Top tips for dealing with a workplace bully
After 25 years in consulting it takes a lot to shock me. But when one of our Sassista team arrived in the office at the end of a day’s work, sobbing and shaking we knew there was something bad going down.
As ever we suspected the usual mid-life emergencies – sick parents, dying relatives, marriage issues, difficult children. But no. She was being bullied by a woman her own age – and one in a caring profession at that.
It had all started well. Our Sassista joined this establishment to support young clients and was given a serious love-in welcome to her probation. Oh, they were going to work so well together; how alike they were; how their different talents would complement each other. Then the cracks started to show when Sassista had the audacity to make a decision and then, horror of horrors turned up 8 minutes late to a meeting due to travel issues. Even worse, the clients were flocking to her. The glow turned frosty but no feedback. Then, when a review was requested, came the onslaught of accusations and aggression. She was suddenly deemed irresponsible, inept, childish, full of blind-spots and requiring therapy. No exaggeration – verbatum words.
Unfortunately, she is far from being alone. Recent statistics indicate that 40% of adults experience humiliating or disrespectful behaviour at work [https://www.bullying.co.uk/]
So what are the danger signals which our Sassista should have picked up?
- An over-cloying start to the relationship rather than a professional agreement of how to work together. This pulled Sassista into a sense of comfort
- The fact that her predecessor left after only three months and other people on the team were wary of the manager
- Lack of objectives. Any probation should have set criterial and goals to achieve
- Being told that lack of experience was not an issue as it would be addressed on the job – then no training was given
- The manager having a very good relationship with her own line manager but not with her team (Bullies kiss up and kick down)
- Sudden change of attitude at the first little mistake and refusing to accept a reasonable reason
- Undermining comments such as ‘you need therapy’
- Freezing out – sending texts out of hours which were designed to undermine
- Finding fault and giving feedback on expectations which have never been set out
- Public humiliation in front of other team members
But it is easy for any one of these behaviours to be taken as a mistake or managerial behaviour. The reality is that in combination, they are a concerted strategy to attack and destroy. This was the most distressing thing for Sassista – she was actually blamed for the attack with the justification ‘You are making me persecute you.’ What???!!
So what should she have been doing to protect herself?
- Ask for clear goals. If you are starting a new job you need to know exactly what is expected of you
- Ask for regular feedback – and take notes
- If you suspect you are dealing with a bully, keep a note of every interaction and every comment which makes you uncomfortable
- Get advice – the HR department is there to protect
- Talk to a friend. It is all too easy to think it is you. It is not. It is the bully. If you cannot find a friend then get in touch with a bullying charity such as www.bullying.co.uk or www.workplacebullying.org
- Seek assistance – bullying is corrosive to your confidence and you begin to believe the bully and are crippled by self-doubt. That is part of their power
- Walk away. If you are on probation then there is very little you can do as you have minimal employment rights. But you can walk away with dignity. Make sure your letter of resignation is copied to their line manager and sets out all the behaviour which has forced you to leave. Yes, they will lie about you - but you can guarantee this will happen again and again and eventually they will be found out.