Handling Workplace Bullies: Tactics That Work

Friday, 18th January, 2013 

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Bullies come in many sizes and types, among them: the character assassin; the micro-managing control freak; the silent grenade ready to explode; and the opportunistic, manipulative backstabber. Like schoolyard bullies that throw spitballs, workplace bullies generally launch their attack by making unjustified accusations about their target’s character, competency, personality or emotional stability. By creating hearsay they erode others’ respect for and trust in their target. Left unchecked, they undermine their target’s self-confidence and work relationships.

Unfortunately, those confronted by a bully often instinctively make exactly the wrong moves, either playing into the bully’s hands or naively coming across as an easy target. These wrong moves include trying to appease the bully; stooping to the bully’s level and thus losing others’ respect; letting the bully isolate you from others; and wasting energy by responding to phony issues.

To avoid these nonproductive yet instinctive reactions, take a moment to realize what’s going on and ask yourself “what game is this?” Then, don’t play. For example, if the bully confronts you with “where did you come up with this crap?” respond straightforwardly and non-defensively with “it came from the Harvard Business Review” or whatever source you used.

You can further out-maneuver the bully and avoid non-productive point-counterpoint arguments by countering attacks with questions. For example, if the bully mutters, “you sure screwed this up,” ask “in what way?” If the bully says, “just about every way you could have,” then respond, “as soon as you give me a specific, we can move forward.” By rising above the attacks and offering to deal with real issues, your actions announce “bullying won’t fly with me.”

So-what else would help you in terms of bullies?

© Lynne Curry, 2013, www.thegrowthcompany.com

P.S. If you’re interested, we’re offering detailed training on Handling Verbal Confrontation & the Workplace Bully on 2/20/13, just click here for details: http://thegrowthcompany.com/html/register.php?id=1101

You can follow Lynne on Twitter! @lynnecurry10

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Friday, 18th January, 2013 2:36 PM

Am glad you guys are giving out useful info.; I work next to a bully who fits every one of your characterizations.

Know Thy Enemy

Monday, 4th February, 2013 1:17 PM

On the surface, similar behaviors may seem to be approximately the same thing, However, the personality and motivation of the bully can be drastically different. Understanding the personality is the most important thing to determining what behaviors to take.

If a person is loudly insistent on various points, associates can feel bullied. Perhaps they are feeling marginalized and just need to be heard. Maybe they have a personal directive or agenda from their manager that they are charged with promoting. Investigate. However, if their game is to dominate in all things all the time, and to demean everyone else, then you may be dealing with a sociopath. There is no solution for dealing with this individual simply because they have no empathy, no ethics and only play a zero-sum game. Depending on which study you read between 4 and 30% of corporate management fit the sociopath description.

Some clues:
- Do they have a totally different personality when management is in the room?
- Do they greedily grab flashy work in some instances, and then leverage their associates to deliver?
- Do they engage in casual passive-aggressive verbal cuts to short circuit conversations?
- Do they out and out steal your work, taking your proposal and rearranging slightly to pass off as their own?

Look carefully at the bullying behavior, but look even more carefully at the whole person in context over time. One bad decision does not a sociopath make. Neither does a "difficult personality" indicate a serious character flaw. However, patterns of intimidation coupled with ethical breaches might be an indication of a a much bigger problem than bullying.

Friday, 8th February, 2013 10:56 AM

thank you very much for an informative comment -- you make great points, Lynne

Workplace Bullies

Tuesday, 19th February, 2013 5:48 AM

I've been a worker for decades and have encountered several types of bullies.

I nearly killed one. He couldn't resist putting me down with snarky comments, offensive behavior, backstabbing and trying to damage me in every way that he could. Competent, confident, and professional in my area of the place we worked, I always received high, favorable marks (this is what drove him). I refused to respond in kind to his bullying. I stayed above him and he became so irked and worked up - spoiling for a fight that I wouldn't stoop to, that he had a heart attack. He's gone. I'm here.

Sunday, 24th February, 2013 3:56 PM

Wow, what a story. I don't wish death to anyone, however, I am so very glad you stayed above the bullying. Lynne

Workplace Bullies

Sunday, 30th June, 2013 7:17 PM

Wow, I'm going through the same thing at my job. She pits all of her employees against me and they do her dirty work. They don't even know why they don't like me. Mgmt won't do anything about her, they had me talk to her oneday after she touched me & I complained about it. I have to give her credit, she keeps trying and its been 4 yrs. I've decided to leave the company without 2 weeks notice. They can keep their job and their bipolar sociopath.

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