The Psychology of Women once again welcomes Lauren Bittner to the Giveaway Girl project. Lauren is an award-winning freelance writer who focuses on women’s issues. She is a self-titled Giveaway Girl. Today, Lauren offers insights about how to handle #workprobs — workplace bullies.
A Tale of Two Entirely Different Workplace Bullies
Dealing with workplace bullies leaves me feeling completely disempowered at times. That’s not surprising for a Giveaway Girl. #workprobs: I know from the stories I hear that some of you are in the same boat.
Here are some of the questions that course through my brain when I think about this subject. How do we develop a rapport with a department head who asks for solutions only to publicly humiliate and interrupt the people who offer them? Do we confront bullies and how? What action should we take when our employers hire people who perpetuate the same behavior? If we witness our coworkers feel the wrath of a bully, should we do something? When we feel there’s nowhere to turn is that true?
There are no magic answers to these questions, but Kathy Churay gives some powerful insights into the complexities of handling bullies from an employee’s perspective.
Kathy’s first bully, who I’ll call Manager A, created workplace hell when her workload escalated. “She had so much to do that she was anxious all the time,” Kathy says. “She didn’t cut people slack. She wasn’t willing to modify the behavior when people mentioned the problem. She was just so attached to her control she couldn’t see functioning in any other way. It made people miserable. She was getting results in the department so no one was really willing to mess with her because she was dealing with financial results.
Churay’s next sentence may sound painfully familiar to many an employee. “I recalled times that I cried before getting to work,” Churay says. “It impacted me and I would feel nauseous every day. My job performance decreased. I was making a lot of mistakes. Ironically, she was likable on a personal level so had empathy because she was under a burden of expectation.
She admits she didn’t handle it well. “I ended up talking behind her back,” Churay says. “I felt trapped because I thought I had to stay in the job for personal reasons. I eventually decided that my goal wasn’t achievable in the environment because it wasn’t offered in that organization and the price was too high. I eventually found another job.”
There’s hope in Kathy’s story about her second bully, who I’ll call Manager B. “I since encountered another situation with an employer who had a very hot temper, Churay says. “She didn’t want to hear about obstructions of situations, and did not want to listen to nuanced explanations. She just wanted assistance with what she needed.”
Luckily for Churay, Manager B differed from Manager A in that she had some capacity to listen, reflect and look at her own behavior. That, and the life lessons she had learned in the 15 years between the two managers allowed her to approach her second bully differently. “I learned not to talk to her when she was angry. Once we started off a conversation about personal matters we both had in common. I chose that time to talk to her because it was a moment of rapport.
“Number two, I made sure to use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ statements. I had gotten the lesson over the years to say ‘When you do this, I feel this way.’ I started off with ‘I’d like to talk about …’ and mentioned only the most recent incident. I had recently been reading about the rules of fighting. One was ‘Don’t bring up the past.’
“The person was shocked because they had no idea they were doing this. I asked there was a way that we could do this differently. At first she said she didn’t know. She didn’t get too defensive. I continued with ‘How about if we try this?’ Little by little I tried to take advantage of those moments. Even when I would say ‘Wow I feel very nervous right now.’ she would snap out of her automatic pattern. Bye the time that job wrapped up I was able to say ‘We have to work within this.’ It became a much better situation.”
What Kathy Learned
The gift in negative situations is what we take away from them. “I learned to listen to my body when I’m having a strong reaction,” Kathy says. “I learned not to hesitate to extract myself for a tie or for empathy. She (Manager A) was a good-hearted person. I kept trying to work with that.”
Kathy also advises us to take measure of our bullies and ourselves. “Some of that comes only through trial and error,” she says. “It’s important to recognize there are certain people you can’t reach. Get out of their way. They’re like a car with broken breaks until they hit a brick wall in their life and maybe that will stop it, or not, but I can’t affect that change.
“And I think knowing yourself is a big part of it. Ask yourself ‘Am I getting freaked out because this person reminds me of someone in my past? Or are they really being abusive? Or both? If it’s about someone in my past, then I need outside assistance. It was important for me to get a firm on what I was reacting to. I got some coaching. I had to get some perspective.”
More on how to handle workplace bullies: Experts say that bullying behavior unnecessarily raises stress levels, demotivates workers and decreases productivity. This is what prompted us to probe for insights into our most burning questions about bullying. The answers we uncovered demonstrate that while bullying is disempowering, your response doesn’t have to be. Learn more at Stop Giving It Away.