Bullying In The Workplace – Facing Big Bad Bosses

The amount of information you can find on bully boss behavior is staggering. There are thousands of internet links on the subject, not to mention books, support groups, organizations, and legal funds dedicated to this specific form of bad boss behavior.

Bullying in the workplace is such a common problem that according to a 2007 Zogby poll published by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 37% of U.S. workers have been bullied on the job. Unsurprisingly, bosses represent a staggering 72% of the offenders. What’s worse – women are more likely to be targets than men, but anyone in a subordinate position is at risk.

Coaching others through the experience of bully boss behavior is never easy. Human Resources departments, legally, have to follow certain rules of engagement whenever someone is accused of misconduct regardless of the form the harassment takes. This lack of an outlet, coupled with fear of job loss, keep many stories under wraps. After all, it takes a lot of courage to come forward and admit your boss is acting in a threatening manner.

Isn’t This Illegal?

Only 1 in 5 instances of workplace bullying actually rise to the level of illegal discrimination or harassment. Even in those cases where employment laws are broken, workers rarely complain and virtually never sue. Workplace bullying laws have seen success in some countries, but in the U.S. adoption is limited.  And is this really the answer? How do you regulate the parameters that define bullying behavior? It’s a bit more elusive than sexual harassment and cannot be defined by the same straightforward criteria. Whereas a sexual advance can be clear, no two people may agree on what constitutes bully behavior, or at least what the pattern looks like. For one person a boss can be considered demanding, and for another, the boss is a bully.

The bottom line is that employees have to develop a plan around how to address their work environment. They have to decide what outcomes they want and devise a strategy to get there. Withdrawing or doing nothing only perpetuates the problems so action is essential.

What can you do (in the moment) when dealing with a big bad boss?

Be prepared to vary these tactics depending on the situation you’re in. Workplace relationships are like any other – there’s a level of trial and error until you find a process that works. People often get so wound up in the emotional aspects of what’s not working, how it isn’t fair, etc that the victim mentality sets in, and you give all of your personal power away to your boss.

Focus On The Conversation At Hand

Don’t cower when you bully boss comes knocking. Don’t be intimidated by the demanding behavior or tone, just cut to the chase. What does he or she need, and ask questions related to that. It doesn’t matter how your boss is acting, its what is needed to get the job done that counts. You want to train yourself to toss aside the verbal in-your-face posturing and get to the matter at hand. It keeps you focused, and without a victim reaction, your boss will be more defused and switch behavioral gears.

Take Notes

In the moment, it will look like your taking notes on a work task anyway. You may or may not necessarily use your notes with HR, but having your own document trail that includes date, time, and summary of the incident. Look for patterns – is your boss more of bully around certain time periods, people, or events. Think of it like an experiment. You’re studying the behavior in order to finds ways to counteract it. It will make you more astute and focus on moving forward.

Have The Last Word

After your boss is done talking, clarify what you are going to do. Provide a quick summary of actions and emphasize when you’ll deliver. Establishing equal footing with a bully boss requires confidence in your contribution to the business needs not your boss’s needs. Showing that you are ready and capable to deliver what’s expected regardless of your boss’s behavior or demands is critical to developing a long term solution that can transform the relationship.

These tactics represent a small piece of an overall strategic plan. The severity of the bullying varies and only you can determine how much you can take. You may not get as far as suggesting a policy banning bullying in your workplace, but taking control of the communication with your bullying boss is is the first step in establishing better communication.

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