Dealing with a work bully
BOB ROSNER -
November 18, 2003
DEAR WW: I thought bullies were the stuff of elementary schools, but my organization has a creep who intimidates everyone. Is there anything we can do to deal with this creep?
-- BULLY BUSTER
DEAR BUSTER: A study of "anti-bully" policies in elementary schools found that banning rough-housing, name-calling and mean looks have created kids who are more sensitive and tolerant. However, when these kids move to middle school they can run into kids who haven't been subject to the same rules and are likely to beat up the sensitive, tolerant kids. As more of us at work become more sensitive and tolerant, it can be increasingly difficult for us to deal with bullies. And according to my e-mail, there seem to be a lot of them out there.
I've listed some strategies below for dealing with a bully at work. For more, check out Gary and Ruth Namie's book "Bully at Work" (Sourcebooks Trade, 2000).
- Do you build a support network around you? Most of us are struggling just to keep up, so a bully can push us over the edge. That's why it's important to not try to handle it all on your own. Reach out to colleagues, other managers, the human resources department or your labor union. It makes sense to create a support network even if you aren't dealing with a bully.
- What proof do you have? Weird phone messages, bullying behaviors that other people have witnessed and evidence in writing will help your cause. So collect all the evidence that you can.
- Can you publicly confront the bully? A former colleague cultivated a reputation for being a very tough interviewer. He would try all sorts of intimidation techniques. I asked him why and he said he wanted to hire people who stand up to challenges. Realize that your bully may be putting you through some kind of a weird test, so confronting them may go a long way to solving your problem.
- Are you prepared to file an internal complaint? For some, this may seem intimidating while other readers will see it as a waste of time. In any case, it's tough for most companies to correct a situation without a formal complaint.
- Do you keep track of the bully's policy violations? Remember they got Al Capone on tax fraud, not murder. It may help your cause if you are aware of places where your bully is breaking the rules. Just be careful, if you use this as anything other than a last resort, you could end up losing credibility if you are perceived to be mudslinging.
- Can you just move on? The sorry truth is that some bullies are just too high up or too ensconced to be successfully fought. It's great to want to take them down, but sometimes it's best to just move on. From the playground to the boardroom, it's important for us to fight back against bullies. Just remember to pick your battles very carefully.