bullybusters . org
Beating a Bullying Boss
By Jay MacDonald
Bankrate . com
August 17, 2004
There are three ways to deal with office bullies . You can ignore them , confront them or report them to the boss . But what do you do when the bully is your boss ?
Delicate situation . You like your job . The money ‘ s good . The benefits are terrific . If only this creep would cease invading your head space . Odds are that isn ‘ t going to happen .
Once a bully has targeted you , he — or she , since bullying is an equal – opportunity trait — rarely moves on voluntarily . It ‘ s up to you to shake the bully off . Unfortunately , it ‘ s the bully that usually wins .
While a recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that most office bullying is worker – to – worker , dealing with an aggressor can be particularly dicey when the bully is in charge at the office .
“Our data indicates that 70 percent of targets lose their jobs once they ‘ ve been targeted ; 33 percent leave voluntarily for health reasons and 36 percent are constructively discharged ,” says Gary Namie , co – founder and president of the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute , a nonprofit advocacy group . “The real risk is in being targeted in the first place .” Namie ‘ s organization defines bullying as ” repeated , health – endangering mistreatment ” through acts of commission ( hostile verbal or nonverbal communication or interference ) or omission (withholding resources such as time , information , training , equipment or support ) aimed at fomenting chaos and divisiveness within the ranks .
Bully bosses come in a variety of styles , but each seeks the same goal : absolute control . They may spout the company line about teamwork and consensus building , but in practice , they ‘ re always looking out for numero uno . They ‘ re not after a win -win ; they ‘ re out to win , period . In their view , everyone within the organization is either above or below them . Guess which way the abuse rolls ?
Sam Horn , author of ” Take the Bully By the Horns : Stop Unethical , Uncooperative or Unpleasant People from Running and Ruining Your Life ,” says bullies select their victims the way any predator does — they prey on the easiest targets .
“Bullies will pick on nice people . They operate on a risk – reward ratio . They throw their stuff out there and test to see if they can knock you off balance , fluster you . If you are weak or just swallow it , the bully owns you ,” says Horn .
2 . Name the problem . You ‘ ve got a problem and it ‘ s not your fault or doing . Your boss is a bully . Face up to the fact that although you had no part in becoming their target , it is up to you to end this destructive mambo . “Naming it legitimizes it ,” says Namie . ” You know if you name it that it ‘ s not you .”
3 . Take some time off . If the abuse has been ongoing , a doctor may even order this for your own good . If not , take vacation time . ” When you ‘ re flooded with emotion , when you ‘ re full of anger and outrage and you ‘ re hurt , all you want to do is convince people you ‘ re wounded ,” Namie says . ” You ‘ re not going to get any help if you come at them with emotion .” Use the time to see a mental health counselor , check your physical health , check your legal options ( a quarter of bullying cases have some discrimination components that may strengthen your case ) and gather your thoughts .
4 . Start a journal . Without documentation , employees tend to get nowhere when challenging superiors . Chart the five Ws : who , what , when , where and witnesses . ” If you don ‘ t , it ‘ s your word against theirs and any decision – maker will not be able to take action ,” says Horn . “Often the decision – makers don ‘ t like whistleblowers and are often intimidated themselves by this individual and are not eager to deal with them . ” The good thing is , if you report with documentation , most organizations are mandated to follow up because if they do not , they are liable . It ‘ s one of your only sources of power .”
5 . Expose the bully . When you ‘ re case is solid , expose the bully . You don ‘ t want to do this directly , says Namie , but at least two levels up the organization ; that is , the bully boss ‘ s boss . ” This is where you make the unemotional business case that the bully is too expensive to keep ,” he says . ” Our success stories are coming from these multilayer corporate structures where there is somebody high enough above that did not bring the person on board and does not owe them any personal loyalty .”
Warning : Do not confront the bully . ” That ‘ s what everybody tells you ; it ‘ s a clash of personalities , work it out between yourselves ,” says Namie . This rarely works .
Even more frustrating is that there ‘ s no law against workplace bullying — yet . Namie ‘ s organization has launched a grassroots effort to enact anti – bullying statutes in states and provinces across North America . So far , Quebec is the only jurisdiction to adopt psychological harassment legislation .
Namie says that while heavily profit – driven enterprises and time – intensive industries such as the news media frequently breed tyrants , bullies also are prevalent in such people – oriented fields as health care and teaching , where nice , well – intentioned targets abound . Here ‘ s how to deal with one of life ‘ s least – pleasant scenarios .
1 . A void becoming a target . Got a bully for a boss ? The first step is to avoid becoming a target . Paul Babiak , a New York industrial – organizational psychologist and co – author of ” Snakes in Suits ,” advises against trying to “help ” or befriend a bully ; their aggressive behavior hides an inner need that is well beyond reason .
“Studies indicate that bullies are actually inept people who are not talented , maybe have a rage against themselves that they express outward toward people they see as being better than they are . It ‘ s from a point of weakness that they express their violence toward others .” ” Most people self – correct , they will even apologize ,” adds Horn . “Bullies never self – correct , and the reason is they hold everyone else responsible for their behavior . To change , you have to be willing to take responsibility for your own actions , and bullies do not . A ll of our reasonable , logical , compassionate attempts to get along with a bully will backfire .”
To avoid being targeted , Horn suggests emulating the cat confronted by a dog : If the cat runs , the dog runs after it . But if the cat doesn ‘ t budge , the dog walks around it . ” In any office , you will find there are people the bully picks on and people the bully leaves alone ,” says Horn . ” When we reverse the risk – reward ratio , when we give as good as we get , we ‘ re up to the bully ‘ s test . ” The only thing a bully respects is people who won ‘ t be bullied .”
And where the bully boss is the top banana , you may have little choice but to move on . The loss rate on court cases for intentional infliction of emotional distress is 95 percent , Namie says .
In these cases , the employee has to decide , all other things considered , whether the job really is worth keeping . If the answer is ” no ,” it ‘ s time to acquaint yourself with a headhunter .
The ” Survivor ” factor The courts and the corporate boardroom also have been slow to recognize that bully behavior batters the bottom line . The bureau director of a federal agency recently called on Namie to ferret out a bully boss , but when he isolated him , the director refused to remove him because ” he ‘ s a great conversationalist and a lunch buddy .”
Do you wonder if we will see an end to bully bosses anytime soon ? Horn says the answer may be staring us in the face every day .
“When you watch TV , you see kids bad – mouthing their parents . You see shows like ‘ Survivor ‘ and the reality shows where the more aggressive and manipulative and conniving you are , the more you are rewarded . We are growing up in a culture where ‘dissing ‘ each other is the norm .
“Even laugh tracks . Remember ‘ The Weakest Link ?’ The host would ridicule the contestants and everyone was laughing en masse at this individual and they were just supposed to buck up and take it . Boy , are our values getting confused when this is held up as an example !”
A brief note in the Wall Street Journal (7/27/99) tells us that, “bullies have emerged as a workplace problem everywhere”. According to the United Nations-affiliated International Labor Organization, bullying is vindictive, cruel, malicious, or humiliating action by co-workers or customers designed to undermine an individual or a group of employees. In addition, the Atlanta Journal Constitution (9/5/99) indicates that, “bullying is the fastest growing form of workplace violence”. Now, take a deep breath and read this, also from the Wall Street Journal (4/9/99). It seems that an employee of a manufacturing plant sued a co-worker for sexual and racial harassment. She claimed that the man let a door slam in her face, cut her off in the parking lot, and touched her. The case was dismissed. The court held that the defendant was an equal opportunity harasser and jerk. He mistreated his co-workers equally.
As unbelievable as it may seem, it is your responsibility to learn the offensive and defensive skills necessary to deal with meanness because our laws protect the bully.
Consider this. A couple with a son in seventh grade is trying for the umpteenth and final time to get a seventh grade bully off their son’s back. The bully’s parents don’t take responsibility, the school isn’t taking an assertive stance for accountability, so the next step is a restraining order from the police to keep the young lad from bullying the student.
As unbelievable as it may seem, it is your responsibility to teach your children the defensive skills needed to deal with meanness because that bully can grow up to be the equal opportunity jerk who will have the law on his side. After all, he got away with it through his growing up years, didn’t he?
So what can you do? What are you willing to do? Here are five ideas that are immediately applicable if you are willing to honor yourself by using them.
1. Avoid behaving like a victim. Walk tall, give eye contact, and speak firmly. Sweat the small stuff. If someone bullies you, even in a small way, confront. Let the perpetrator know, verbally or in writing, publicly or in private, that you are unwilling to accept his behavior. Bullying, in our culture is escalated disrespect. Deal with the disrespect at the start, whether it’s speaking up when interrupted, confronting when someone else takes credit for your work, or pointing out unfair workloads. If a bully gets away with the small stuff, it’s likely that the disrespectful behavior worsens. Teach your children to manage bullying behavior. Teach them that they deserve to be treated with the very same respect that you teach them to apply in relationships with others.
Here’s a specific example that may sound familiar to your work environment. Some weeks ago, a client chose to engage a psychologist to work on some organizational development issues in addition to my contribution to the same group. Her interpersonal behavior included snubbing others by not saying hello or choosing to look the other way when addressed. She made stinging comments about the value of her work compared to the value of others’ contribution. She pointedly kept company with key leadership and chose not to interact, even casually, with other professionals in the room. She was demonstrating passive aggressive behavior, behavior that is covertly disrespectful. Passive aggressive behavior, like aggressive behavior is damaging to self-respect if left unchecked. Choosing to stand tall, looking her in the eye until she looked away, and consistently speaking fairly and firmly to the issues was the best response. Avoidance or backing down gives bullies the “win”; and the win invites an escalation of their tactics in the next interaction with you. In your assertive response, you don’t look for win-lose, you look for the double win of mutually respectful behavior.
2. Document, document, document. Write down the time, place, situation and people involved when bullying occurs. Your documentation is an essential chronology of your situation with a bully and provides a valuable record if you choose to formalize your complaint. Written records are almost always viewed as more credible than relying on memory. Whether working with an adult or youth, I encourage (and keep my own!) written records of aggressive interactions. It has proven valuable to let an organization as well as the perpetrator know that the written record is being kept.
As a consultant, I have asked clients to not only document aggressive interactions, but also to save voice mails and even tape meetings (openly, of course!) to prove the level of bullying. There was a client situation where an executive left a voice mail that included yelling, swearing, and threats to one of his employees. The employee contacted me, I asked him to save the voice mail, and I confronted the executive. The executive claimed that the voice mail never happened, but when I told him that it had been saved, his specific words were, “well I don’t remember saying the things you say I said, but if I did, I need to change.” In spite of never needing to replay the tape, it was valuable evidence to prove aggressive behavior that needed to change.
3. Keep your antennae up for others who may be on the receiving end of the bully. Seek their willingness to provide the objective documentation that supports the history of the bully’s behavior. We frequently feel embarrassed or awkward about situations where we are the victim. But there often are others who are experiencing the same behavior from the same individual. And the additional documentation is helpful to having the situation taken seriously by human resources and senior management.
In the previous example of the executive’s bullying behavior, it was the executive who encouraged victims of his wrath to step forward and talk with me. It was a valuable message to the executive to become more aware of how widespread his reputation was for having an uncontrolled temper. That documentation was a piece of value in supporting his behavior change.
4. Invest the time in figuring the cost and/or risk to the organization for putting up with the bully’s behavior. At the very least, the behavior impacts productivity. On a larger scale, the behavior can put the organization at risk for a lawsuit and the resulting unfavorable publicity. Use that information to position the need for your concern about a bully to be taken seriously.
Some years ago, while still in healthcare, I worked with an incorrigibly ill-tempered physician. His outrageous temper and tempestuous rages were legendary. But his behavior was offset by being a “million dollar doc”. That is, he was responsible for one million dollars of revenue into the hospital each year and in 1983, that was big! However, over time, his angry outbursts also led to lowered productivity, turnover, employee fear, patient dissatisfaction, and lowered respect from colleagues. One evening, the hospital administrator invited me into his office to ask me the proverbial “million dollar” question. And it was: “Should we fire this doctor?” After wondering briefly where he got the “we”, I responded, “the decision to fire him would, in no way, be mine to make, but my question to you is this, is his million dollars of revenue worth the cost of havoc and dissent throughout this hospital? And is his value worth a potential lawsuit?” Interestingly, he was fired three months later. Bullies who are unwilling to change rarely remain steady in their behavior. As they get away with their aggressiveness, that tacit acceptance is an invitation to escalate to more of the negative. An organization puts itself at greater and greater risk for legal action as the bullying increases.
5. Blow the dust off of your employee handbook. Carefully check to see if the bullying behavior is actually in conflict with company values, codes of conduct or specific policies. If you can talk from the same side of the table as your company about your concerns by also presenting how company wide conduct expectations are not being upheld, you strengthen the probability that your organization will take action. No company wants to be at high risk for the expense and lousy publicity of legal action.
Communities and businesses are choosing to invest time, energy and dollars into reducing violent behavior. Part of the solution is to take the moment-by-moment action that proves respect is upheld and rewarded. Take a stand against bullies by taking an indisputable stand for the youth and adults who must learn to work and play well together.
By: Susan B. Wilson, President, Executive Strategies