By Lionel Wijesiri
You may think confronting a bully is scary and hard. Not exactly! Bullies are only effective when they’re on solid ground. You have to take away that ground
Do you think you work with a bully? Do you regularly feel intimidated, dread to work near a particular co-worker or you’re yelled at, insulted and put down? Does a co-worker talk over you at meetings, criticize you or steal credit for your work? If you answer yes to these questions, chances are good that you’re one of thousands of Sri Lankans who have been attacked by a bully at work.
You know you’re working with a bully when the bully picks out your mistakes and constantly brings them up. Or worse, the bully gossips about you, tells lies to your co-workers and even sabotages your work. If you dread going to work, you may have a bully co-worker. If your employer won’t help you, (they often won’t), these are the few actions you could take to defeat the bully.
But before going through those actions, let us delve into a serious study about the bullies.
Who is a bully?
Unlike schoolyard bullying, you were not targeted because you were a ‘loner’ without friends to stand up to the bullying gang. Nor are you a weakling. Most likely, you were targeted because you posed a ‘threat’ to him or her. The perception of threat is entirely in his/her mind, but it is what he/she feels and believes.
Targets are independent. Initially, they refuse to be subservient. Bullies seek to enslave targets. When targets take steps to preserve their dignity, their right to be treated with respect, bullies escalate their campaigns of hatred and intimidation to wrest control of the target’s work from the target.
Targets are more technically skilled than their bullies. They are the ‘go-to’ veteran workers to whom new employees turn for guidance. Insecure co-workers can’t stand to share credit for the recognition of talent. They steal credit from skilled targets.
Purpose of bullying
The purpose of bullying is to hide the inadequacy of the bully and has nothing to do with the ‘management’ or the achievement of tasks. Bullies project their inadequacies onto others to distract and divert attention away from their inadequacies.
In most cases of workplace, the bully is a serial ‘killer’ who has a history of conflict with staff. The bullying that one sees is often also the tip of an iceberg of wrongdoing of the instigator which may include misappropriation of budgets, harassment, discrimination, as well as breaches of rules, regulations and professional codes of conduct and health and safety practices.
Bullies seethe with resentment and anger and the conduits for release of this inner anger are jealousy and envy which explain why bullies pick on employees who are good at their job and popular with people. Being emotionally immature, they crave attention and become resentful when others get more attention for their competence and achievements than themselves.
In the majority of cases, the target of bullying is eliminated through forced resignation, unfair dismissal or early or ill- health retirement, whilst the bully is possibly promoted. After a short interval of between 2-14 days, the bully selects another target and the cycle restarts. Often another target is selected before the current target is eliminated.
Dealing with a bully
You can deal with a bully and change his/her behaviour if you are willing to practice personal courage.
Rule No. 1 - Don’t make yourself an easy target, you will only encourage the bully.
Rule No. 2 - You have to set your limits on what you wish to tolerate. If the bully exceeds that limit, exercise your right to tell him/her to stop the ‘nonsense’.
Perhaps, you need to respond a few steps with a friend so that you are more comfortable responding when the bully attacks.
Tell the bully what behaviour you will not put up with in the future. (In the future, you are not to enter my cubicle unless I invite you to come in. This is my private work space and your actions are unwelcome.)
Analyse the behaviour you see the bully exhibiting – don’t editorialize, just describe what you see. (For example, he may enter your cubicle, lean over your shoulder and read your personal correspondence on your computer screen.)
Tell the bully exactly how his behaviour is impacting your work. (For example, tell him, “Because much of my work is confidential, your actions make me feel as if I need to hide what I am working on from you, which is a waste of my time.)
Stick with your statement and if the bully violates your space, move on to next stage - confrontation.
Rule No. 3 - Confront the bully with his own behaviour.
You may think confronting a bully is scary and hard. Not exactly! Bullies are only effective when they’re on solid ground. You have to take away that ground. For example, next time he swears or heaves a phone book, call it out. Point out that he’s swearing or yelling and leave the room or end the call.
Remember: You’re the adult dealing with a tantrum. You’re wrapping bulldozer’s fury with tough love. By making statements about his conduct, you’re putting him on notice. Keep up your game and by the second or third attempt, the bulldozer will be tire of spinning his treads in the sand.
This confrontational approach works effectively in meetings, too. If the bully is talking over you with complaints and criticisms, ask him a direct question about what he recommends instead. If that doesn’t work, there are two things you could do. If you are the head of the meeting, ask him to leave the meeting until you finish your discussion. If he refuses, end the meeting and reschedule the meeting without him. If you are a participant, request the head to ask him either keep silent or leave the meeting until you finish your presentation. You need to call out the bully on your terms.
Rule No. 4 - Document the bully’s actions.
Any time you are feeling bullied or experiencing bullying behaviour, document the date, time and details of the incident. Note if another employee witnessed the incident. If you eventually seek help from Human Resources, documentation (especially documentation of the bully’s impact on business results and success), give HR information to work with on your behalf. The bully is not just hurting your feelings; the bully is sabotaging business success. If the bullying occurs in email or correspondence, maintain a hard copy of the trail of emails and file them in a folder in your computer.
Rule No. 5 - Check whether your co-workers are targets of the bully, too.
Note whether the bully pulls the same behaviour with your co-workers. Ask your co-workers to document the bully’s behaviour and any scenes they witness when the bully targets any co-worker. If five of you experience the bullying, and five of you document, then you build a case to which the HR and your management can respond on solid ground. They need evidence and witnesses, even if everyone knows, that the bully is a bully.
Rule No. 6 - As the last resort, tell the management and the HR about the bully.
You’ve tried to implement these suggestions, but they aren’t working to stop the bully. It’s time to get help. Go to the HR through your manager with your evidence, especially the evidence that demonstrates the impact of the bully on the business and file a formal complaint. Refer to the company regulations on the HR investigation process that your complaint sets in motion.
You can hope for the best resolution but be prepared to explore other options, so you have less contact with the bully. You may even need to find a new job. You may never know what the HR did about the bully; you can assess the impact by how he now treats you.
(The writer is a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience. He can be
contacted on email@example.com)