comments are not damaging your professional reputation, rise above the situation and ignore it. If you react to it, your reaction could do more damage than the gossip itself. However, if the gossip is likely to cause damage, address the situation in a professional manner.

  • Wait until you are calm before speaking to the gossiper.
  • Call or speak to them face-to-face (whichever you are most comfortable with) but in private.
  • Be firm but professionally pleasant in manner. Do not threaten  them, as this will anger them and backfire into more gossip.
  • Clearly but briefly express that you are aware of the gossip and expect it to cease immediately. It may help to draft out what you want to say beforehand.
  • Ask pleasantly for an apology and offer the chance to put the situation behind both of you.
  • Most people will apologise. Accept it (and mean your acceptance).
  • Follow up with them a day later, tell them how pleased you are to have cleared up the situation, and how much you look forward to moving on to a valuable working relationship with them.

2. The Backhanded Compliment

These are similar to negative comments, but are really sugar-coated insults. They are often snide or sarcastic compliments with a double-edged meaning.  However sometimes people will give you compliments that mean only to be humorous, but still hurt.

What to do with 

If you’re sure this isn’t a case of attempted humour, and the complimenter is trying to undermine you, respond pleasantly but if necessary in ways that can defuse their attacks.

For example, if the compliments are repeatedly about how much you must spend on clothes (undermining factor = you are a spendthrift clothes horse), try defusing it by thanking them and saying you simply have a great eye for bargain sales. It’s none of their business what you spend on clothes – it’s your money, after all – but the ‘bargain’ approach will knock out the foundations of their attack.

3. Excessive flattery | tall poppy syndrome

Everybody loves praise, but excessive flattery can make you uncomfortable … and suggests a taint of dishonesty in workplace relations. You may find that [tweet_quote hashtags=”#tallpoppy” ]women who are threatened by you will[/tweet_quote] mask themselves by flattering you excessively. They will go above and beyond the normal level of compliments and this can sometimes be their way of throwing you off guard and gaining your trust so that you’re no longer a threat for them. [tweet_quote hashtags=”#tallpoppysyndrome” ]Oh and men do this too.[/tweet_quote]

What to do

  • Don’t fall for it. But then, you didn’t anyway, did you?
  • Respond pleasantly, but don’t descend into matching them in exaggeration.
  • Remember that if they continue to flatter, it is more damaging to their reputation than yours (as long as you don’t buy into it.

4. Social Media Attacks

If you start being attacked on social media – whether by people you know or anonymous posters — you may very well be a tall poppy victim. This is quite a common form of attack as social media allows people to hide behind anonymity in ‘trolling’ or attacking you. Another form of social media attack is ostracism, where co-workers will block you from their Facebook, Twitter and other social media feeds as a way to isolate you. Ostracism may hurt, but it is their personal right to block you – and you need to use the block function strategically yourself anyway.

What to do

  • Block any attackers and those who isolate you. That’s what the block function is for.
  • While you might be tempted to get into a social media war, unless you’re a public commentator who sees that as part of your role, it will simply burn up valuable time and energy.
  • If the attacks descend into threats to your life or safety, report them to the police and to the social media operators.

5. Jealousy

While there have been a number of reasons provided as to why tall poppy exists, it ultimately all comes down to jealousy.

People find it hard to be happy for others who are more successful (or those who have the potential to be more successful), and it doesn’t matter if they work together or are simply in the same social group. They could work in completely different fields, but there will always be some level of jealousy. It’s an unfortunate side of human nature.

What to do

  • Next time you are experiencing jealousy – or any of the other above signs — see it as a positive signal that you are “making it”.
  • Always remember to not take the bait.
  • Stay calm, smile and walk away. Then if necessary, plan a response that is appropriate, calm and professional.
  • Keep growing even taller, clever poppy.

About Natalie Cupac

Natalie Cupac Journalist & Features Writer for The Business Woman, Natalie Cupac is studying a double degree of Journalism and International Studies and has previously worked for Pacific Magazines

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