Calling out a bully

Anyone who’s been in the workplace for more than – oh, let’s say a week – has run into a workplace bully. Any person who throws his or her weight around with utter disregard for the negative emotional and mental consequences for those around them is a bully, pure and simple.

Workplace bullies are a fact of life. So is cancer. That doesn’t mean we have to take either one of them lying down.  You need to challenge the bully, but in a way that solves more problems than it creates.

Suppose you have a boss, or even a colleague, who belittles the ideas of others.  Saying “You’re a bully” will not get a good result. Why? It’s the same reason calling someone “racist” rarely gets a good result. Even if it’s completely evident to everyone else, no one owns that as part of their self-concept. They will justify their behavior in all sorts of terms, but once they hear the label, they can’t hear anything else. As far as he or she is concerned, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

The same is true of the bully. She might see herself as a can-do person, as someone who doesn’t sugar-coat things, as a goal-oriented closer. But call her a bully and she’ll instantly close her ears to anything else you have to say.

Instead, you want to describe the exact behavior you see and how it makes you feel, then directly request an end to it. It goes something like this:

“Joe, when you insist that your ideas are heard without allowing others’ ideas to be heard, it makes me want to be less helpful. My request is that you listen to my ideas with the attitude that they might end up being of value, and I’ll certainly listen to yours in the same way. Do I have your commitment to do this?”

Coach your other coworkers to have a similar kind of conversation.  Soon enough, all the fun will be drained out of the bully’s game and you can get back to a productive, mutually respectful workplace.

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