In a management training that my company sent me to a few years back, I was introduced to a new concept: “cynical terrorists.” This category was meant to describe the kind of person who assumes the worst of everyone, shoots down every new idea, and generally drenches their environment in negativity with the volatile energy of a broken sprinkler system.
Cynical terrorists, our coach explained, are highly engaged at their workplace, but in a destructive way. This makes them very powerful and very scary. I picture the Joker in a J. Crew button-down shirt, sowing chaos for the hell of it.
Researchers Olga Stavrova, Daniel Ehlebracht, and Kathleen Vohs conducted six studies to find out why people become cynics in the first place. They write of a vicious cycle in which “cynicism and disrespect fuel each other.”
When people feel disrespected by others—in a work context, this might happen when someone’s boss reneges on a promised promotion, or a colleague talks over them in every meeting—they understandably begin to take a darker view of humanity. The only way to get ahead in this place is to be selfish and sneaky, the budding cynic—let’s call him Lester—thinks. It’s every Lester for himself.
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