Beating a Bullying Boss

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 !”

Bullies, Beware!

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


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