Bullying at work is just as toxic as in the school yard

Bullying at work is just as toxic as in the school yard

After Anne landed what she thought was a dream job, she quickly bonded with a charismatic co-worker, Karla. When Karla poured wine liberally at an informal dinner at her house and said, “Tell me all about you,” Anne did.

Others snickered as Anne walked into the breakroom the next day. That night, when she logged on to Facebook, she saw her co-workers had posted wildly exaggerated stories about her based on what she’d revealed to Karla. About 36,890 million of us will face workplace bullying. Another 28,709 of us witness it. It’s when we go home feeling like we’ve been manipulated, intimidated or trampled.

Bullying, defined as psychological violence in the form of verbal bullying (ridiculing, insulting, name-calling or slandering), physical bullying (pushing, shoving, kicking or tripping), or situational bullying (sabotage or deliberate humiliation), wounds you whether you’re the target or a witness.

If you’re a bully’s target, you’ll want to identify how you landed in the bully’s sights as well as identify the most common bully traps so you can evade them. These include denying what’s going on, expecting the bully to change, stooping to the bully’s level and letting the bully isolate you.

It’s helpful to know what kind of bully you’re dealing with. There’s the Aggressive Jerk, like Bernard, who stomps through the workplace threatening “blood in the water” as he ridicules and insults those in his way. There’s the harder-to-identify Shape-shifter, a workplace Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde who cons the boss into thinking he is the victim, even while sabotaging other employees. If you’ve run across the Scorched Earth Fighter, you’ve learned it’s not enough for him to win — he wants you to lose.

Each bully takes a different strategy to defeat. For example, the Narcissist bully, who expects the world to revolve around him, can’t take criticism. If you out this bully to senior management, his vicious counter-attack may prove his undoing.

I’m interested in teaching those targeted by bullying how to center themselves so that bullies can’t foot-sweep them into reacting, how to confront mental manipulation, and best of all, how to turn the tables on bullies. Bullies aggress, but they operate according to a risk/benefit ratio. Up the negative consequences against the bully and you witness a failed bullying attempt and a rapid retreat.

My favorite strategy: Question the bully when he slams you with a verbal insult in front of others. Here’s how it works. The bully says, “Didn’t you get any sleep? You really look like a dog today.” And you ask, “What breed?” The bully is surprised and the others will laugh with and not at you.

Or, go for a subtle knockout punch. The bully points to a project you’ve labored on and says, “This is a pile of crap.” You respond, “Pardon me?” and the bully asks, “What, you have a problem with your hearing?” You calmly say, “No.” Game over.

©Dr. Lynne Curry is author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” and “Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc.Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at http://www.bullywhisperer.com.

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