My story begins with the valuable lessons I learned from my first work bully and those that followed. I think these are the important bits. Have you had a work bully? Do you have some important bits to share? Please do.
What I’ve learned
- Many people who behave like bullies in the work place are driven by fear and insecurity, not malice. Responding with anger only fuels the fear and insecurity.
- Treating a work bully with kindness and patience may result in a reasonable, productive relationship.
- It is never personal.
- Keeping your cool is always preferable to reacting. Taking a breath, or a minute, or day to get over the emotional impact of an encounter with a bully can make all the difference.
- Sometimes there is just nothing to be done. The situation is never going to improve. You’ll need to make some tough choices.
How I respond when I encounter a work bully today
- I try to be kind and generous. I don’t always succeed.
- I check my own motives to make sure I’m not somehow contributing to the problem.
- I try to remain humble, but I don’t allow myself to be humiliated.
- I assume that their intentions are good. Maybe they are having a bad day. Maybe they have a sick child at home and are lashing out at me just because I’m there. Maybe they simply lack the skills for proper implementation of their good intentions.
- I don’t take it personally.
- If I find myself working in a culture where bullying is allowed or encouraged, I leave.
My advice … Believe what you see, hear and feel. Don’t try to change anyone else. Either figure out a way to be okay with the situation or remove yourself.
My first bully … and a few that followed
I was 28-years-old, working on a big product launch, meeting new people, having a good time and learning a lot.
Enter the bully—my peer in another part of the marketing department. Her work informed mine. In the work-flow of things, I needed her work product in order to complete mine.
Here’s the rub. It seems that in her mind, her primary place in the work flow meant that she was entitled produce poor work product and that it was my job to find a way to accommodate her less-that-stellar work.
This kind of says it all … She delivered to me 600 words of copy that were meant for the back of a product box with room for 125 words. My job was to edit, do the layout, and traffic the approval process. I edited it, did the layout and started it through reviews.
Her very loud and public response was, “How dare you edit what I wrote? You should have printed it, cut it out into copy blocks and pasted it onto the back of a box to see what wouldn’t fit. Like a puzzle, you know? And then you should have brought it back to show me.”
She was committed. She went to my manager who, bless her, simply told the bully to please deliver work that met the requirements of the project.
Everything worked out okay in the end.
Future work bullies
Most of my work bullies have been of the passive-aggressive type.
Maybe some of these sound familiar to you.
- The senior VP of sales who called me “kiddo”. I was 31—well past my prime “kiddo” years. It was his subtle way of putting me in my place. I politely asked him to refrain from referring to me by any name other than my own. It worked.
- There was the editor that would just re-write without giving any feedback, and then say things like, “I didn’t give you direct feedback because I didn’t want to crush you.”
If anyone says something like this to you, please remember that if their ego is so inflated that they believe they are powerful enough to crush you, they are simply diluted. They do not have that power unless you give it to them.
- I think my last work bully was just an unhappy guy. He took control by refusing to participate. He behaved like a 5-year-old threatening to take his toys and go home if everyone didn’t play the game by his rules.