Bullying is often associated with kids and schools. It is defined as a use of force or threat to abuse, intimidate, and dominate others. However, since kids become adults, it should be no surprise that bullies also exist in the workplace. In fact, since one of the defining moments that distinguish bullying from a normal conflict is the perception of an imbalance of social or physical power, you can find it pretty much anywhere.
The bullies themselves are able to rationalize their behavior by building an image of themselves as being somehow superior, and the victims can be selected for a wide variety of reasons, be it a race, religion, gender, social class, personality, appearance, reputation, size, or ability.
Workplace bullying means that employee is regularly mistreated by others, but it is rarely physical. It is more likely that a bully will use verbal and psychological abuse, humiliation, and inappropriate humor. The problem with this type of bullying is that it is often sort of supported by the rules and policies of the organization and in a majority of the cases, the bully is in a position of authority over the one who is bullied.
Bullying can have many different forms
Physical bullying is unusual in the workplace, especially in white-collar jobs, but it can happen. It involves hitting, pushing, pinching, or in reality, an aggressive contact with another person. It can also include taking or damaging the property of the victim.
Verbal bullying is much more common in the office. It is present in the form of insults, making derogatory, sexual or bigoted comments, unwanted harsh teasing, mimicking, using verbal threats and abusive language.
Relational bullying is also something you can see in the workplace. It revolves around trying to exclude someone from the team, the peer group. Usually, it is done by verbal bullying towards the individual and by spreading rumors and intimidating others not to engage with the individual being bullied.
There are even more subtle forms of bullying in the workplace that may not be even considered as bullying by people perpetrating them. Things like constant criticism, blocking promotions for other reasons than performance, overbearing micromanagement and supervision, or picking on someone with inappropriate jokes.
There are different types of bullies
Some violent bullies just want to hurt other people physically or emotionally and who often don’t know how to handle their own emotions and get angry quickly. Have you ever seen a manager that would get really angry and start yelling at the subordinate? That is a violent bully who abuses their power to make others feel small. Regardless of what the subordinates have done, there is never ever a reason to scream at them, belittle them, or make them feel like trash.
There are time-sucking bullies who don’t respect the time of others may not even realize what they are doing. They care only about their needs and wants and ignore what others have work to do. They just want to talk, or they demand your attention as their problems always have priority. They would just rush into your room and demand that you help them with their problem immediately. If you don’t quickly jump on it and help them, they get abusive, they will use you as a scapegoat for their problems. It may happen that they ignored something they were supposed to do, left it at the last minute and now they are making their lack of planning your problem.
Won’t shut up bullies don’t respect opinions of others, interrupt you in the middle of a sentence, will talk over you and act as you don’t exist. These are the people who always need to be the smartest person in the room, who are so confident in their abilities that they don’t feel like listening to others. Often these are brilliant people, who are even really valuable to the organization. And they know it. Often these bullies are also being tolerated by the management as they are perceived as key to the company success.
It usually takes a courageous senior leader or a human resources person who puts a stop to the abuses of this individual, and in most of the cases, it is done by managing them out of the organization.
How do you deal with an office bully?
- Assertive communication
Practicing assertive communication will make you, to some extent, bully-proof. It starts with a mindset. You need to shed your victim persona and get some confidence. Learn to walk with your head up, with a smile at your lips, be positive, look like you are in control. Often just looking weak and helpless attracts a bully. Don’t give them that opportunity.
There are different ways how to deal with bullying, but there is one that never works. Ignoring it. The sooner you address the bullying behavior, the easier it is to actually deal with it. The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes.
- Never give in
Bullies expect you to cower. They expect that when you get challenged, you will feel weak, afraid, and uncomfortable. That is what makes them feel powerful and superior. In many situations, you can prevent being bullied by simply not playing that game.
By ignoring the content of the verbal challenge and responding with something like, “Hi Ralph, just on my way to the meeting. Have a good day,” and walking past the bully in a confident manner may tell the bully that you are not the right target. If they see that you are not scared, they don’t have the feeling of having power over you, and so they stop it.
- Don’t fight back using the same weapons
Trying to fight back using the same means would just escalate the situation, and they would win since it is their battlefield. Sometimes it can work as you may surprise the bully with a violent action on your own, but most likely it won’t as it is just not you.
It will also make it more difficult for you to turn to others for help if you have perpetrated the same unacceptable actions. You would be seen as a part of the problem by those in authority.
- Allow the person to vent
Especially in the corporate environment and when the bully is also your boss you fighting back or trying to deflect the rage towards someone else wouldn’t really work. Let them say what is on their mind and just sit and listen until they calm down a bit.
Then restate what they said in your own words, “Chris if I understand you correctly, you are angry because I did xyz.” It may provoke an answer like, “You are damn right that I’m angry,” but at least the rant is over, and there is a chance for resolution.
In your mind, you should keep repeating to yourself that in reality, everyone is responsible for their own actions, words, and feelings. So if your boss is angry, it has nothing to do with you. Even if you did something wrong, it is still the boss who is responsible for getting angry.
- Offer a way forward
You are calm, you are in control of your emotions, and you are the one who acts like an adult. It forces the bully the reassess the situation. You are not weak and cowardly as they thought, so they just need to find a way out to save face. You can achieve that not by dwelling on what happened but by showing the path forward.
Don’t apologize, don’t act subservient, but don’t try to dominate either. Be professional and focus on what can be done, so this doesn’t happen again. Starting with something along the lines of, “I suggest we resolve this by…,” can do the trick.
- Stand your ground and repeat
Repeat this process. Most bullies are looking for easy prey. They have no desire for the actual battle, especially if there is a danger they may find their match. This process either helps or not. If yes, you may not be bullied ever again by this person as you showed that you are not afraid, and there is no fun in bullying you.
If it doesn’t work then escalate to your manager or HR, you may even bring it up during the conversation with the bully as a way to resolve the problem, “since you don’t seem to agree to any of my suggestions I will bring it up to my manager to resolve.”
- Get help from others
Sometimes all it takes is some of the bystanders or figures of authority to calmly intervene. If the bully sees that others are doing nothing, it encourages him or her to continue. However, if in the early stages someone with enough clout in the organization, like a manager, or a well-liked employee just tells the bully that this is not acceptable behavior and it won’t be tolerated in this organization, chances are it is going to stop.
It is important to point out that office bullies often wield a lot of power, either formal or informal, and they can sabotage your work and your career. However, that still doesn’t mean you should let them.
Ultimately, either they stop, or your attempts to deal with it, including escalation, will fail. If you fail, if your manager and human resources team don’t do anything even if you escalated, you should just leave. You don’t want to work for a company that tolerates such behavior anyway.
Photo: geralt / Pixabay.com
What are your thoughts on bullying? Have you ever encountered bully in the workplace? How did you deal with the situation? Do you believe it is the work of HR departments to deal with bullies or it is a responsibility of every single individual to intervene when they see other people being bullied?