Words Hurt

Feel That Sting?

“To me there is nothing more soothing than the song of a mosquito that can’t get through the mesh to bite you” – Madison Smartt Bell

The Labor Day holiday was incredible this past weekend in the Midwest with plenty of blue sky and sunshine. I was in my garden in the afternoon heat enjoying the fragrance and color when I felt an unexpected stabbing pain. You guessed it; the mosquitoes were in full force which was unusual during the day in my yard. They usually lurk safely in the shade. Ouch! By the time I felt the attack it was far too late – I had been stung!

If there is one bug that we all hate it’s the mosquito. Zika and West Nile cases are on the rise and leaders around the world are stepping up efforts to eradicate these nuisances. Despite the fact that they are pollinators, they have minimal residual value in nature. Mosquitoes are stealth, sneaky, and take no prisoners. They can ruin any outing and make some people puff up from allergic reactions – or worse. I have seen firsthand the ravages of mosquito born diseases. I have a friend that suffered with odd symptoms for years and it took 3 years before a specialist finally diagnosed her with West Nile Virus. Sadly, there is no cure, just symptom management.

Our mosquito explosion was the result of a very hot dry summer. Mosquito eggs and larva have been laying low waiting for some heavy rain so they could jump to life. That happened about two weeks ago. The mosquitoes all hatched at once forming a vortex of attacking swirling nuisances. Mosquitoes are one of the sneakiest bugs around. Even if you are lucky enough to hear one coming, you often can’t tell where it’s coming from.

Unfortunately, we all work with some mosquitoes. Work mosquitoes may be friendly and gently hover in groups or meetings however, they will bite you as soon as you turn your back. Work mosquitoes use words to bite. They talk about you behind your back. They gossip endlessly. These feisty creatures complain to anyone that listens. They slyly sabotage the team’s work. They may steal your ideas or plant accusations. They buzz around dive bombing into conversations that they aren’t invited to. Worse yet? Like a mosquito bite, you never see the work mosquito in action until it’s too late and you feel the sting.

So what can you do to avoid being stung at work? Here are some suggestions

  • Unfortunately, you can’t swat and kill work mosquitoes. What you can do is listen and watch to try and identify the culprits in your group so that you can be on your guard.
  •  Don’t be reactive. You don’t wait to put on repellent until after you are bit by a mosquito. Be proactive in your work and relationships at work so that you don’t get bit. 
  • Turn the tables. Biters prefer to put the attention on you to put you on the defense or point out your faults. Put the spotlight back on the troublemaker which may neutralize their behavior and catch them off guard. 
  • Use humor and show that bites don’t bother you. Allow things to roll off your back so that the biter is disarmed and flies after someone else.
  • You may need to run into the swarm and confront someone who is biting behind your back or stinging the team. Sometimes calling someone out on their behavior is all that it takes. 
  • If you manage a team with biters on it you need to address it immediately. These types of people can destroy a team, impact productivity, and kill projects.  Effective leaders set boundaries and need to throw a net over the team for protection by asserting consequences to stop biting behavior. 
  • Lead by example and don’t get sucked into the vortex. Sometimes when we see someone “getting away” with a behavior we decide that we should just jump in and emulate that behavior or attitude. Take the high road and remain above the conflict. Set an example and sometimes you may just need to take a few stings before behavior changes. 
  • Remain calm. I admit that when I walk into a swarm of mosquitoes my first instant is to wave my arms and freak out a bit. That may temporarily keep them at bay however; all your motions and exhaling excessive CO2 will only make the biting worse. Keep calm and remain in control. Get away calmly. 

Just like with nature’s pesky mosquitoes there are ways to prevent being bit by a work mosquito. It takes some vigilance, strong character, and willingness to take a stand. Think of your actions and reactions as a worker mosquito repellent. They can be controlled and if anyone invents an actual work repellent – throw some this way!