ARTICLES - HANDLING DIFFICULT EMPLOYEES

The Bully in the Workplace

“The key successful leadership lies not in the management of others, but rather the ability to listen, understand, and manage your response to their needs”    - P.K. Glass

The question that several readers have inquired about, is how to deal with the BULLY in the workplace.  One reader described their situation as follows. (Please note that the question refers to a bully with a male pronoun, so my response follows with the male pronoun. Bullies can be encountered in either gender.)

THE QUESTION
Bullied Reader:  I have been angry about the treatment I get from one of the managers I have to deal with daily.  He is not only condescending to me but everyone around him.  Why does he remain employed, and in the position he is in?  Because he has been able to get the top executive’s listening ear.  He distorts information and places the blame for all the problems on others.  I find out the damage he has done to me, and others, only after questioning management colleagues (who are equally upset) about the reversal of decisions I thought we agreed upon.  I am also surprised about the “threats” this person makes about my competence and ability to do MY job sufficiently enough to keep my management position.  What do I do?  I like the company and all the other managers.  I do a very good job, yet constantly fear losing my position, or my job. I feel my job is ruining my life, I am miserable at work and I am always feeling like I must be ON GUARD for the next attack on me. 

Dear Bullied Reader:
 Often bullies are insecure and need to reduce the attention that is paid to more competent managers.  They attempt to destroy the other manager’s reputation, by demeaning their character and reputation, controlling them, or limiting their access to critical information, and essential top level executives.
Other Characteristics that portray a bully might include:

Deciding What You Should Do:
Determining the extent to which this bully is really a threat to you, is an essential first step.  Does he really pose a threat to your job, or are you just very angry with this person’s mode of operating.  Is he really as close to top management as he would like you to believe (they are frequently very convincing but untruthful)?  If he has no direct control over your job, you may want to assess the risks of starting the war with this person.  He will not play fair.

Approach Others for Their Feedback:
 Asking others about their perceptions of this person could provide valuable information regarding the amount of support he has, the amount of fear others have of him (which may affect their willingness to be supportive of you), or cause you to see another side of the person you have not seen.

When the Bully is a Direct Threat:
If it is clear that this bully will have a direct and potentially damaging affect on your reputation or your career, you must fight.  Not to find an appropriate way to fight will only perpetuate the problems for you and others.   Trying to understanding what psychological factors make this person do what he does will be of little help.  You will not change this person. You can only manage your responses to his behavior, which may cause him to alter some of his destructive behaviors.

Do You Have High Level Contacts You Can Talk to About the Bully?
If you have top management personnel who are approachable, use them.  First explain the situation in terms of specific examples and behaviors, not general frustrations and complaints.  Ask for their advice.  Do not assume they do not know about this person or what this person has been doing.  Listen carefully to the feedback you get. It may be supportive of the bully’s style of managing.  (Bullies can get things done by being intimidating and threatening, although it is only temporary.  The lack of collaboration will cause the loss of good personnel and ultimately reduce the productivity.)  When upper management understands and evidences support for you, they may suggest some things to try.  These must be done before you fight the bully in any other way.

When All Else Fails
When the stakes are high enough and diplomatic means do not work (they seldom do with bullies), you must decide whether you have the commitment to carry on what may be a very long battle.  Know yourself and how well you handle stress.  (Bullies don’t give up, they fight to win, no matter what they have to do!).  Will you have to go it alone, others may be too fearful to side with you and may side with the bully so he will not be as likely to attack them (even if they can’t stand him).  If you can’t tolerate the fight you may have to look for employment elsewhere).

When You Feel You Are Ready To Take On The Bully

Although there is no definitive approach that is guaranteed to be successful with all bullies, this article will provide you with some suggestions of what is involved in managing your responses to the BULLY in your workplace.  Remember:  Only You Can Prevent Bullies From Controlling Your Job, Your Reputation and Your Career!

I wish to express my appreciation to the readers sharing their stories and expressing an interest our writing abut this topic.  Please send your questions.  We will respond to all inquiries.  Thank you very much. 

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