Bully Be Gone: What Is Workplace Bullying and Why Does It Matter?

The following article by Dr. Lynne Curry was originally published in January 2018 Social Space Magazine, a publication of the Lien Center for Social Innovation, Singapore Management University; https://socialspacemag.org/bully-be-gone-what-is-workplace-bullying-and-why-does-it-matter.

We have all met at least one in the course of our careers. He, or she, is the angry, aggressive bully who insults you to your face and behind your back. You would expect that at some point they would tire of this behaviour, but bullies thrive on demeaning and belittling you. Meanwhile, being bullied saps your emotional and physical energy until you finally resign from a job you once loved.

BULLYING: A GLOBAL EPIDEMIC

Workplace or corporate bullying is certainly real in Singapore, as shown in news reports over recent years,1 but it is an issue not faced by Singaporeans alone. In Australia, a 2016 survey found that as many as half of all Australian employees experience or have experienced bullying during their careers.2 The country, which passed Brodie’s Law3 in 2011, has made bullying—occurring anywhere, whether in the workplace, on social networking sites, or in schools—a serious criminal offence punishable by up to ten years in jail. And in the United States, a 2014 study by the Workplace Bullying Institute revealed that over 37 million workers face “abusive conduct” during their workday and almost 29 million others witness bullying.4 This figure of about 66 million equates to three to four out of every ten workers experiencing bullying. So what exactly is bullying? What happens in organizations that allow bullying? Why do employers allow it? How can organizations fix this? And what if you only witness bullying?

MORE THAN JUST SOMEONE HAVING A BAD DAY

We all know rude individuals or those who occasionally lash out at others in stressful situations. Bullies, however, repeatedly and intentionally humiliate or intimidate their targets. To readily identify a bully in action, there must be a consistent pattern of psychological violence and aggressive manipulation against his or her victim(s).

WHAT DISAPPEARS IN A CULTURE OF WORKPLACE BULLYING?

The organizations that allow bullying to happen suffer, as do those who work in them. On the individual level, employees who experience or witness bullying lose self-esteem and job satisfaction, while on the company level, the entire organization will suffer a decline in productivity, staff engagement, work quality, employee loyalty and reputation.

WHAT THRIVES WHEN BULLYING RUNS RAMPANT?

Companies that ignore or enable bullying to go on will typically see an increase in employee absenteeism, grievances, turnover, and in more extreme cases, workers’ compensation claims and litigation. Moreover, victims develop feelings of anxiety, depression and angst as a result of their bullying, and these negative psychological impacts can cause a significant dip in their performance at work.

TYPES OF BULLIES

In my book, Beating the Workplace Bully, I document seven types of bullies. Recognizing these types can help you understand who and what you are up against.

  1. The Angry, Aggressive Jerk, who insults, blames and belittles.
  2. The Scorched Earth Fighter, who pulls out all the stops to win; for this type of bully, it is not enough that he wins; you need to lose.
  3. The Silent Grenade, who rules the workplace because he occasionally explodes so fiercely that others tiptoe around him.
  4. The Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, who charms those he seeks opportunities from and claws those who get in his way.
  5. The Narcissist, who feels entitled to win at all costs.
  6. The Wounded Rhino, who acts with calculated malevolence in an effort to dominate others.
  7. The Character Assassin, who spreads destructive stories to defame others.

 

UNDERSTAND WHAT CREATES THE BULLY EXEMPTION

With all these negative consequences, one might wonder why some organizations would turn a blind eye to bullying in the first place. This is because in many cases, even though their behaviour damages staff morale and productivity, many workplace bullies are high-achieving individuals who produce good results for the company. This thus leads senior management to perceive them not as bullies, but hard-charging, task-driven characters. It is not surprising, therefore, that when fellow employees speak out against their bullying actions, these protests fall on deaf ears, or are met with responses like, “Say what you will about John, he achieves results.”

Further, many bullies excel at workplace politics, and as the phrase goes, are able to “kiss up even as they kick sideways and down”. This can explain why senior management may seem “blind” to the bully’s destructive behaviours, refuting bullying claims with responses like, “But that’s not the John I know.”

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Whether you face a bully or suspect one of your employees may be one, there are some things to keep in mind.

  • You can’t expect a bully to go away on his or her own.Because most bullies are high performers at work, they are valued by the organization, and believe others will give them what they want if they intimidate or create fear in their targets.
  • You can’t ignore a bully.Bullies test their potential victims, but that is a test you want to fail. If a bully is convinced that you are an easy target, he will intensify the frequency and scale of his attacks, and the problem can quickly spiral out of control.
  • You can’t kill them with kindness.With bullies, niceness fails, because they perceive that as a weakness.

CALL TO ACTION

What can employers and human resources professionals do to address corporate bullying? The following is a handy checklist to start with.

checklist2.PNGIf you witness bullying, please understand there is no witness protection. If you remain silent, you let the bully know that you sanction his or her actions, show the target that you do not care enough to act, and give the bully the sense that you fear him or her—potentially positioning yourself as a future target.

For more information, you can check out my book, Beating the Workplace Bully (US$15.25 via Amazon). Published by AMACOM, it is a self-training guide for individuals facing corporate bullying and managers or organizations looking to eradicate bullying. Additionally, if you have specific questions, you can write to me at Lcurry@avitusgroup.com or email any of our workplace coaches at our free blog, workplacecoachblog.com.

© Dr. Lynne Curry as published in January 2018 Social Space Magazine, a publication of the Lien Center for Social Innovation, Singapore Management University, 81 Victoria St, Singapore 188065.  Visit http://www.socialspacemag.org for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Singled out for bullying by a new boss? Don’t wait too long to act.

Question:

I’ve been employed for two years in a stressful customer service position in a large company. Most of my co-workers are pleasant and hardworking despite all of our extreme workloads and the stringent performance measures our supervisor places on us.

Up until three months ago, I’ve had a supportive supervisor. Corporate management suddenly and inexplicably fired him and replaced him with a new supervisor. This new supervisor has been allowed free rein to intimidate and bully me. He barks at me, stands over my shoulder, and seems focused on catching the slightest infractions for which he can publicly belittle me.

I seem to be his primary target, as my co-workers lay low to avoid his attention.  As a result, within seven weeks I developed extreme anxiety that required medical treatment. After one particularly harsh confrontation, I had a frightening panic attack, which sent me to the emergency room.

I went to human resources and explained that this man’s bullying behavior was impacting my emotional, mental and physical health and asked for help. I got none.

When I reminded our HR officer that I couldn’t work if I was having panic attacks, she gave me a Family Medical Leave Act form to fill out for anxiety-related absences. She also said that the other employees seemed to be handling everything “fine.”

The stress of his constant bullying has affected my work life and ability to do my job. The new boss is, of course, tracking my mistakes. What do I do now?

Answer:

You’re not alone. According to a recent study of 3,066 U.S. workers conducted by the Rand Corp., Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles, nearly 1 in 5 workers state they endure a hostile or threatening environment at work, which can include harassment and bullying. Nearly 55 percent of those surveyed state that they face “unpleasant and potentially hazardous” conditions.

As an employee confronting what you see as a hostile environment, you have six alternatives. You can vote with your feet, and many do. If you choose to stay, you can “lie low” or talk with your supervisor and see if you can change the dynamic. You can examine yourself and ask yourself the question your HR officer’s response implied: What leads your new supervisor to target you — and why do your co-workers seem better able to tolerate him? You can ask HR for help or jump the chain of command and reach the ear of a senior manager.

If you choose one of the last two strategies, do it early. Far too many victims wait until they’re a mess before blowing the whistle on a problem supervisor. As a result, they come across as angry, frustrated and emotional, thus appearing as much of a problem as the supervisor.

If you decide to make a case to a senior manager, act before the hostile treatment takes too great a toll on you and arm yourself with substantiating documentation. You can’t expect a senior manager to act based on your opinion or anecdotal information.

While you have your panic attack as evidence of what happened to you, both HR and senior management may wonder if the problem stems from your sensitivity and not the treatment you received, particularly given they valued your supervisor enough to promote him. You also need to decide how to handle the frequent assumption that the problem is only a personality conflict and not bullying.

Finally, your HR officer may have made a critical mistake by not following up on your complaint — and you may have grounds to sue or seek the help of a regulatory agency.

For example, perhaps your supervisor targets you due to your membership in a protected category, such as your age, sex, race or religion or because you’ve engaged in a protected activity such as voiced safety concerns.

Even if your HR officer thinks this isn’t the case, she may want to investigate to be able to protect the company should you get fired and sue for wrongful termination.

 

Lynne Curry

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting for The Growth Company, an Avitus Group Company. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.

How to Deal With a Bully Subordinate

Question:

My bully is my subordinate.  He presents to others as “the nice guy,” and appears hapless and lost most of the time.  I’m just now realizing that some of this is calculated to avoid his work, and that I have over invested in attempting to coach him.  His previous supervisor used to stay late explaining basic writing skills (such as grammar, word usage, and consistent tense), while he earned overtime nodding his head, but failing to follow through on improving his skills.  He spends most of his day socializing.  When asked about the status his assignments, he states he “didn’t know” even when he’s agreed in writing to follow through, or initialed a memo outlining the assignment.  This “I didn’t know, I’ll get right on that now” is turning out to simply be a way to buy more time. Everything is fine as long as I don’t hold him accountable.  Even when this is done gently his response is very theatrical.  He was responding with over the top grief, guilt, and self-disappointment like a “sad puppy” cartoon character. I was reassuring him and giving him more time, and further instruction.  Now that I am keeping records and holding him accountable to his commitments, and is now becoming angry and accusatory as he resists completing his work.  He exhibits two very different sides: one is a poor victim who just needs coaching and understanding; and the other will fight hard to avoid doing basic tasks.  He smirks at me as he states: “Well, I didn’t have clear direction on that!”  Last week he barged into my office exclaiming “I don’t know why I treat you so badly, I’ve never treated anyone this badly in my life, and I know I should probably be disciplined.”  I explained to him that I knew why he did it, it’s because I let him, and it needs to stop. There is always an apology, but never a change, the work is not being done, and what work is submitted is of such poor quality I have to redo it myself.  This dynamic is further complicated by his marriage to one of our newly hired division leads who is in a position lateral to my supervisor.  I’ve been directed by my supervisor to start initiating discipline rather than continue coaching, but the employee seems to be flaunting his marital relationship with some view it now provides leverage. I really wanted to treat him with more dignity than what I thought his previous supervisor provided him, but now I know “the rest of the story.” I’ve read every book I can read on how to coach him and help him improve, but I’m on overload and running out of steam with no results.

What do I do?

Answer:

This subordinate has learned how to keep the comfortable status quo, and he does not want to change.  The haplessness and “sad puppy” routine have worked for several years, and your new style now poses a threat to his comfortable existence.  When you started keeping records, and challenged his “I didn’t know” routine, you upped the game and became a threat.  This Shape Shifter has been playing this game for a long time, and has been able to get away with it.  Now that you see through his façade, and the old routine is not producing the results he wants, he is trying a new tactic.  This employee’s top goal is to successfully resist the change you represent.  The energy he puts into avoiding his work has always paid off.  Others have not invested the time, energy, and resources that you have in him.  What you have done is admirable, but this particular employee will not change.  Save your coaching energies for the multitude of employees who will respond positively to them.  In the meantime, the best investments you can make for this situation will be to document his commitments to the clear direction you are providing, and follow through on consequences for disruptive behavior.  Ignore his attempts to flaunt his social relationships.  Your responsibility is to see the work is being done, and right now, it clearly isn’t.

 

Jennifer Yuhas is a Senior Consultant and Trainer with The Growth Company, an Avitus Group Company.

 

How “Shape Shifter” Employees Disrupt the Workplace

Have you met a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. (or Ms.) Hyde in the workplace? One of the most slippery bully types, the shape-shifter takes out their targets. This article, featured on the AMA Playbook, draws from Beating the Workplace Bully, and tells you what you need to know about the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde employee.

http://playbook.amanet.org/training-articles-shape-shifter-employees-disrupt-workplace/

 

“Claire” seemed to be the perfect new hire. When corporate management visited your branch office during Claire’s first workweek, she surprised you and delighted the managers above you by quoting the corporate mission statement in her brief self-introduction. “You’ve hired a keeper,” your CEO said.

During Claire’s first month, she bonded with you, letting you know how grateful she was for the opportunities you gave her, cooperatively handling extra projects when you sought a willing volunteer, and completing all projects by deadline, even if it meant staying late or working weekends.

You started hearing grumblings from her peers and other employees a month after her hire, but you assumed Claire’s talent had inspired others’ jealous reactions. By the time you learned the truth about Claire, it was too late—for you.

Shape shifter employees turn workplaces upside down. Managers or colleagues taken in by their facade and flattery soon learn that the shape shifter’s collegial approach can evaporate like mist on a hot summer morning.

The shape shifter’s M.O.

Shape shifter employees use a deferential facade to bond with upper management. While they find ways to make themselves appear valuable and talk the party line, their agenda is their own success. They work toward that goal regardless of what it costs their manager, others, or the company.

Classic “kiss up” and “kick down” covert bullies, shape shifters show their “claws” to those who get in their way, steal credit for others’ efforts, and stab in the back anyone between them and success.

The shape shifter’s peers and immediate manager fare the worst. Shape shifters sneer at their peers’ accomplishments and “forget” to provide them with promised materials by feigning a misunderstanding of commitments. Those forced to collaborate with shape shifters become nervous wrecks when deadlines loom. Worse, when they appeal to the shape shifter’s manager, the shape shifter insists he or she is being unfairly defamed by jealous coworkers.

Meanwhile, shape shifters subtly undermine their immediate manager by blind copying the manager above them with misleading emails. They weaken their manager’s credentials by calling those above him with pseudo-legitimate questions, claiming “I wanted to ask my manager about this but couldn’t find him anywhere.”

How they trap their managers

Despite the storm clouds surrounding the shape shifter, those in management find it difficult to believe that the “great” employee persona masks an evil twin. If the disbelieving manager defends the shape shifter, it weakens his relationship with other employees.

When the shape shifter’s immediate manager finally realizes what’s going on and tries to explain his new opinion to those above him, he often lacks objective facts because he hasn’t collected them. Those in charge wonder if the manager has drawn the right conclusion or is simply threatened by a “star.”

Taking out the shape shifter

To remove a shape shifter who has successfully initiated himself with upper management, a manager needs ammunition. Tools such as a 360-degree review or employee survey can reveal the shape shifter’s true nature. Both strategies provide those who fear the shape shifter’s “claws” with a confidential method for voicing their concerns. They also provide a clear foundation for improvement-oriented coaching and helpful documentation should discipline be a desired remedy.

Managers who are tuned in to the collateral damage caused by shape shifters can also follow normal disciplinary documentary procedures. This approach can prove successful, as shape shifters excel at “spin” rather than work. Because shape shifters also possess highly attuned antennae, they often leave as soon as managers start this process.

You may wonder what happened to Claire. She stepped into her manager’s spot on the organization chart when corporate decided “it was time for a change” in the branch office’s management. Half of Claire’s former peers, who’d had enough, soon left—a clue the corporate office failed to pick up on. Realizing that productivity in the branch would soon tank, Claire used her promotion to leverage her way into a senior management position in the corporate office, ready to try her spin on a new playing field.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting for The Growth Company, an Avitus Group Company. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.

You’ve Awakened the Wrath of the Office Bully. Now What?

Question:

On my first day at my company, the co-worker I was hired to replace said, “Whatever you do, don’t make Bart mad.”

“So, what will he do?” I asked, thinking she was teasing me.

“You don’t want to find out,” she said.

I soon learned. Bart and I crossed paths because I needed IT support and foolishly thought I’d get it. So when I didn’t get a response to my first SEVEN politely worded request emails, I merged them into a batch and sent them to our executive director asking, “What’s protocol for getting IT help? Or, can I contract for it with an external professional? I know someone who could take care of this and come this afternoon.”

She forwarded my emails to Bart. Bart stormed into my office within the hour, tore my computer apart, accused me of spilling Coke on the keyboard (I don’t drink Coke but Bart does) and left the empty parts strewn across my desk. He then took a week securing a “new” refurbished computer for my work station and put it together, along with a sticky keyboard. I got the message. I cleaned it myself.

I’ve never dealt with someone like Bart. When I complained to our executive director, she told me that Bart does “brilliant” work maintaining our company’s server and equipment on a shoestring budget and works “cheap.” Since we’re a nonprofit and chronically strapped for cash, I get the point. I’ve asked two of my co-workers how to deal with this. Both said, “Don’t bother him. He gets to everything in his own time. Learn patience.” I don’t know if I’m more bothered by how Bart acts, or by how everyone else tiptoes around him. Help?

Answer:

When you start working in a new company and run afoul of unwritten rules, look first to your own behavior and clean up your mistakes. Never launch battle via email, which you did, twice. Sure, your executive director shouldn’t have forwarded your email to Bart, but instead talked first with you and then with Bart to positively resolve the situation. However, you need to learn not to send an email you don’t want forwarded. Also, if you sent a new co-worker two emails asking for help and haven’t received a response, stop by their office. Your next five emails only push someone’s buttons.

Next, co-workers often react in the way you’ve described to a bully type I’ve named the “wounded rhino” when outlining seven bully types in “Beating the Workplace Bully.” Wounded rhinos are slow-moving and ill-tempered when disturbed. Rile them and they gallop forward at high speed and gore you. Because they’re authoritarian and malevolent, other jungle animals avoid them.

Unfortunately, avoidance never works, and if you’ve described your new agency accurately, Bart rules through intimidation. Your executive director allows this because she fears she couldn’t replace him with someone as talented who’d willingly work for the salary your agency can afford to pay. Everyone else backs down because Bart fiercely retaliates against those who cross him.

Take a lesson from the Nile crocodile, who successfully “takes out” rhinos by slowly approaching them, while taking care to avoid detection by staying below the water’s surface. When within striking range, the crocodile leaps up and grabs the rhino’s head.

The good news — unless you’re the problem, everyone knows Bart’s downsides; they simply work around them. The better news — given the problematic job market, you and your executive director may be able to find an equally talented IT professional who’s mission-oriented enough to work for the salary your agency can pay. Find such a person, and Bart no longer holds your agency hostage through his talent, but can be given a clear-cut “cut it out, and if you can’t or won’t, it’s time to part ways.”

If you clean up your part in this drama, and if strategy fails, you may want to reconsider continuing at this agency. When an organization allows a bully to run rampant, everyone suffers.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting for The Growth Company, an Avitus Group Company. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.

My boss is a bully and he wants me gone

Question:

I’m scared I’m going to lose my job. My coworkers and I work for a bully boss. He insults us constantly. When he’s upset, he yells things like “who’s going to pay for this!” and we all put our heads down and hope we’re not the one he picks on. After weeks in which I went home in tears nightly, I went to Human Resources to get help.

The HR officer listened and I thought she’d help. Instead, she told my boss everything I’d said. Isn’t HR supposed to keep confidential what we tell them?

Now my boss is out to get rid of me. Twice in the last week my boss has written me up for minor infractions. Neither write-up was fair but I don’t have the documentation to disprove I didn’t make the errors. What also burns me is that others do the exact same thing he accused me of, so why did I get written up? I’m being singled out — isn’t that against the law?

What do I do?

Answer:

Once you land in a bully’s sights, you’re often on your own.

Some HR officers keep what employees targeted by bullying say confidential. Some pull the bully manager aside and arrange for his coaching or discipline. Some give targeted employees coaching. And some HR officers do what yours did, and tell your manager your concerns, potentially thinking the manager will hear them and improve. Unfortunately, if your manager is a true bully, he’ll retaliate.

The laws that safeguard you help you if you and the problem situation fall into certain categories. The federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and its state and local counterparts protect employees being discriminated against because of their age, sex, race, national origin, or other protected categories. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Commission and its state counterparts enforce workplace health and safety laws and protected those targeted because they protested safety violations. The federal Department of Labor and its state counterparts enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. The federal National Labor Relations Board and its state counterparts enforce laws protecting an employee’s rights to collectively bargaining laws or act in concert with their fellow employees. In some cases, employee policies or collective bargaining agreements cover bullying, possibly creating contractual protection. Finally, if you work in a state in which Courts enforce the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, you can allege unfair treatment and sue.

I wrote Beating the Workplace Bully to provide employees targeted by bullying strategies. Here are several. Don’t let a bully create an outpost in your mind. When he shouts insults, they say a lot about him, but little about you. Mentally detox yourself nightly by leaving the bully at work and not letting your situation encroach into your evening. Document exactly what’s happening, so if your boss makes up unfair allegations, he’ll lose if he fires you and you sue for wrongful discharge. And never, ever, let your boss know he’s getting to you. Like sharks, bullies go after blood.

I’ll also say that bullying saps your emotional and mental energy until you’re flattened. If you’re crying nightly, that may be close and your best option may be to vote with your feet. Never let a bully win and sometimes that means you have to leave if you work for a company that allows bullies to romp over employees.

© 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 www.bullywhisperer.com.

How to stop workplace bullying in the new year

The first time Andy barked at Annette, she raised an eyebrow and asked, “Bad day? Would you prefer I come back later?”

“Let’s do it,” he snarled. “You people push for this and push for that. You think you’re the only people who count. What’s this damn email you sent all about?”

Annette got up and left his office.

Andy sent her a stormy email, which she forwarded to their supervisor and human resources. The next day, a chastened Andy responded with the information Annette had requested.

By contrast, Annette’s predecessor, Suzanne, stayed put despite Andy’s tirades — even when he called her a bitch. Convinced she needed Andy’s information to complete her report, Suzanne endured meetings in which a red-faced Andy screamed in her face. When Suzanne finally quit, others asked why she had put up with it for so long.

Suzanne answered, “I kept thinking it would get better.”

Like Suzanne, you may have tried to ignore a workplace bully, hoping things would get better on their own. You may have believed that if you acted professionally and politely, your workplace bully would leave you alone or act nicely in return.

That ignores the truth about bullying.

Bullies perceive niceness and avoidance as weakness and an invitation to take advantage. Those who don’t stand up to a bully’s initial attack signal that they’re easy prey. The situation then spirals out of control, with the bully escalating how he puts you in your place.

Bullies bully because it produces results. If you don’t want to be trampled, you have to become someone who can and will stand up to– and outmaneuver– bullies.

How do you grow smart and tough enough to take on the bullies in your work life? You start from where you are, and grow the skills you need. When a bully confronts you, consider how a brave person would handle the bully or situation, and become that brave person. Unless it compromises your physical safety, be willing to exit your comfort zone. When you step forward, you’re not fragile, passive or powerless. You’re not just letting events happen to you and silently allowing bullies to walk all over you. You’re standing up for yourself.

Do bullies target you because you let them? Don’t pass the test that you should fail.

© 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 www.bullywhisperer.com

Bullied in Your Work or Personal Life? Don’t Make These 4 Common Mistakes

Are you being bullied at work, or at home? If so, you’ve probably learned that those who bully hope their targets make mistakes, because then the bully can seize the upper hand.

Here are four of the biggest mistakes you’ll want to avoid.

Letting it go too long
It’s tempting to try to ignore the problem when a coworker or family member first bullies you. That “let it go” strategy often proves necessary and effective when the customer bullies you at work – because the customer leaves. Or, you may choose to let someone in your personal life with whom you have little contact bully you during an annual Christmas party.

When you’re in a work or other long-term relationship, however, ignoring bullying or hoping the bully or situation improves on its own rarely works. Instead, it signals you’re easy prey.

Bullies test to see who they can bully. Fail that test, and they’ll move on, because you’re not an easy mark.

Blaming yourself
We tend to blame ourselves when things go wrong. If we’ve made a mistake, owning our accountability works, because then we can fix the situation.

If you’re bullied, however, it’s not on you. No one deserves bullying. Wondering “am I somehow to blame?” or “did I provoke that barrage of insults” makes you accountable for the bully’s bad behavior.

Their bullying isn’t your fault, though it may be your problem to fix.

Expecting someone else to step in
Those targeted by bullying often expect their supervisor or others in their work life or family to step. After all, can’t these others see what’s happening?

But others don’t always see the problem. Many bullies show a charming facade to others, particularly to those from whom they might gain benefit or see as an extension of themselves. This explains why a husband can bully his wife but remain a doting father to his children.

Those who witness bullying may also run for cover, fearing if they intervene the bully may turn on them. After all, they think, it’s not my fight.

If you’re a bully’s target, it may up to you to outsmart the bully.

Stooping to the bully’s level
The bully’s aggression may tempt you to react angrily. Don’t. If you do so, you might look like the person with the problem.

Further, the bully has more experience fighting dirty than you do. There’s an old saying, “Never get into the mud with the pig. The pig knows mud.”

Instead, step back and assess the situation. What’s the right strategy? You can outsmart a bully if you act and don’t react.

Finally, if you’re now being bullied, you may wonder if you can prevail. You absolutely can. Bullying is a two-way interaction, requiring a bully and a target. Outsmart the bully, and you’ll witness a failed bullying attempt.

© 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 www.bullywhisperer.com

8 Things Never to Say to a Bully

Bullies watch you for tells to see if you’ll be an easy target. They hope you’ll make a mistake so they can take advantage. Over the years, I’ve taught hundreds of targets and almost targets to outsmart bullies. Here’s a quick list of eight comments never to make to a bully – and why.

“It hurts my feelings when you…” or “I feel upset when you….”
We’ve all learned to take responsibility with “I” statements for our feeling and to negotiate to a win/win when we deal with others. Bullies, however, operate differently. They seek a winner (them) and a loser (you). “I” statements and statements taking responsibility for your feelings don’t work with bullies because they don’t care. Worse, statements like the ones above show the bully that they’re getting to you. That’s music to their ears.

“I just want us to get along with each other” and “I want you to be happy”
To you these statements signal “let’s work this out. They’re peace-maker statements that show your good intent. To the bully they flag “I’ll do anything to make you happy. I’ll accommodate to you, perhaps even past the point of no return.”

“Don’t tell me what to do” and “Leave me alone!”
When a bully pushes your buttons, it’s easy to react. You might think “going toe to toe” works. It doesn’t. Your angry reaction signals to the bully that they’ve gotten to you and now have the upper hand. Worse, reactive statements make you look like you’re the bad guy or at least a significant part of the problem to an outside observer, like your boss. If you sense your button being pushed, take a deep breath and say, “That kind of button pushing doesn’t work with me.”

“I’m sorry”
Apologies work well with everyone except a bully. To a bully, they signal that you’re pleading, and thus have given away your power. If you’ve truly made a mistake, instead say “I take responsibility for my actions,” a more assertive statement.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
You may be right; however, this statement leads you straight into an argument in which the bully can tie you in knots, while you sound defensive both to the bully and anyone listening.

© 2016, Lynne Curry, author of Beating the Workplace Bully & Solutions

Workplace bullying may be bad, but it’s not illegal, right? Not so fast …

Can bullies in Alaska workplaces hide behind the fact that there’s no state law against bullying? According to contemporary thought, bullying isn’t illegal unless you work in California (which has a Workplace Violence Safety Act), Utah (with a Healthy Workplace Bill) or at a public agency in Tennessee (which has a Healthy Workplace Act protecting those who work in state and municipal agencies).

As a result, many believe bullies have virtual immunity and that those bullied have little protection unless those who bully them cross a line through criminal assault or by attacking their targets in legally protected areas, such as discrimination against age, race or sex or in the exercise of protected rights such as safety.

Perhaps, however, the tide has turned.

On Aug. 9, a Dallas jury awarded a nurse $348,889 against the physician who bullied her — along with a $1.08 million verdict against the physician and his medical practice for sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and retaliation (Patricia Hahn v. Scott Davidson, MD, et al).

At trial, Hahn described a hostile, threatening work environment. She testified that physician Davidson screamed, “Just shut up, I’m sick of you” at her with clenched fists and raised hands, and that he threatened her with air punches.

The nurse told the jury how she’d sought help from her organization by filing a complaint with the practice’s human resources manager. After that, the physician called her into his office after business hours to prove he hadn’t screamed by demonstrating to her and an office manager what screaming was.

When Hahn then protested to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the practice fired her. Left with no workplace recourse, the nurse filed a lawsuit alleging assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and retaliation. Hours before the jury announced its verdict, the clinic settled with Hahn, paying her $440,000.

This jury, with their verdict, offers hope to other victims. And that’s what it may take for workplace bullying to end — targets suing bullies and putting their stories in front of juries.

But what happens if the situation isn’t clear-cut — if the bully hasn’t violated a specific law?

“Employers have a duty to protect employees,” says attorney-turned-HR-consultant Rick Birdsall. “If they fail to control the workplace, they potentially breach their duty, leading to possible intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress tort claims.”

Birdsall explains that in the Hahn case, the jury perhaps translated intentional infliction of emotional distress in an effective “legal label” for bullying. Also, says Birdsall, “in the same way that employers have vicarious liability for failing to address sexual harassment when they ‘knew or should have known,’ I predict the law is moving in this direction with bullying. Now that the courts have clearly established employers have a duty to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, it may not be long before the courts view employers as having a similar obligation to protect employees from bullying.”

Can juries, judges or courts truly help those targeted by bullies? Perhaps.

“The law is an evolving institution,” says attorney Russ Nogg. “Changing circumstances may sway the courts who then decide bullies need to mend their ways.”

© 2016, Lynne Curry, author of Beating the Workplace Bully & Solutions