If you have a bully boss, coworker or client, the problem is not yours. It’s hers. People that belittle others at work suffer from low self-esteem (1)(2), and personality disorders. They aren’t brave enough to own their own problems. That’s why they need to look for a scapegoat.
Being bullied in the workplace affects approximately 11 percent of workers. Emotional and psychological consequences of workplace bullying may include increased mental distress, sleep disturbances, fatigue in women and lack of vigor in men, depression and anxiety, adjustment disorders, and even work-related suicide (3).
If you are the victim of a bully at work don’t think you are different. A study in 2007 demonstrated that all personality types can be targeted by a tyrant. (4)
The best course of action is to be assertive. Say that you don’t tolerate mistreatment or offensive remarks. Do it the very first time it happens, in the very moment it’s done. This is when your reaction is more effective. Anyway, the surprise and the asymmetry of power let the vast majority of people speechless. People who are extremely perfectionist and have low work self-esteem tend to not use their voice to remedy interpersonal mistreatment (5)
The first time you suffered mistreatment you have sure felt humiliated. You have blamed yourself for not responding. Your self-esteem has gone down. It’s totally normal. Try to get calm.
First of all, rebuild your sense of self-worth. Your value don’t depend on his or her offensive remarks. On the contrary. In many the cases, you are the target due to your intelligence, capacity, work ethic, popularity or any other trait that that person sees as a threat to her position (Scutt, 2004b; Westhues, 2006).
I know this is not easy, but the courage to hold your ground can be trained.
Do this every day:
Look to the people directly in the eyes all the time when you talk or listen to them.
Keep a straight body posture when you sit, stand and walk, specially in meetings.
Speak a little bit louder.
Speak your mind more often.
Memorize your reaction to the mistreatment before it happens.
Train all of this with someone you trust.
Look for allies inside and outside the company (6).
Here you can find a lot of different responses to a bully, from passive to more aggressive:
You always have to work on two fronts to get the the best result: Manage the encounter, and manage your emotions. For the first one you have a framework above. For the second one, a mindset that often works is “The Fog”. Imagine stones thrown at you. Those are the words of the bully. Now imagine that you are fog. The stones go through doing nothing.
What happens when you are on the other side? I know, it is very difficult to recognize that you are a bully, but you have to be alert. A high stakes environment, problems at home and too much pressure can make the best intended boss act like a tyrant.
Ask yourself this:
Are you attacking someone’s reputation?
Do your comments belittle sometimes a person?
Do you criticize somebody’s capacity to execute tasks related to work?
Do you forbid someone the communication with other people within the organization?
Are you judging his or her social circumstances? physical appearance? Accent?
Do you misuse your power to block others advancement?
Are you sometimes aggressive?
Do others try to avoid you?
Are you excluded from social events outside the office?
Is the turnover among your employees high?
Acting like a bully is immoral, in some cases can lead to legal consequences, and is extremely stupid: If you are in a position of power and mistreat your employees, you will have a 42% increase in the number of missed workdays (7) and your turnover will multiply. It will cost you a lot of money and, if the company is not yours, you will put your job at risk.
Bullying creates a vicious circle where victim and perpetrator end up with low self-esteem, low performance and a toxic environment around them. Both can break that circle, and I have given tips to do so, but there is a third possibility: The witness.
If you witness bullying you should speak with the bully and the victim and try to stop the situation. If that doesn’t work and you are in a situation of low power, you should report it. If that doesn’t work, try to get people on board with you to get the social power you need. Defending people in a weak position is decent and necessary.
Remember: Evil feeds on silence. Once you speak up it loses its power.