Are you the office dragon?

Five signs you're feared and not respected, and how to overcome it.

Recently someone asked me if I am an “office dragon”. I thought for a moment before giving a knee-jerk defensive response.

It's true that I am not the sort of person who regularly asks about your weekend, and I probably won't go to your baby shower. I am not likely to forward your mass email about how angels are looking out for me. Perhaps at times of extreme deadlines, I might even be a little curt with you.

It's nice to be liked, of course, but there are many other more important aspects of workplace performance on which I'd prefer you to base your opinion of me. I don't need you to like me, but I do want your professional respect. Does that make me an office dragon? Not in my books.

If you're unsure if you might be earning a reputation for breathing fire a little too often, here are five signs that you might have some work to do to win back the respect of your colleagues:

1. Negativity is your weapon of choice

Everyone responds to personality types differently, but if co-workers and/or direct reports are tiptoeing around you, some self-analysis may be called for. Are you fair, or are your decisions based on your emotions? Intimidating or belittling others is not an emotionally intelligent response. We all lose our temper at times and some personalities are naturally more intimidating than others, but if your strategy for dealing with people is to yell them into submission or demean them constantly, you are no better than a school yard bully.

2. No-one is learning from you

I have worked for the ultimate office dragon. Yelling incessantly and becoming angry at petty things. I felt his behaviour was unacceptable and erratic. I also learnt from him about how not to behave; that people don't respond well to thinly-veiled threats. If people have no respect for you, you lose the opportunity to influence.

I also had a boss early in my career who was absolutely lovely, overly complimentary and told me everything I did was fantastic. The only thing I learnt from her was that I really suit a tan and I take fabulous selfies.


Position yourself to have a positive influence on the people around you.

3. People don't feel they can communicate with you

Do I care what TV series marathon you watched all weekend? Sorry, not so much. But it would be a mistake to assume this is a sign of an office dragon, or that I don't have empathy.

I do actually care. I care that my colleagues enjoy their work environment. I want them to feel comfortable enough to discuss various aspects of the job with me. I care that they feel productive and that the job is helping them meet both organisational and personal goals.

If your colleagues do not see you as approachable in these areas, you are losing out on opportunities to move forward with your team.

4. You don't understand the culture

The dynamics between different personalities can heavily influence a culture where you are likely to spend 40-plus hours a week in close contact, so it is unrealistic to assume there will never be conflict. However, if you are not sensitive to the nuances in your office culture, you will miss out on the opportunity to change direction, mitigate risk and enhance productivity.

It is also crucial to recognise that some people must be managed differently to others for best results. You can't do this if you aren't focused on being self-aware and cognisant of your environment.

5. Colleagues are in coping mode

If people don't want to work with you, they are likely to go into a non-productive coping mode. People only develop when they sense they are contributing to a vision, feel like more than just a number and know that their work is accomplishing something.

If this isn't happening, it's time to change strategy and introduce an environment that fosters mutual respect. I would rather see my colleagues – and they to see me - as valuable and able to contribute equally towards outcomes, than to feel slighted if they don't remember my birthday.

As much as it is a buzz word to create a “holistic” environment, every person with whom you work has a different expectation of how the work environment should look. I suggest focusing more on employee satisfaction, mutual respect, a healthy and stable business and productive sustainability.

Rather than focusing on being sweet and loved, I believe strongly in fostering a workplace ethos where respect and productivity are the most valuable and valued commodities.

Alexandra Tselios is the founder and publisher of opinion website The Big Smoke, and has a diverse background in corporate, public and creative fields.