Should You Confront a Workplace Bully?
Cyberspace is filled with differing opinions regarding whether you should confront a workplace bully.
Some say “yes”, you should always confront a bully with his behavior, what he’s doing that you want to stop, and what you want him to do instead.
Others say you should proceed to confront with caution.
I’m from the second camp and I’ll tell you why.
If we lived in a land of beautiful unicorns, sure, you should always confront the bully because in that land the bully will always hear you out and then, for whatever reason, he will stop treating you with bullying behavior.
In the real world where I live, it doesn’t always turn out that way. In fact, it’s rare.
First of all, a bully (no matter how subtle his or her bullying may be) often creates such stress and/or fear in the heart of the target that the thought of approaching the bully and discussing the behaviors the targets wants changed makes the target feel sick (or fearful or weak in the knees – or all three).
Second, even if the target can gain the courage to confront the bully, it doesn’t mean it won’t backfire. Let’s say you’re the target of a subtle (or not-so-subtle) workplace bully. Even if you have your notes, examples, details about what occurred, and concrete explanations about how you want the bully to treat you, and even if the bully appears to hear you and agrees to treat you better, he may choose to do things to you behind your back to ruin your reputation or to get you fired or laid off.
People who bully others in the workplace – even in subtle ways – need to feel fear. If you’re the target, you don’t scare them. You need an advocate in the workplace who can put fear into the bully. This advocate doesn’t need to be their boss but it does need to be someone they respect (and even fear, if the message to the bully is delivered correctly).
Several years ago, an advocate went to bat for me by meeting with someone who was bullying a colleague and me. Afterward, I met with the advocate who said, “He responds well to fear.” The advocate used fear when communicating with this bully and I never had another problem with him again. In this case, the advocate was not the bully’s boss.
Several years later I had a conversation with someone – a colleague – who was displaying bullying behaviors. I clearly outlined what happened (quoting the person verbatim) and what I wanted changed. While the person was somewhat agreeable, weeks later this individual found a way to get me kicked out. My main problem in this scenario was that I didn’t have an advocate this time. Two people who could have been advocates had already resigned, so I was on my own. I was completing the editing for my book, “Not All Bullies Yell and Throw Things,” at the time and wanted to test my theories. (At least I’m not a martyr!)
If anything, I proved my hypothesis correct. If you’re going to confront a workplace bully, it’s best to have an advocate in place at the company to go to bat for you and back you up.
Check out Glory's book, "Not All Bullies Yell and Throw Things: How to Survive a Subtle Workplace Bully" on Amazon by clicking here!
©2015 Borgeson Consulting, Inc.
Glory Borgeson, President
2012 Borgeson Consulting, Inc.
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