Lately, there has been a lot of emphasis on alleviating bullying especially as it relates to children. And rightly so. Much attention has been drawn to this phenomenom of young adults who are victimized to the point of acute depression or in fatal cases, suicide. At such a young age, before the psyche is fully developed, there is the potential for significant damage if a child is being bullied.
Bullying. The use of force, threat or coercion to abuse, intimidate or aggressively dominate.
Rarely, though, do you hear about bullying as it relates to adults, or even corporate professionals. And let me tell you, I see this all too often in the workplace.
Here is the most blatant example of bullying I have ever witnessed:
We were on a conference call, led by Bob, the head of a particular business unit, also known for his ultra-aggressive style. He yells at, belittles, and demoralizes anyone who does not meet his ever changing standards of behavior. A new sales manager, Tim, was on the call and we were discussing pricing strategy.
Bob: So the approach should be an across board increase of 3% for Tier II customers by 4th quarter. Ok?
Tim: somewhat timidly since Bob can be…intimidating...
Bob, I am not sure that approach will work for ABC industries. They are threatening to put us through an online auction if we cannot be competitive and reduce price.
Bob: Oh really? How long do you think it will take for your nuts to drop because only then can you get this job done!!
In front of the whole team!!!
Now this is the most outrageous case I’ve ever experienced. The others have been much more…subtle but no less offensive. Corporate bullying manifests itself in various forms : verbal insults, taunting, lies or rumors, physical abuse, exclusion, etc.
The Corporate Bully does not necessarily have to be a boss. An entry level hire, an African-American woman in my department at a previous role, came to me for advice. One of her male, White peers was making border line remarks and she didn’t know how to react. He would say things like,
“Oh, I’m surprised they hired you from Spelman. I went to the best business school in the country. But I know they are trying to hire more diversity soo…”
“You have a certificate in international business. What does that even mean? What’s that worth really? Haha. Jk. Well, I have an MBA.”
He would always find ways to put her down professionally. Although he is not her boss and technically has no power over her, he is being a bully. Putting her and others down to make himself feel better.
Just like a child or young adult whose psyche is still being developed, many young professionals are still trying to find that confidence, that self-esteem in the business world. They seek approval, compare themselves to their peers, and beat themselves up over mistakes. This leaves them vulnerable to corporate bullies like the ones described above.
Now if this were out on the street, I would have completely different advice on how to deal with bullies. But we are at work so here’s what I’ll say:
First, know what or whom you are dealing with.
Be able to recognize that this person before you is a bully. Observe them. They are no different from that big kid on the playground you may have had to contend with at a younger age. This pattern of behavior stems from deep insecurity and really has nothing to do with you. Realize that and it will ultimately make it a lot easier to navigate.
Do not try to prove yourself to them.
Do not go toe to toe with them, arguing point for point. It makes no sense and really brings you down to their level. Keep it professional. Stay cool and calm. Anything short of this will make them win at their sole intent, which is to rattle you. So don’t let them. Especially if this is not your boss. Keep your responses to them short and sweet and know when to walk away.
Keep your personal information private.
This one is really important. The more a bully knows about you, the more ammunition he or she has with which to come at you. Give them little to none. Keep your conversations with them strictly professional. This person has made it clear that he or she is not your friend. So why divulge any information about your family, or your finances, or educational background? Yes, you may be perceived as reserved. But at least you will stay sane and are less likely to punch said bully in the throat 🙂
Feel free to check ’em once in a while.
As much as you may try to avoid them and keep your info private, there will be times when your paths will cross. And they will say something completely off the wall. It’s ok to dish out those clever, but deathly comebacks, coupled with a smile and a wink of course. I once had a corporate bully make a snide remark to me about how an award I had been given was less than deserved, compared to other award recipients. “All you guys did was save a couple hundred thousand dollars on that project. “, he said. My response? “That’s a couple hundred thousand more than your team has ever saved. Where is your award? Let me see. Oh, you’ve never gotten one? Haha”. All he could muster up in reply was “Touche”. And then he walked away. Heehee.