It takes cool, but it’s possible (and worth it) to stand up to bullies.
Everyone likes to be treated with dignity, respect and appreciation. No one likes to be belittled, undermined or bullied.
Indeed, in the workplace, studies show that what’s called “incivility” directly harms people’s concentration and creativity. How we treat each other is the difference between a working environment filled with suspicion and distrust, and one where we all are free to grow and contribute.
The bad news, however, is that bullying is alive and well in many workplaces. Some people have learned that a rude, confrontational style serves them. It’s a way for them to get their way, to shut down opposition, or perhaps to cover up their own shortcomings and insecurities. Even worse, their behavior is sometimes tolerated, especially when it seems to get results. Mostly, though, bullies survive because no one wants to deal with them. It’s easier to look the other way.
But take heart. If you do ever find yourself working alongside a bully, you have options.
First, remember that you are within your rights to call out the bully. If a bully yells, say, “You’re shouting. I’m leaving now.” If a bully spreads a malicious rumor about you, say, “That’s not true. You are stating a falsehood.” Do all this with as little emotion as possible. You can sometimes take a lot of the wind out a bully’s sails by showing that you are not personally intimidated. You may need to fake this level of cool. That’s OK.
When dealing with a bully, facts are your friends. If outbursts result in missing a deadline or wasting resources, make a note of it. Keep hard copies of incriminating emails or texts. Enlist co-workers as witnesses. In this way, when you take the problem to management (as you will likely have to do), you will have documentation. Showing a clear relationship between a bully’s behavior and the bottom line is key.
Dealing with a bully is not always so simple, of course. Sometimes this person is your boss. Or your boss’s friend/relative/spouse. In cases like these your only recourse may be to move on. If you do, remember to hold your head high; after all, a bully’s behavior is not your fault. You can’t control what a bully (or anyone) does or says, only your response.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.