By Betsy Rothstein - 12/14/05 12:00 AM EST
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) is adamant — he’s not going to lie on the couch.
It seemed like a good idea. He’s a psychologist, and he’s just published a book probing workplace personalities; it’s titled Overcoming Passive Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger From Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness. Plus, he’s in the Capitol Hill Club and there’s a roaring fire in the background, surely conducive to relaxation.
But no, Murphy isn’t the type.
Before he joined Congress, he hosted the “Ask Dr. Tim” show, a radio program in which he counseled listeners on family issues. Don’t envision Dr. Laura or Dr. Phil. This is Murphy, a clinical psychologist of 25 years with low regard for pop psychology or humor in his field of expertise.
He hasn’t watched more than a minute of “Dr. Phil” and doesn’t care for it. “There are the Bob Newharts and Frasier Cranes of the world, but there is a lot more serious work out there,” he says, sitting tall and nearly on the edge of a comfortable cloth armchair by the fire.
“There are a lot of books about adults and anger,” he says, “but not a lot about passive aggression, the ugliness of doing nothing.”
What is passive-aggressive? In the book’s introduction, Murphy writes, “When views aren’t expressed in an atmosphere of trust, people hide beliefs, emotions, and actions, and sometimes work to undermine progress. Games of intrigue, deception, and downright nastiness can be the tragic outcome when goals of power, destruction and anger overcome reason. Revolution doesn’t work; resolution by reason does. That’s the legislator in me talking.”
Murphy’s book may catch on. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has begun reading it and hopes to use the techniques to help the House get its work done before Christmas, says Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean.
Murphy, 53, sees passive-aggressive behavior in Congress “all the time” in members who “prevent someone from moving ahead on a bill. They’ll tell someone they are going to support them on a bill and then not support them. The direct thing is to be upfront, [but] so often the passive-aggressive person is so good at it that it’s hard to stop it.”
Passive-aggressive behavior can be confusing. “Sometimes a person is just insensitive, but sometimes there is that little dig,” Murphy says, explaining that someone may also just be an “emotional klutz.”
Murphy offers real-life examples: “You get a call from [Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-Tenn.], [but] someone hasn’t passed the message along. They are trying to impede your success.” The congressman warns, “You could have one passive-aggressive person shut the place down. They just quietly want to attack someone.”
A question to ask ourselves: “If I have a conflict, do I go and yell at them, do I get even or do I sit down and talk with them?”
Murphy’s book is a fascinating read and a good handbook for any workplace. He analyzes different workplace personalities, offering advice on how to treat each one. There’s the backstabber, the avenger and the controller, as well as the Eeyore (plays victim, whimpers, moans), the blamer, the mute and the star.
Straightforward discussion can be the best way to deal with conflict, Murphy says, but in his own experience, he doesn’t always confront: “There are a lot of members I like to work with, and others I learn to be quiet around. There are people who are trying to block you from doing your work.”
He writes, “In Washington, there’s a public perception that there is far too much anger and meanness. I can’t dispute that. It’s true. Most people in Washington are trying to do the right thing. … Unfortunately, there are some caught up in the politics of power.”
A motto Murphy employs often is, “It’s sometimes OK to be angry. It’s never OK to be mean.” This is his response to a few GOP colleagues.
“People who get angry are healthier than those who don’t,” says Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). “Unless you have a heart attack,” chimes in Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Simpson continues, “If you let that [anger] last, you’re not going to go very far.”
Minutes later, Murphy comes into the Speaker’s Lobby to disagree. He doesn’t believe anger should always be expressed. “I don’t know,” he says. “Is it done for show? Is it venting? Sometimes it’s OK to be angry. It’s never OK to be mean.”
Later, Murphy’s flack calls to make sure his boss “came across as serious.” He did.
Murphy grew up in Cleveland, the fourth oldest of 11 children. That meant his home was a place of negotiation, such as over who was next in line for the only bathroom. He classifies himself as family “peacekeeper” and jokes, “The middle kid is supposed to be well-adjusted. I’m not so sure.”