The Daily Chaos of Kalamity K
A little S&M on the job can take you a long way
A little S&M on the job can take you a long way
No whips or chains are needed, but women with fantasies of
getting ahead can put role-playing to smart use, a new
MARJO JOHNE Special to The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
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Her co-worker was being bad again, so Lisa Robyn set out
to punish him.
Tired of his habit of keeping work-related problems a
secret -- and then letting everyone else clean up his
mess -- Ms. Robyn shamed him into 'fessing up at the next
Exposed and penitent, her colleague fell to his knees in
front of everyone, and begged Ms. Robyn's forgiveness.
"That kneeling part made me laugh, because he was actually
just joking," Ms. Robyn recalls. "But the power -- the
feeling that I had complete domination over him -- that
Ladies, say hello to the corporate dominatrix.
It doesn't require whips, chains or leather boots, but if
you're harbouring fantasies about getting ahead in your
career, it may be time to assume the position of corporate
dominatrix, and engage in a little workplace S&M, argues
Ms. Robyn, the author of a new book called The Corporate
Dominatrix: Six Roles to Play to Get Your Way at Work.
Beneath the suits and civilities, workplaces really are
dens of sadomasochism, where bosses and workers
unwittingly act out three basic S&M roles: dominants,
submissives and switchables, who move back and forth
between the first two roles, Ms. Robyn says.
The result of these three groups of players interacting
daily in the workplace is a constant surge of pleasure and
pain, she says.
For instance, think back to the last time your boss called
you in for your annual spanking -- err, performance review.
Did he start sadistically by rhyming off all of the
mistakes you made last year, only to tell you in the end
that you did a great job over all and deserve a generous
raise? And did you come out of that meeting feeling
incredibly good, and thinking what a great chap that boss
of yours is?
Even the words people use at work suggest the
sadomasochistic dynamic. Ms. Robyn recalls a former boss
suggesting her work life would improve dramatically if she
simply "surrendered" to authority -- a remark that sparked
the idea for her book.
"People say things like 'they're slaving away at their
jobs,' " says Ms. Robyn, who researched her book by
spending time with professional dominatrices. "There's an
undeniable pleasure-pain component in the workplace that
makes the connection to sadomasochism a fair one."
To survive and succeed in this command-and-control
environment, women need to arm themselves with the
psychology-based tools of the professional dominatrix, Ms.
But that doesn't necessarily mean putting on the leather
and cracking the whip. Like the professional dominatrix,
the corporate dominatrix plays different roles to achieve
"A professional dominatrix assumes different roles to help
other people realize their fantasies," Ms. Robyn
explains. "A corporate dominatrix, on the other hand, role-
plays to realize her own fantasy, whether that's to become
head of a department or president of a company."
Ms. Robyn has identified six roles for the corporate
dominatrix. Most women will identify with at least one of
them, Ms. Robyn says, but the trick is to pick the right
role for the right situation.
Who she is: The dominatrix as goddess is confident,
independent and thrives on the admiration of others.
While some women may be too modest or shy to acknowledge
praise, the goddess knows how to accept the worship of her
superiors and peers.
She takes the high road in tough situations, often
choosing to respond to hostile co-workers with composed
The goddess is magnanimous, granting favours without
expecting repayment -- although she inevitably gets
repaid, because people naturally want to lay offerings at
When to play goddess: The confident and unflappable nature
of the goddess can be a godsend in situations where your
abilities are thrown into question.
For instance, say a co-worker is trying to make his star
brighter by tarnishing yours. Instead of getting
defensive, get your inner goddess to tell everyone on the
team, in a calm and dignified manner, how you've
contributed to the department. And then thank your jealous
co-worker sincerely for reminding you of the importance of
blowing your own horn every once in a while.
Who she is: The queen rules with impunity. Forget about
pussyfooting around your subordinates; when you play
queen, you should have no problem using your position to
get what you want.
But like a true monarch, you are also keenly aware of the
organizational hierarchy and know that management has
power over you. You also know that it's best to rule with
a velvet glove instead of an iron fist.
As queen, you don't micro-manage or allow yourself to get
bogged down in administrative details. Instead, you focus
on the big picture and let someone else sweat the small
When to play queen: The queen rules best in times of great
change, when it seems like no one else but you can see the
Say you've just announced plans to introduce a new project
management system in your department. You know that, in
the long run, the new system will save time and money but
your subordinates insist it will slow down their
Play the regal role: Pull rank and tell your team to
accept the change. Period. (Although as a fair and
credible ruler, you may want to explain the strategic
thinking behind this decision).
Who she is: The governess is a strict teacher who expects
everyone to be on their best behaviour.
She's the one who can silence trouble-makers with a steely
glare and who makes sure meetings run on time and projects
The governess is the perfect supervisor or project
manager -- the efficient right hand who assigns tasks,
troubleshoots faulty systems and remembers the birthdays
and anniversaries of everyone on her team.
Want to be the go-to person in your company? Be a
governess. But keep in mind that the governess doesn't
just do, she also teaches. If you're going to take on the
governess role, be prepared to be a mentor to your
When to play governess: Sometimes you just need to give
someone a lesson in manners -- and who better to teach
that lesson than the governess? For instance, is there a
sadist at work who enjoys tormenting you and other co-
workers by making off-colour remarks? Channel Deborah Kerr
in The King and I and reprimand this person for lacking
Who she is: The Amazon knows how to use coercive power and
manipulation to get her way. But she operates on the
principle that it's good to "use might, but only when
you're in the right."
Even the meekest woman can become an Amazon warrior when
she knows she's got a great idea worth fighting for.
However, the Amazon is by no means stubborn.
If Plan A doesn't work, she's happy to move on to Plan B,
as long the outcome stays the same.
When to play Amazon: Can't seem to get ahead at work even
though you're doing a great job and playing by all the
rules? You may need the Amazon to shake things up in the
Ms. Robyn recounts the story of "Abbey," a senior
executive for a financial firm who was passed over for a
promotion she had long been promised.
Instead of being stoic about it, Abbey called her boss and
told her she wasn't coming back to work unless she was
given the promotion. Her boss leaned on upper management
and Abbey eventually got a fancier job title.
Who she is: The nurse is the workplace healer, providing
moral support and soothing bruised egos. She's a natural
team player and peace maker, who diffuses tense moments in
meetings and calms nerves in the midst of a downsizing
To play the nurse role, you need to be able to step back
from a crisis and review the situation with clinical
detachment. A caveat: while it's good to tend to your
team, make sure you're not neglecting your own interests.
When to play nurse: When other people's personal problems
start becoming a workplace problem, then it's time to put
on your candy stripes. Ms. Robyn tells the story of one
textile firm, where two designers who were competing for
the same client were creating tension in the office. Their
boss, Stacy, sent each of them a dinner invitation for the
same night -- and then didn't show up, leaving the two to
face each other. The designers made up over dinner, to the
relief of everyone at the office.
Who she is: Childlike and submissive, the schoolgirl
defers to authority and knows when and how to stroke the
egos of subordinates or peers to get what she wants from
But while she may seem subservient, the schoolgirl is far
from powerless. Quite the opposite: She uses her obedience
to gain power. Think of Anne Hathaway's character in The
Devil Wears Prada, who caters to her boss's every whim
knowing that her lowly position is a actually a gateway to
When to play schoolgirl: Turning on the schoolgirl charm
can work wonders with overbearing managers or colleagues,
who can charge like bulls when you resist them but become
putty in your hands when you submit to them -- or at least
pretend to submit.
Ms. Robyn tells of Amy, an on-line marketing manager with
a nitpicky boss. Whenever Amy tried to explain her actions
to her boss, he would get angry.
So she decided to stop explaining and instead began asking
him how he liked things done. As soon as she did this, her
boss stopped picking on her and started sharing his
By switching between these roles as the situation
warrants, women can gain greater control in the workplace
and of their careers, Ms. Robyn says.
She acknowledges that role-playing may not be easy for
some people, "but it gets easier over time, to the point
where you're able to make the decision to switch to a
certain mistress archetype in a split-second."
WHAT'S YOUR DOMINANCE QUOTIENT?
Test it with the Corporate Dominatrix Quiz:
1. It's a month past your annual review, and you're still
waiting to set up a meeting with your supervisor. You:
a) remain in a holding pattern, since no news is probably
b) Contact human resources to see if they can jump-start
your boss into action.
c) speak to your boss about arranging an immediate
appointment to discuss your review and your retroactive
2. The word at your company is that promotions are being
held back for budgetary reasons. You:
a) try to remain a company gal and ride out this bad patch.
b) Point out all the great work you're doing for further
consideration when the freeze lifts.
c) send your boss a memo outlining all your successes, and
proceed with your promotion campaign undeterred, since
rules are made to be broken.
3. Your supervisor always calls you in for a preparatory
briefing before big meetings. Usually, your best ideas
become hers once you enter the conference room. This
causes you to:
a) bitch and moan to all your colleagues.
b) plan to share only mediocre suggestions in advance.
c) tell your boss you'll present your ideas in the meeting.
4. An important client has a habit of making impromptu
conference calls. Your immediate response is:
a) to drop everything and take the call.
b) talk for a few minutes, and then ask if you can call
c) refuse the call and schedule a mutually convenient time
to speak later that day.
5. One of your direct reports is shamelessly playing up to
your boss at your department's expense. You:
a) ignore it, since anyone can spot a kiss-ass.
b) explain to the employee that his behaviour is bad for
c) tell the employee to spend more time working and less
time sucking up since his review is imminent.
6. Your company is poised for a radical reorganization.
a) feel assured when your boss says your job is safe.
b) start contacting executive recruiters for insurance.
c) ask your boss for a contract.
7. The director of another department is angling to take
over your plum account. You decide to:
a) let it go so you're not as overwhelmed.
b) talk to your supervisor about it.
c) confront the director and tell her to back off your
8. When senior executives interrupt you in meetings,
you're most likely to:
a) completely hold back your comments.
b) wait till they've done talking, then finish your train
c) ask that you not be cut off.
9. Your expense report from a company retreat gets
returned with a question mark next to a massage. You:
a) decide to pay for it yourself.
b) point to other executives who charge massages to the
c) get a doctor's note and resend to accounts payable.
10. The chief financial officer wants you to cut one
hundred thousand dollars from your already diminished
a) ask what you have to do.
b) ask your boss to speak to the chief financial officer
c) appeal to the chief financial officer.
Corporate Dominatrix Matrix Scoring:
Give yourself one point for every a, two points for every
b, and three points for every c.
If you got a score of 25 or more, you're highly dominant -
an Amazon or a Queen.
If you got a score between 15 to 25, you're moderately
dominant- a Goddess, Governess or Nurse.
If you got a score between 15 or lower, you're
imperceptibly dominant - a seemingly submissive Schoolgirl.
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