A lot of us have had to deal with workplace bullies over the course of our careers. I have for sure and I know I am not alone. But what do you do in such situations? Cow down, or stand up to it? As a youngster at the start of my career, I was definitely not one to take any BS and I reacted almost instantly leading to a lot of uncomfortable situations for both parties involved but over time, experience taught me to deal with workplace bullying differently.
Some bosses have a tendency to fly off the handle and expect you to be absolutely normal soon after. In fact in some parts of the world (perhaps most), it is the owners of the company that tend to be aggressive because they know they can. While it shows a great disrespect for their employees, it is often a situation many have to deal with especially when market conditions are not conducive to an immediate change. It is very easy for someone to tell you to leave the company in such a situation but it is't altogether all that simple, is it?
So, here's a few tips I thought I'd share that are based on my personal experiences over the years.
Don't interrupt: When you have a workplace bully who is often your superior flying off the handle, don't interrupt with your version of the facts. It isn't getting through and it is only going to aggravate the situation. Let him / her finish their rant and then ask if you can ask a question. Your poise will often baffle them and they know they have to give in. If they refuse, they are just certifying how much of an a** hole they really are.
Don't get defensive:A bully will look at any answer you give as being defensive. However, when you ask a counter question almost seeming to advice, it sort of calms the air. He or she needs to step up. Remember bullies are functioning with high strung egos and when you ask them a question, it makes them feel important. Play along.
Stay with the facts: When you make your point, stick with the facts as they're available to you. Don't look to interpret and explain to someone who is on a rant. It is a total waste of time. If you remain calm and address the issue with facts, the chances are that they start to settle in after the idiot has finished. And he / she will often have a 'eureka' moment.
Remain silent but not quiet: There's a difference between being silent and being quiet. Being silent is a disposition that isn't only about what you say. But your body language is relaxed and not strung out and is not taken as a sign of weakness. Look the person in the eye when they've flipped their lid and remain calm. Don't look to eye-ball them. That's stupid and immature and that's all they will need to get you fired or make life worse. But looking them in the eye makes them understand you've got nothing to hide. A bully is only empowered when they know they can cause you to react. Remember that.
Confront later: A lot of people tend to take confrontation as a sign of attack and hence stay away from it. It isn't always the case. A short fused work bully will often settle down after his / her rant. If they have the tendency and inclination to have a dialogue at a later time, use that time to get your point across. A sensible leader will understand and appreciate your value and look to mend ways. There are others who just will not.
Get out: If you work in a structured environment that has a proper HR department where matters and concerns can be raised, then use that and get your views across. I worked for a financial services organization that had a very good employee grievance redressal cell and that was probably the best case I had personally witnessed. If you work for what we often refer to as a 'lala' company with no such option, you have to ask yourself a fundamental question. Why are you doing this? If the answers are not important enough, get the f*** out! They don't deserve you.
Report: Sometimes workplace discrimination borders on being illegal. You're treated differently for who you are or for no 'apparent' reason given the short end of the stick. If you find something that's probably illegal, take counsel from a friend or associate who understands the legalities of your region and if the need arises, report what's happening to an authority. It can be a long hard battle from there on so weigh in on the decision that works best for you.
Remember a workplace bully is suffering from a disease / illness of sorts that probably comes from something that happened in his/her childhood or is currently happening at home. When a person's life is imbalanced, it reflects almost everywhere BUT that isn't your cross to bear, is it?