Ever been bullied in the workplace? Yelled at? Embarrassed in front of others? Talked down to? Set up deliberately? Had your career threatened? If you’ve been in the workplace long enough, it’s bound to have happened to you – any one or all of these. And it sucks. Makes you want to quit on the spot, or belt the bully in the mouth! But you don’t. You don’t because you’re professional, and you value your career. So you take it – at least for the moment. I’m here to tell you that there are things you can do – either in the moment, or subsequently, to “deal with” the bully.
Who qualifies as a bully?
Bullies are self-absorbed, narcissistic jerks. According to behavioral psychologists, they do it for one of two reasons or both. They either literally get their jollies from it, enjoying tormenting people and watching them squirm and emotionally deteriorate, and/or they do it in order to achieve their vision or some goal, to be the CEO for instance. They’ll do anything and everything including turning on their best people, if they believe it will help them achieve their purpose.
Bullies are usually your boss, but they can be a peer, a subordinate, a so-called expert in some other department, or anyone really. I’ve had nineteen different bosses during my 35-year career. I literally counted them all as part of preparing to write this article. Most of my bosses were excellent, and I learned immensely from them. They helped me in my career. I worked my ass off for all of them. A few were jerks – yes, even bullies. And bosses that are bullies are the worst. Why? Because they have position power over you. They review your performance. They inform superiors about you. They can ruin your career – if you let them. I didn’t let them stop me from achieving my goals. You shouldn’t either.
Don’t be passive, take action!
- Recognize and acknowledge the bully for who he or she is and the behavior they are exhibiting. Is it sexual harassment? Is it yelling, screaming, and threatening to show their dominance over you and others? Is it just you they are tormenting, or are they an equal opportunity bully? Regardless, you can confront the bully, report it and seek advice from HR, or consult a mentor.
- If it’s sexual harassment, make a beeline for the SVP of HR and report it immediately. If it’s anything else, there a few things to consider. You may want to stand up to the bully – right then and there. Ask them forcefully – why are you yelling at me? I’m working my ass off for you and you find it necessary to yell and chastise me? Do you think that’s motivating? Remember in the end, they are just like schoolyard bullies – when you stand up to them and belt them in the nose, figuratively here of course, they sometimes back down.
- If they turn on you regarding performance reviews, threaten your job and career, or anything similar, put them on notice. In fact, be prepared for them if you have any inkling they are moving in this direction. Have the email to the SVP of HR all ready to go and hit the send button if they want to pursue this course of action against you. And then let them know you’ve done this. If you don’t take this preemptive action, you’ll be behind the eight ball so to speak, because HR is whom they will be informing about you.
- Be ready for the bully. Relentlessly prepare, stay on top of your responsibilities, and do your job at an exceptionally high level. Nothing withstands the bully like excellent performance, especially if it makes them look good. Eventually, they may move on or be forced out, if you’re lucky.
- If the entire ordeal is causing you lots of stress, start looking elsewhere for employment, especially if the company you work for either can’t or won’t do anything about it. I say can’t only because companies can always do something about it, but they choose not to sometimes for politically correct reasons – the Board likes the person, they get good business results, etc.
Stand up for yourself!
Look, don’t ignore the signs. I did at least one time, because I liked the company and the people I worked with and led. By the time I recognized what was happening, it was too late. I left that company a few months later. So stand up for yourself and what you believe in. Push right back on the bully, because as the story goes, if the bully’s nose is broken and bleeding, chances are they’ll think twice about coming after you again. You may lose a battle here and there, and you might even lose a job, but you’ll always have your integrity. Everyone sees the bully for who he or she is, and in the end, you will win and they will lose.
Check out “Stand up to Bullies”, the latest episode of my new leadership podcast, “The REAL DEAL” with Greg Kiraly, on Apple, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or right here.