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.

Image Credit:

Leadership Within Your Reach – From Bud to Boss

Imagine my excitement: today I get to tell you all about a great new book on the subject of leadership.

Wait – before you say you’ve read a couple of those and they were completely useless – let me tell you why you may want to read this book.

First, the authors are amazing people. Kevin Eikenberry doesn’t just write about leadership, he is a leader. What he writes comes from experience and from the heart.

At TalentCulture we love leaders who lead from the heart. We’ve written about how many employers are stuck in a crisis – they have lost the ability to be leaders. At a time when the economy seems to be loosening up a bit and employees are reconsidering their options, managers are incredibly ‘tone-deaf when it comes to what they are saying to employees’, as I wrote back in November for the Lead Change Community. I think the core of the problem is a lack of emotional intelligence in leadership – what author Daniel Goleman calls the ability “to manage ourselves and our relationships effectively.”

Leadership styles vary, of course, and they should. Otherwise, this would be a very boring predicament and make for a dull workplace culture for certain. There’s also little out there to help a person make the transition from employee to leader, which is why Kevin and Guy’s book is so timely.

Kevin’s co-author, Guy Harris, is also his business partner. A trainer and coach, Guy blogs at The Recovering Engineer about workplace engagement, personal empowerment and other leadership themes. What a team!

Now to the book.From Bud to Boss (published by Wiley imprint Jossey-Bass) is Kevin’s new book and his first with co-author Harris. Not every leadership book states as an article of faith that all workplace leaders have within them the power to be remarkable. Of course my cynicism sets in here – it’s the leadership book equivalent of telling a child ‘good job’ just because he or she washed his or her hands. By proposing the idea that each of us can become a remarkable leader, Kevin and Guy take a risk – after all, how many extraordinary people have you met?

It turns out the extraordinary is within reach, if only we are willing to work hard to be that person. It takes work and focused energy to make this happen on any consistent basis.

In this book – Kevin and Guy explore the transitions new leaders must make to fully realize and inhabit the role of ‘leader’. Plenty of business leadership books suggest that you can become a leader overnight. Kevin and Guy, having coached plenty of new leaders, know the transformation requires effort, commitment and a range of fresh skills and behaviors.

In the book Kevin and Guy review those skills and behaviors. They address subjects such as managing change, learning effective communication and coaching skills, and mastering collaboration and conflict resolution. They do it in a friendly, humorous voice. The book is structured in an easy-to-read format, and it’s packed with anecdotes, checklists and bonus tools.

I would add  learning to trust to the leadership toolbox. Trust is a component of emotional intelligence for sure. Trust also has transactional aspects, as I’ve written, but in the workplace it should be a condition of employment, which means leaders must make a study of trust: telling the truth, being clear and honest, reducing the unknown to the knowable for employees.

New managers or those pursuing the path to leadership may just benefit from From Bud to Boss. It’s on sale now. Then log in to the Bud-to-Boss community (which is home to loads of cool bonus content).

So do what I did – read the book, go to the online community, and please let us know what you think. We’re really excited here at TalentCulture – a new book, fresh insights, deep thinking on leadership issues. We hope you are too. Cheers.