In the past couple of articles we’ve looked at how to deal with bullying in a team you lead or the workplace where you are in charge.
What about if you are the one being bullied? If your boss, or even a colleague is bullying you, how should you handle that situation?
Just as you need to have no tolerance for bullying within a team you lead, if you are the one being bullied, at some point you will need to stand up for yourself in the face of bullying.
Remember, any bullying or harassment in the workplace is unacceptable and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Everyone, including you, has a right to feel safe at work and to be treated with respect.
However it is important to resist the urge to try to ‘get back’ at the bully or lower yourself to their tactics in your response.
Exactly how you respond in a situation will depend on the specific context. If you find yourself being publicly bullied or harassed your response may need to be different to a situation where you face secret threats or manipulation.
Either way it is a good idea to prepare yourself before you respond so you can be strong enough to be calm and assertive in your response, no matter how loud and abusive the bully might be. If you become angry and aggressive or ‘fight’ back it will not help in the long term and the bully may even be able to convince others that the problem is all your fault.
So hold your ground. Stay calm. Interrupt a verbal tirade by saying that you both want what’s best. Simply showing that you can be brave in the face of a stream of abuse can help deflect a bully. Often, the bully singles out targets who avoid any conflict since they know that they’ll be more likely to get their way.
A powerful way to interrupt a bully is to say their name. Look into their eyes, speak in a strong clear and firm voice, and repeat their name until they stop talking.
Then take control by asking short questions. Ask short direct clarifying questions and keep asking them until the bully begins to calm down. Don’t get into a discussion, just ask further clarifying questions to show you are trying to really understand what has upset them.
Asking questions can be effective in a variety of different situations, including attacks in front of coworkers, private confrontations or in meetings so it is worthwhile learning this technique.
Concentrate on maintaining a calm appearance – no matter how you are really feeling inside. The louder and more out-of-control the bully is, the calmer you need to appear to be in contrast to them.
Paraphrasing the bully’s responses, deferring the discussion until later when things are more measured or others will be present, even gentle humor – particularly if you can laugh at yourself – can all help to defuse a situation.
However you respond, bullying is serious and needs to be addressed. If you can’t handle it on your own, you need to bring in someone to support you in dealing with it. This can obviously be difficult if the bully is the person you report to. When that is the case you may need to look to other parts of your organization (possibly someone in Human resources or your boss’s boss?) or an external Coach or Mentor to help you to tackle the situation.
At some point you may even decide the bullying is not worth your energy in trying to deal with it and you would rather move on. Should that situation arise, take care to never burn your bridges. If you can’t take any more and can’t get help, you can make your exit but be sure to keep your dignity intact.
If you do decide you must leave your position because of bullying, try to make the decision to leave outside of the emotional realm. When you hand in your notice, do so later, with a cool head, not brimming with rants or fuming about the unfair treatment you got from someone. Remember, you may need those people to vouch for you at some time in the future.
When you do it this way, you get to enjoy a better sense of control. You will reach greater heights of success if you manage to hold your head up high and always maintain your dignity.
Finally if you do find yourself needing to deal with bullying or harassment, make sure you care for yourself, manage your stress levels, maintain a balanced perspective and keep your sense of humor. Take the time to feel good about yourself and stay grateful for what you’ve been blessed with. Remind yourself that as long as you’re doing what’s right, you’ll be fine.