Beating a bullying boss
There are three ways to deal with office bullies. You can ignore
them, confront them or report them to the boss.
But what do you do when the bully
is your boss?
Delicate situation. You like your
job. The money's good. The benefits are terrific. If only
this creep would cease invading your head space. Odds are
that isn't going to happen.
Once a bully has targeted you,
he -- or she, since bullying is an equal-opportunity trait
-- rarely moves on voluntarily. It's up to you to shake the
bully off. Unfortunately, it's the bully that usually wins.
While a recent study by the National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that most
bullying is worker-to-worker, dealing with an aggressor
can be particularly dicey when the bully is in charge at the
"Our data indicates that 70
percent of targets lose their jobs once they've been targeted;
33 percent leave voluntarily for health reasons and 36 percent
are constructively discharged," says Gary Namie, co-founder
and president of the Workplace
Bullying and Trauma Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group.
"The real risk is in being targeted in the first place."
Namie's organization defines bullying
as "repeated, health-endangering mistreatment" through
acts of commission (hostile verbal or nonverbal communication
or interference) or omission (withholding resources such as
time, information, training, equipment or support) aimed at
fomenting chaos and divisiveness within the ranks.
Bully bosses come in a variety
of styles, but each seeks the same goal: absolute control.
They may spout the company line about teamwork and consensus
building, but in practice, they're always looking out for
numero uno. They're not after a win-win; they're out to win,
period. In their view, everyone within the organization is
either above or below them. Guess which way the abuse rolls?
Sam Horn, author of "Take
the Bully By the Horns: Stop Unethical, Uncooperative or Unpleasant
People from Running and Ruining Your Life," says bullies
select their victims the way any predator does -- they prey
on the easiest targets.
"Bullies will pick on nice
people. They operate on a risk-reward ratio. They throw their
stuff out there and test to see if they can knock you off
balance, fluster you. If you are weak or just swallow it,
the bully owns you," says Horn.
Namie says that while heavily profit-driven
enterprises and time-intensive industries such as the news
media frequently breed tyrants, bullies also are prevalent
in such people-oriented fields as health care and teaching,
where nice, well-intentioned targets abound.
Here's how to deal with one of
life's least-pleasant scenarios.
1. Avoid becoming a target.
Got a bully for a boss? The first step is to avoid becoming
Paul Babiak, a New York industrial-organizational
psychologist and co-author of "Snakes in Suits,"
advises against trying to "help" or befriend a bully;
their aggressive behavior hides an inner need that is well
"Studies indicate that bullies
are actually inept people who are not talented, maybe have
a rage against themselves that they express outward toward
people they see as being better than they are. It's from a
point of weakness that they express their violence toward
"Most people self-correct,
they will even apologize," adds Horn. "Bullies never
self-correct, and the reason is they hold everyone else responsible
for their behavior. To change, you have to be willing to take
responsibility for your own actions, and bullies do not. All
of our reasonable, logical, compassionate attempts to get
along with a bully will backfire."
To avoid being targeted, Horn suggests
emulating the cat confronted by a dog: If the cat runs, the
dog runs after it. But if the cat doesn't budge, the dog walks
"In any office, you will find
there are people the bully picks on and people the bully leaves
alone," says Horn. "When we reverse the risk-reward
ratio, when we give as good as we get, we're up to the bully's
"The only thing a bully respects
is people who won't be bullied."
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