Bullies In The Workplace: How To Deal With Them And Move Ahead

Seth Godin had some interesting insights on bullying in the workplace, he described it:

“As intentionally using power to cause physical or emotional distress with the purpose of dominating the other person. The bully works to marginalize people. In an organizational setting, the bully chooses not to engage in conversation or discussion, or to use legitimate authority or suasion, and depends instead on pressure in the moment to demean and disrespect someone else—by undermining not just their ideas, but their very presence and legitimacy.”

Seth pointed out that bullies are thieves. Costing companies’ money in productivity and employee retention. Having a bully on the work force prevents individuals from working up to their full potential resulting in the need to be constantly hiring. The average cost of hiring a new employee is somewhere in the low six figures when you factor in the lost salary of the employee who leaves with the cost of replacing her. All because there is a bully at work.

Allowing a culture where bullying can take place is a major managerial defect and one that requires correction if the company hopes to be competitive. But, there is something else needs to happen, employees need understand how to handle conflict and not be conflict averse.

Handling conflict is not something that comes quickly to people. Most would rather avoid conflict if possible. But, when something affects your livelihood, developing the ability to deal with conflict will serve you well. I’m not suggesting fighting but, finding a way to let someone know you’re not someone to bully. There are numerous ways of dealing with conflict, but, here are two you can start with.

Understanding Bullies are Cowards:

They are cowards, as Seth stated, they get their power through intimidation and the lack of conversation and discussion. Think of it as the boss says something along the lines “You don’t get paid to think.” In a world where more and more work is down by knowledge workers, thinking is the primary form of generating marketable output. Recognizing, that most bullies, are not necessarily high performers, and anyone with more than two brain cells can outdo most bullies, your knowledge of what you do, how it is done, along with developing new and innovative techniques places you miles ahead of any workplace bully. If you’re making money for your company, and management has any sense at all, they’ll want to keep you as you’re a money maker for them, whereas, the bully, well, they’re a dime a dozen.

Having A Strong Network:

Keep in mind a point that Seth made about how a bully works, undermining ideas, and legitimacy. Developing a strong network both inside your organization and outside will aid you in dealing with this problem. If you’ve developed your network where people know you and your work, they can vouch for you in the area of your performance, then much of what a bully does will be negated, and seen for what it is, feeble attempts to undermine you and make you seem illegitimate.

Having a secure network also allows you to put feelers out for opportunities at other companies that would be more conducive for you to work. You, have the skills and talents that can be parlayed into a better position that allows you to thrive in a less confrontational environment, where management values talent.

Bullying has been with us since Esau bullied Jacob, and it will continue to be a problem as long there are more than two people occupy the same space. How one deals with it is dependent on one’s willingness to recognize the depth and extensiveness of their personal power. In the case of Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew, allowing the blessing of the first born to pass to his brother. Why, because Jacob was smart (knowledge at work here folks) enough to bargain with his brother for something he knew was important down the road.

Bullies are short term thinkers and only look for immediate satisfaction. You, on the other hand, need to think long term and use your knowledge to your advantage. Some will tell you that you need to approach your work situation like a chess game and think several moves ahead. I would suggest you consider it like a game of go, where you’re not only thinking several moves ahead, but you’re also thinking about positioning where you gain ground and your opponents only capture pieces.

Go is a game that requires a longer term outlook and is far more strategic than chess. If you want to move ahead in your career and have to deal with bullies, then you do indeed want to have a long term plan for moving ahead. Having such a plan provides you the means and opportunity to not only out think workplace bullies, but it also allows you to leave them behind as you move forward.


© Timothy A. Wilson 2017