I hate bullies.
Yes, hate is a pretty strong word, and it’s not one that I throw around loosely, but I can’t think of a word that describes my feelings for bullies more accurately than hate.
Keep reading and I’ll explain exactly why.
Bullying in any form is unquestionably terrible, but I want to focus on a form of bullying that doesn’t always get the attention that it deserves.
Specifically, I’m talking about workplace bullies.
Bullying in the workplace has reached near-epidemic status, and it’s time that we put an end to this behavior once and for all. This may sound ambitious, but my goal is that this post will mark the beginning of the end of bullying in the workplace.
I’m dead serious about making this happen. People have suffered for far too long at the hands of these sociopaths, and I’m calling for it to end now.
And just like anything, it all begins with you. The future of the workplace as we know it depends on all of us taking control of our work lives and eradicating workplace bullies starting today.
It might not be easy, but this is something that we have to do.
Let’s talk about how we’re going to do this.
The Urgent Call to End Workplace Bullying
First of all, let’s define the enemy.
For the sake of simplicity, a workplace bully is basically anyone who makes your work life a living hell by contributing to, or creating, a hostile work environment. This is usually done by using intimidation, humiliation, and constant criticism to demean you and your work.
Unfortunately, there’s much more to workplace bullying than merely the obvious stuff. Bullying at work isn’t all about belligerent yelling and screaming.
Some of the more passive-aggressive examples include, purposeful exclusion from team meetings/activities, consistently taking credit for your work, sabotaging your work, overloading you with work or taking away all of your work, purposely withholding information from you, spreading false rumors and gossiping, just to name a few lesser known bullying behaviors.
There is an urgent need for this madness to stop. Why, you ask?
Here’s why: According to a 2010 study by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 35% of the U.S. workforce report being bullied at work. That’s 53.5 million people. That’s a lot people whose lives have been affected by workplace bullying–maybe you’re one of those people.
Here are some more disturbing stats to chew on: In a separate study, 71% of the respondents who were bullied at work were treated by a physician for work-related symptoms. 63% of workplace bullying victims saw a mental health professional for their work-related symptoms. Some of these symptoms included, hypertension, sleeplessness, ulcers, severe mood swings, debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, clinical depression, migraine headaches, relapse of previously controlled addictions, even post traumatic stress disorder.
Again, that’s a lot of people whose health has been affected by workplace bullying–maybe you’re one of those people too.
In the most extreme cases, workplace bullying can even lead to suicide–thankfully, you’re not one of those people.
If you’re a senior leader at a company and you’re reading this, maybe those statistics didn’t move you.
Hopefully this will: The effects of workplace bullying on your company’s bottom line can be devastating.
Specifically, the cost of dealing with constant employee turnover and re-training, rampant absenteeism, potential lawsuits, dismal employee morale (which, not surprisingly, affects customer service quality), increased healthcare costs, and the inability to attract top talent is enough to destroy any business, including yours.
It’s time to re-prioritize.
Our New #1 Priority
Let’s be real–is the #1 priority in your company really your organization’s new marketing strategy? Is it the rollout of your company’s brand-new payroll system? Is it the implementation of your company’s extra “casual dress day” policy for star employees? Is it your company’s long-awaited acquisition of another rival company?
No. No. Hell No. And, no.
Your company’s #1 priority should be to get your people to treat each other with dignity and respect, and more specifically to find the bullies poisoning your organization from the inside and convince them to stop being assholes. Or fire them. Either option works for me.
Yes, that one act alone would dramatically improve the workplace culture in this world overnight.
Think about it–increased productivity, improved communication, a renewed spirit of collaboration, more employee engagement, happier customers, happier management, happier shareholders–the positives go on and on. The 53.5 million Americans on the wrong end of workplace bullying would experience a brand-new and infinitely improved life if bullying vanished from their workplaces forever.
If we could dramatically improve the lives of 53.5 million Americans (and countless others all over the world), by simply getting rid of bullies in the workplace, then why aren’t all of us focused on making it happen? Seriously, if significantly helping out 35% of the American population isn’t enough of a reason to pass anti-workplace bullying legislation in this country, then what in the hell is?
Today is the day that we all must shift our focus to our new #1 priority at the workplace: ending workplace bullying forever.
If we’re going to make this happen starting today, then we’re definitely going to need a strategy. Let’s get into specifics about the 3 types of bullies that you could encounter in the workplace and how to maintain your sanity while dealing with them.
1. Bully Customers
These people were discussed at length in the 2-part The Customer is Always Right Must Die series, so I won’t continue beat the skeletal remains of the dead horse any longer.
Okay, maybe I will for a little bit longer.
Again, let’s not confuse upset/angry customers with customers who are bullies. Angry customers might be furious that they were double-billed or pissed off that the waiter screwed up their dinner order. It might not be pleasant, but dealing with angry people happens from time to time in customer-facing jobs. I’m not big on clichés, but allow me to use my least favorite one here: it is what it is. All of our customers can’t be epic customers, right?
Use the opportunity to “wow” the angry customer with your service excellence and if done correctly, you could turn an angry customer into a loyal customer for life.
Although that’s definitely true, this isn’t about angry customers. I’m talking about bully customers.
Bully customers, on the other hand, are the ones who were double-billed and decide to turn their problem with the company into a personal issue with the front line employee.
Perhaps the bully will use this situation as an excuse to demean the front line employee by cursing her out, threatening her, calling her racist names, or physically intimidating her.
This behavior is never okay and cannot be tolerated.
If you work in management and want to keep your best and brightest front line employees consistently providing stellar customer service, then let them know that you’ve got their back when it comes to having a zero-tolerance policy for abusive customers. Failure to swiftly and consistently support your employees in the face of customer abuse will result in the loss of your best people. It may not happen immediately, but it will happen–count on it.
So, how do you deal with bully customers who cross the line? You have to set clear boundaries with them.
Let’s say that you have a customer who comes into your store and starts screaming, cursing you out, and angrily pointing in your face because the brand-new big screen TV that he bought for the big game, didn’t work. The conversation could go like this:
Bully Customer: <Pointing angrily in your face>: “Hey shithead, you better take your fat ass to the back right now and get me a goddamn TV that works! I missed the Raiders game because of you and your shitty store! If there’s not a brand new TV in front of me in the next 5 minutes, there will be hell to pay, you asshole!”
You: <Calmly, but firmly> “Sir, I apologize for the inconvenience and I want to help you resolve your issue. However, if you continue to curse at me, call me names, and put your finger in my face I won’t be able to help you and I’ll have to end this conversation now. So, would you like me to help you or should we end this conversation now?”
Here’s the thing–what happens next is entirely up to the customer. He can either: a) Act like a rational, civilized adult (and ideally apologize) and get the assistance he needs, or b) Continue to be a bully and get nothing. Of course for this to be truly effective, you need to have the support of your organization–which in some cases, is part of a larger problem.
I’m telling you right now, if you work for a company who would not support you in politely standing up for yourself in the face of customer abuse (as shown in the example above), then you should probably stop reading this post and head over to this page instead and start searching as if your sanity depends on it, because believe me, it does.
Dealing with angry customers is part of the job, we all get that. However, dealing with abuse in any form is never a part of any job description.
2. Bully Coworkers
Truthfully, I think that dealing with bully customers is actually pretty easy, relatively speaking. Why?
Because bully customers eventually leave.
Bully coworkers will be waiting for you when you show up to work today, tomorrow, the day after that…you get the picture. That fact alone adds a layer of complexity to the mix, but that doesn’t mean that dealing with them is impossible.
With bully coworkers, the first step is understanding the truth behind what makes a bully a bully.
Bullies at their core, are cowards. Remember this, because knowledge of this fact is your silver bullet in your fight against bullies of any kind.
Sure, they might not seem like cowards when they’re pulling the tough guy/gal routine on you, but please don’t be fooled by it–every bully walking the face of the earth needs your fear to survive. Without your fear, they are nothing.
Inside of each bully is a pathetic, sad, pitiful shell of a human being who seeks out people who they feel they can intimidate and control. Intimidation and control makes these people feel powerful, and to ensure that they keep feeling powerful, they seek out targets who have a disinterest in confrontation so that they get their jollies by emotionally destroying them.
There is overwhelming evidence that the higher the level of self-esteem, the more likely one will be to treat others with respect, kindness, and generosity.”
All cruelty is based in weakness–and cruelty is act of cowardice, not courage.
So, how do you deal with a bully coworker? You have to be the opposite of a coward. You have to be brave. Here are two ways you can be brave, starting today.
A) Don’t Let Them See You Sweat
Bullies love to get a reaction–in fact, your reaction of pain, sadness, and anger is the fuel that keeps them going. Sick I know, but it’s the truth with these nut jobs. I know that this is much easier said than done, but you cannot give them the reaction that they want. Ever.
If a bully coworker passive-aggressively excludes you from a team lunch outing or is overly critical of your work, don’t let him know that his behavior is getting to you. Vent to someone you trust. Walk away. Rise above his foolishness. You might not be in control of his bullying behavior, but you’re always in control of yours.
Many bullies will stop targeting you if they don’t get the reaction that they’re looking for from you. Unfortunately, this technique won’t work with all bullies. Some of the really persistent bullies won’t stop if they’re ignored. In fact, the bullying might increase if they feel that there aren’t any consequences to their actions. So, in that case, you’ll have to use this strategy instead…
B) Stand up for Yourself
Remember, we’re talking about a bully coworker–you don’t report to this person. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. Intimidation and immaturity are the only weapons that the bully has in her pathetic arsenal, and if you make the decision that you will not be bullied by her, the bully is effectively screwed because she doesn’t have a Plan B if Plan A fails.
If you choose to stand up for yourself, please do it when you’re not emotionally charged by the situation (yes, this is possible). Approach the bully and be assertive, but not aggressive about what is bothering you. Equally as important, focus solely on the bully’s behavior, not the bully herself.
For example, there’s a huge difference between “Susie, I’m sick of you acting like a bitch towards me during our team meetings” than “Susie, in the past two team meetings, I’ve felt personally attacked when you called my ideas stupid in front of the team, and I don’t feel that it’s appropriate.” Sure, she might deny it or get defensive, but from that moment forward, she knows that you know that you’re on to her childish bullying games.
Also, if your goal in this discussion is to simply make the bully aware of her bullying behavior, then you’re totally missing the point–please trust that the bully is fully aware of what she’s doing and how it makes you feel. She actually gets off on it.
You’re bringing this to her attention to put her on notice that her behavior is not okay with you and that you’d like it to stop. Most bullies never expect to be called out on their behavior, and now that you’ve put it out there, she’ll have to make the difficult choice of either stopping her behavior or continue to prove that you are right about her foolishness all along.
Most importantly, when it comes to bully coworkers, you have to know which battles are worth fighting and which ones aren’t worth your time. I know that there are always some people who believe that standing up to bullies is a bad idea because it could backfire on you. But to those people, I have a question: if you’re not going to stand up for yourself, then who will?
No one said that dealing with bullies is fun, but it’s necessary. Fighting through your fear to do the right thing for yourself and others is the epitome of bravery. In my experience, bravery will always win against the cowardice of a bully every day of the week.
3. Bully Bosses
If there was ever any doubt in your mind about the widespread damage that a bully boss can inflict on an organization, just check out this simple, but very effective 2-minute video to have your mind changed forever:
Yes, the worst of all has been saved for last. By far, bully bosses are the most challenging workplace bullies to deal with. In order to deal with them effectively, you’re going to need some help, but I’ll get to that later. Let’s talk about what you need to do first.
Unlike with bully coworkers, standing up for yourself might not always play out too well for you. Since bully bosses are in a power position over you, they could make your work life a living hell (yes, more so than it already is) if you try to do something that embarrasses them or bruises their fragile egos.
So instead, allow me to introduce you to your newest best friend when dealing with bully bosses: Good Documentation.
This is critical. Good documentation is an extremely powerful tool that cannot be underestimated. If you’re dealing with a boss who is known for his bullying, you need to get into “court reporter mode” and stealthily get your documentation on. One of the things that bully bosses count on is the lack of a quality paper trail from the people who they bully.
Keep track of dates of bullying incidents, exact quotes (if possible), dates, times–everything. If your bully boss is stupid enough to bully you in writing (emails, text messages, memos, etc.) then she’s basically doing your documentation work for you. Just smile, and keep every single shred of it.
Most importantly, when documenting, stick to the facts, not your emotions. Dealing with a bully boss isn’t easy, and if you want the bullying to stop, you’re going to have to put in some work. Keep a small notepad with you and don’t rely on your memory. If you have a coworker who you trust implicitly and feels the same way about the bully boss as you do, have her document her experiences too. There’s strength in numbers and there’s strength in consistency too.
Reporting a random incident where the bully boss screamed at you for no reason isn’t going to cut it. If your boss flew off the handle one morning and started screaming at you, that could easily be explained away as the bully boss having a “bad day.” We all have bad days.
However, a consistent pattern of multiple incidents of bullying behavior cannot be easily explained away–especially if this behavior is clearly creating a hostile work environment for you and others. Your documentation is the holy grail that clearly shows the intent behind the behavior. And if your documentation shows a pattern of intentional destructive behavior, then the organization really has no choice but to take action. Hopefully.
Now it’s time for the “help” section of the plan.
Once you get your documentation together, you’re going to have to reach out to your Human Resources (HR) representative (as I’m typing this, I can already hear the collective groan from the readers–stick with me on this) and share your detailed documentation with them. The goal is to avoid HR dismissing you as another “whiny complainer” who can’t deal with authority, which will be less likely if you show that you have stuff together.
If you misstep with sloppy or nonexistent documentation, there is zero chance of getting the support you need from HR to fix your bully boss’s behavior. If you want your concerns to be taken seriously, then you need to show that you’re serious by putting in the time and the work to document the facts like a champ.
Which leads to me to directly challenge the HR professionals reading this.
Very few people in America trust that their HR departments are looking out for them–I’m sorry, but it’s true. If you don’t believe me, ask around. As an HR professional, you play a very large role in stopping workplace bullying. It’s time for you to step it up.
You read the damage that bullying can can cause, right? This isn’t a damn game–this shit is serious. Workplace bullying can ruin lives, and you’re in a position to put a stop to it. Don’t take the easy way out by siding with the person who brings in more revenue to the organization, has the longer tenure, more strategic relationships, or the higher title. Or equally as bad, don’t throw up your hands and say “there’s nothing I can do.”
I’m calling bullshit.
If there’s nothing you can do, then why are you there? I, and many others, are calling on you as an HR professional to be brave, do the right thing, and take a stand against unacceptable bullying in your organization.
Why not start today? There are millions of people who need you. Don’t turn your back on them.
When All Else Fails
Of course, if all else fails, then you’re left with one obvious choice: Quit.
In some cases, that’s the only choice that makes sense. If you’re working in a company that rewards bullying behavior, you’d be better served jumping ship and watching your now-former company’s inevitable demise from the safety of your new job.
You might even be forced to make the impossible choice of leaving your soul-crushing job without the security of another job waiting for you, or even without a savings account. No one should ever be in that position, but when your physical health, sanity, and happiness hang in the balance, I totally understand making that move.
The worst case scenario is to stick around in a situation that is causing your physical and mental health to rapidly decline, because the only demise that you’ll be getting a front-row seat to watch is your own.
Mark my words on this–I’m speaking from experience. Everything that you’ve read to this point was written by a former bullying victim. Me.
As a child growing up, I didn’t have the choice to quit. I couldn’t escape the bullies who tormented me because I looked different, had horrible teeth, and talked funny. So, I had to figure out a way to deal with it–and believe me, it wasn’t easy.
I wish that I could sit down with the kid in the picture to the right and tell him the truth about the kids who constantly threw his book bag down the stairs, stole his lunch money, threw him against the lockers, and peed on his favorite jacket.
I wish that I could tell my younger self that the teasing, name-calling, and tormenting said much more about the bullies than ever did about him.
But would I believe my older self?
The teasing, name-calling, and tormenting had power. I felt it. Whoever came up with that stupid “sticks and stones” saying, clearly was not a bullying victim.
Almost 30 years later, the pain still sticks with me even though my days of being bullied have long passed. If you’re dealing with workplace bullying please trust that the torment that you’re currently dealing with will stick with you years later too–unless you take action today to put a stop to it.
If you’re suffering from workplace bullying, make the right choice and don’t be a coward like the bully you despise. You can reclaim your work happiness, but the journey may not be easy. Just remember that there are literally millions of people (53.5 million of them, to be precise) who are rooting for you to make today the beginning of the end of workplace bullying.
There is no doubt in my mind that if we all band together with this singular cause, there is no force that can stop us from reclaiming our workplaces from the bullies once and for all.
We have to do this. It is too damn important.
Final Message to the Workplace Bullies
It is possible that a handful of you who are reading this post could be the bullies who we hate.
Some of you bullies likely will whine about the “wussification of America” and how you can’t even ask an employee to do his/her job or fail to say “good morning” to them without possibly being reported for “workplace bullying.”
Please, shut up.
That’s a cute diversion from your sociopathic behavior, but we’re on to your games. It won’t work anymore. Everyone reading this (including you) knows exactly what real workplace bullying is, and it needs to be taken seriously.
If you consistently call your coworkers demeaning names, yell at your employees, or intentionally demean your colleagues, then yeah, I’m talking directly to you.
Bullies, my message to you is clear: get some help, deal with your issues, and stop destroying lives with your insanity.
I know that you don’t have self-esteem–everyone who you deal with on a daily basis knows that. Maybe you need some guidance, a hug, or some therapy. You’ll get none of that from me.
All I can offer you is my pity and a promise about how the world works.
Karma is a bitch, she’s mad as hell, and when the time is right, she’ll meet up with you to do a little bullying of her own.
I hope that I’m around to see it.