Face Off: how to beat the office bully"/>

August 4th, 2011

Face Off: how to beat the office bully

August 5th, 2011, Management Line, The Sydney Morning Herald

Every workplace has them, but it’s hard to deal with bullies at work because more often than not, they are in positions of power.

It may be the boss, or someone who has been there for a long time and who are just part of the system.

My mate, consultant Rowan Manahan says bullying has become worse in a tough economy because everyone is under more pressure.

What makes it even more complicated is that the issue of bullying is a murky area. What might be considered normal behaviour for some is considered bullying by others.

If you are any doubt over what constitutes bullying behaviour, the CareerBuilder site identifies some common examples: your comments are dismissed or not acknowledged, you are falsely accused of mistakes you didn’t make, you are forced to do work that isn’t your job, there are double standards for you and other workers, you are given looks that should be in a scabbard, people gossip about you, your boss runs you down in front of other workers, belittling comments are made about you at meetings and people steal credit for your work.

According to a Career Builder survey, women reported a higher incidence of being treated unfairly at the office – 34 per cent of women said they had felt bullied in the workplace compared to 22 percent of men. And age also plays a part with 29 percent of workers aged 55 or older and 29 percent of workers aged 24 or younger, reporting they had been bullied on the job.

For most, telling people in HR is no solution. They are unlikely to help because the HR unit is usually pretty political and don’t want to rock the boat. Besides, HR tends not to be that high up the chain of command in many organisations.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, HR hardly ever fixes the problem, and only manages it correctly about 3 per cent of the time. Even if that’s overstating it, I haven’t heard of any cases where HR actually resolved the problem.

Laurie Tarkan at BNet recommends you take things into your own hands, first by identifying what you’re experiencing and giving it a name. Emotional bullying, harassment, abuse – it’s all important because that tells you it’s not your fault. She also recommends getting some help. It could include everything from talking to a counsellor to seeking advice from a doctor to make sure you are not suffering symptoms of stress like hypertension.

Research your legal options. That includes reading the company’s internal policies, particularly on areas like harassment, just to see if there are any violations you can report. She recommends documenting what economic impact the bully has had on the company, citing what it has cost the company in terms of lost productivity and absenteeism. If you report the bully, report the person to the highest level in the company, which immediately eliminates HR.

Start a job search and be prepared to leave if management sides with the bully.

Psychologist Michelle Callahan has a number of suggestions that include: not getting emotional about the situation, building a support network, seeking some help, and most importantly, not expecting you’ll be able to change the bully. In most cases they simply won’t accept that they have a problem.

The Human Resources Degree blog has several good ideas. One includes confronting the bully based on the assumption that most bullies deep down are cowards and can’t handle confrontation. The other thing it suggests is to ignore them because when they see they’re not getting under your skin, they won’t derive as much pleasure from the bullying.

Cy Wakeman in Fast Company has a completely left of field approach. He recommends getting inside the bully’s head instead of wasting time and energy resisting them. This involves making some connection but not too much – just enough to neutralise them.

“To remain in a peaceful place and not be rattled by another co-worker, regardless of their assumed motive, is to assure them that you care about them, but you are unable to participate in the conversation or grant their request,’’ Wakeman says.

“Repeat yourself often and diffuse the manipulative co-worker. So stop wasting time hovering in the corner and stand up for yourself. You’ll feel better, and the office bully may turn into a co-worker you’ll want on your team.”

via Management Line.

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  • Jo Jo

    Personally, I recommend recording audio and video of the bully. In many states this is legal to do without their knowledge. Then when your lawyer approaches them you have something to back-up your accounts. The more you have to embarrass them with the more fairly you will be treated in your settlement.

    • kristi3

      Is that really the right thing to do?
      What would one do if a colleague said that the bully was spying on people…cameras, hacking into personal computer…

      A colleague told me I should be careful and then I begin to notice that stuff I would write on my personal (not work) computer was stuff that one of the bullies would make fun of the next day. It was very strange. Is it possible that a high-tech corporation could be snooping and spying on people in an attempt to belittle them? And how would one go about snooping on the bully — wouldn’t that be doing the same wrong thing that the bully was doing?

      Thanks for the info…this is very helpful and it’s helpful to know that other people experience the same things.

      • http://www.workplacebullying.org Dr. Gary Namie

        Two things about recording a bully. Several states DO NOT require mutual consent. That is, only one person need know — the target. Check your state law. Second, do not ever let the employer or bully know you have a recording. Simply use the tape to hit them with deadly accurate recall, as if your memory is superior. Let them sweat. The only time to use the recording is to share with your attorney if you plan a legal fight or want to push for a severance package.

        Now if you are the one being spied on (always done legally by employers — it’s called surveillance!) and your state requires the consent of both parties, contact the police and ask what you can do. The nut jobs may claim that at work, it is a public place. Not true. Employers never allow intrusions without permission because it is private space. Do your research. Being the target of spying is extremely stressful. Tell your physician. Tell an attorney. Tell the police. Tell the employer last, but tell them after you’ve heard opinions from all others first.

  • bulliedforyears

    Bullies do not always want to converse or make requests of their targets. Gossip and backstabbing along with freezing out the target (the silent treatment) are often the weapons of choice. How does one stand up to this?

    • http://www.mgmt-in-a-nutshell.com Jay Jacobus

      I went to other executives for work. They turned me down. This is a symptom of shunning.

      They had no reason to shun me. It didn’t make sense.

      I asked for work. I didn’t ask why I was being shunned. Maybe I should have. But I don’t think that would have worked.

      The executives were apparently insinuating that I should return to the actuarial profession.

      Maybe I should have done that. But I detest manipulation so I put up with the game that I didn’t want to play.

      If I had to do it again I would sabotage the games player’s work. That is food for thought.

  • http://workplacebullying.org Al Thomson

    I always appreciate updates and suggestions on bullying. I work in a park where workers and supervisors are generally tougher on one another. cursing is common for some people. so is yelling. I don’t regard this a bullying. A new boss directing obscene insults and threats at me and others is a different story… a sociopath, devious, sadistic boss & skillful liar. management’s solution was to make this boss Chief Safety Officer. I’m glad I go for counseling. It’s hard to believe how bizarre it gets. Thanks to Bullybusters, Dr. Namie and all others for tips and encouragement. Besides them I count on faith to get me through this. may you be blessed in your work. A.T.

  • Lisa McGuire

    I’m sorry, but it’s not the target’s job to figure out how to deal with a bully. It’s the bully’s job to figure out how to deal respectfully with other people and how to deal with their own unacknowledged issues (this is what bullying is about). If they can’t, it’s then management’s issue (who often are also cowards). Failing that, it should be a legal issue because it is.

    The workplace is no place to allow such harmful behavior. If management can’t get their act together (I most certainly would if I were in such a position or if I owned a company) then we need to take it up with congress and maybe even the supreme court – a Bill of Rights for the Workplace.

    • TBK

      Exactly! There are tons of books and seminars instructing the good on how to deal with the bad (stay positive, be optimistic, try to be-friend the bully). It’s time for someone to address the problem makers. I can’t think of anyone who would remain negative or pessimistic when the troublemakers fall in line.

      You have rights people! You go to work to provide a living for you and your family, not to put up bullies who didn’t get the proper home training! Record everything and let the law handle it.

    • Cathy

      Thank you, thank you. Thank you. FINALLY a post that is sane. I too am sick and tired of reading articles, posts, books, etc. that seem to put all of the responsibility on the victim.

      To me this is as asinine as telling an assault victim that it is their fault for getting assaulted and for getting upset over being assaulted, and that next time they should try reasoning with their assaulter or at least try harder not to get assaulted in the first place. How utterly ridiculous.

      It is time for society to realize that it is the bullies who are at fault and that their behavior is inexcusable, and that they need to be held accountable for it.

  • john

    i on two occassions I totally avoided contact from the bullies except to say hello or smile if I faced them in the office or had to talk to them in a meeting. Then in one case it was interpretted as me being aggressive and giving them the silent treatment. So avoiding doesn’t work, I am being bullied now and have been trying Cy Wakeman’s technique to some degree, seems to be working, but I am being seen as being political – guess you can’t win.

  • john

    I would welcome getting the silent treatment from bullies, geeze I don’t want to talk to these people anyway. but how do you stop the negative comments said to others about you “just within earshot”?

  • rita

    theres very little you can do except leave.
    meantime theres a little tip i read somewhere.
    SULKING, imagine the sulker as a big octopus holding you in its tentacles and forcing you to loook at its face well, thats whae sulking bullys do. if you can ignore the bully without the the freak knowing by turning away or some other method it can work by depriving the criminal of its need for attemtion and control.

  • rita

    one more tip i remembered.
    read everything you can on narcissism.
    many of these scumbags aee narcissists.
    try to show no emotion to these sub-humans.
    they are predators and survive by sucking emotions from people because they have non !
    they gain satisfaction from whatever emotion they can get out of you.they are also expert face readers so keep a nuetral expression.
    have a look at a site called think like a black belt. it has a large section on body language ang narcissism.
    good luck from the uk

    • Kate

      When I was criticized and humiliated on Friday, I left the office so that the bully could not get the satisfaction of seeing me upset. I ignored the outburst and acted as if it did not effect me when I walked out and when I returened. My boss finally sees thru her.

  • Eva


    The perfect word.

  • David

    Become familiar with your work place’s policies on harassment. For instance, the first step outlined in our policy is to notify the harasser that you find their behavior offensive and would like it to stop. I’ve done that and things seem to be calming down. If it starts up again, I will take it to the next step outlined in the policy.

  • Patsy Cline

    Our policy manual says to report hostile or agressive behavior to HR. When I tried, they asked me
    If I didn’t understand my supervisor’s instructions – to let it go and quit thinking I’m a victim. So, I didn’t but somehow got wrote up for speaking to someone else about the behavior. Guess it’s time to find another job!

  • Jenny

    The problem with complaining about bullying is the retaliation you get when your complaint is ignored by their manager and those higher up. Sometimes it helps if an investigation was riddled with procedural errors, so you can take management to court for denying you natural justice. That’s where I am going since it is the last hope I have to find a way to make sense of my psychological injury and what it has done to my career. Keep faith in the fact that you were deliberately harmed by someone who saw you as a threat(a backward compliment?) and who would rather remove you than have others make unfavorable comparisons when you remain at work.

  • judy

    i have been in the travel business for 32 years
    i am not a needy – attention grabbing type
    i just take the day as it comes… i share what
    knowledge i can but in this job i was not given any computer training and it was a new system for me. i informed the owner i could use training but it sent me to the wolves in the office for assistance, there was no help and the others did not want anyone in the job that knew more about the business so they refused to help. they are major assholes and i just cannot understand why
    women are so threatened by others. i feel sorry for the idiots i am “”presently”” putting up with.

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