Screamers, Demeanors, Schemers …

This gal knows her stuff! Some good ideas here. PGB

Oct. 28, 2010

Bosses Who Revel in Subordinate’s Misery

By TORY JOHNSON, ABC News Workplace Contributor

If you have a bully for a boss, you’re among the many people who probably dread going to work every day. The bullying can come in many forms, and from bosses who have their own unique style of bringing the pain. Some supervisors love to yell and scream, while others revel in humiliating their employees. Some workers also say that their bosses have schemed behind their backs to undermine their performance.

The Screamer: Sadly, at one point, we’ve all worked for or with screamers. Excessive yelling definitely makes for a toxic work environment. This type of boss doesn’t need a reason to yell. It’s just his or her style to scream at will.

Walk Away: Best solution is to stand up for yourself by walking away from a tirade. Bullies only scream at people they perceive to be weak — people who’ll easily take it. As a kid, you may have had to sit still and take it from a parent, but not so at work. Refuse to subject yourself by walking away, going to the restroom, grabbing a cup of water, stepping outside. This is especially helpful if you’re on the verge of getting emotional, which you don’t want to do. Above all, remember that when you do nothing, when you just sit there and take it, you’re giving the bully permission to continue. By doing nothing, you’re saying, “This is OK,” even though it’s not.

The Demeaner: The demeaner makes humiliating comments — “You’re such an idiot.” “Could you be any dumber?” “My kids could do this better and faster than you any day.” This person also uses humiliating gestures — rolling their eyes, using their hands dismissingly. This kind of toxic boss might also laugh at your ideas to belittle you. This kind of boss is particularly vexing because one of the most important characteristics that drives our excellence at work is our confidence in ourselves and our abilities. When we’re demeaned, we naturally second-guess ourselves and our worth. That means we don’t perform our best work. So it’s counterproductive for the boss to treat people this way on the job, even though he or she doesn’t see it. Confront Calmly: If you work for a small business, there isn’t an HR department to complain to about this, which means it’s up to you to tackle it directly with the boss. Sit down with the boss and tell him or her that you’re very proud of your skills and abilities and you’re especially proud of the results you generate in this role — and you know the company does good work. But you’re curious as to why someone who is so successful would resort to bully tactics when it accomplishes nothing. Make it clear that you don’t mind constructive criticism but when you do X, Y, Z, it’s not conducive to performing at your very best. If you go this route, make sure you share very specific examples. Instead of asking, “Why are you a bully?” say, “When you laugh at my ideas, call me this name, and compare me to your kids — like you did on these four occasions — those specific actions and comments prevent me from giving you and this company my absolute best. And I want very much to over-deliver for you, so I’d respectfully request that you stop doing this.” Stick just to facts delivered in a reasoned manner.

The Schemer: The schemer attempts to undermine your status by repeatedly withholding key information from you, excluding you from e-mail distributions, and intentionally leaving you out of meetings when you ought to be in the loop. The schemer nitpicks and micromanages, somehow always finding fault with your work, and fails to give you credit for the good work you do. A demanding boss can push you to deliver the best and can set the bar high with big expectations for excellence, but the schemer is never satisfied because of barriers that he or she puts in your way.

Document Details: Complaining about these toxic tactics can make you seem petty — “Oh, I wasn’t invited to the meeting; oh, the boss never told me about this” — so to avoid that impression, you want to document the details over time. It could be a couple of weeks or even a month where you write down exactly what happened, when, where and any witnesses, so it’s all spelled out in meticulous detail. Keep copies of any supporting documentation. That prevents you from being brushed off as a petty complainer or thin-skinned. Depending on the size of your organization, you’ll bring this to HR or you may have to go directly to the boss. You’re not just going to report this behavior, but also going to demonstrate that it’s impacting your work because it has created an uncomfortable or even hostile work environment. Even though bullying has been proven to be costly to the company’s bottom line, which is why they should take action to nip this behavior, don’t expect HR to be instantly on your side. HR works for the company’s benefit, not that of any individual employee. If you don’t find satisfaction, you may have to contact a labor lawyer who can advise you on your situation.

Walk -Away Time

So many people have told me in recent days and months that they’re really stuck on this one. They can’t afford to quit — and they’re afraid they won’t easily find a new job, which is very natural — but they’re also at a breaking point in an unhealthy environment. While I’d never cavalierly tell anyone to walk away from a paycheck without a financial safety  net, there are two considerations:

1. Your mental health and self-esteem are far more important than any one position. As hard as it may be to pound the pavement while unemployed, you always can get a new job but it’s far more challenging to rebuild your crushed confidence and your declining health.

2. Focus on plotting your Plan B right now as a positive distraction while you’re still employed. Get serious about job searching or starting your dream business to go out on your own. Just knowing that you’re taking steps to make a change — and bring an end to this misery — will likely make you feel better. Doing nothing and feeling trapped is the worst. You have choices — make them.

Support Co-Workers: Even if you’re not subjected to a toxic boss, as colleagues we shouldn’t sit silent while our co-workers are subjected to this form of bullying. Let someone know that you see what they’re going through and you’ll support them any way you can.

Seek Help: If you’ve done everything you can to no avail, seek professional help. This may be from your state’s labor department, a lawyer or a counselor to weigh your options.

Are you being bullied?

Note: The irony of workplace bullying is that the “victim” may be an excellent employee who is well liked, works hard, and demonstrates creativity and initiative. Bullying is often motivated by the bully’s insecurity, fear and jealousy. You may be targeted because the bully perceives you to be a threat. Employers take note – Good employees  quit or are fired while bullies – who do not act in the company’s s best interests – remain to wreak more havoc.  Also, co-workers who witness bullying are more likely to quit if the employer tolerates the abuse  –  PGB

Are you being bullied?

Here’s a Workplace Aggression Research Questionnaire developed by researchers from the State University of New York in New Paltz and Wayne State University that identifies often subtle bullying behaviors.

Take the quiz to find out if you’re a victim of bullying. Occasional insults don’t count. Bullying occurs when the behavior has occurred consistently during the past six months.

In the past six months have you regularly:

  • Been glared at in a hostile manner?
  • Been excluded from work-related social gatherings?
  • Had others storm out of the work area when you entered?
  • Had others consistently arrive late for meetings that you called?
  • Been given the “silent treatment”?
  • Not been given the praise for which you felt entitled?
  • Been treated in a rude or disrespectful manner?
  • Had others refuse your requests for assistance?
  • Had others fail to deny false rumors about you?
  • Been given little or no feedback about your performance?
  • Had others delay action on matters that were important to you?
  • Been yelled at or shouted at in a hostile manner?
  • Been subjected to negative comments about your intelligence or competence?
  • Had others consistently fail to return your telephone calls or respond to your memos or e-mail?
  • Had your contributions ignored by others?
  • Had someone interfere with your work activities?
  • Been subjected to mean pranks?
  • Been lied to?
  • Had others fail to give you information that you really needed?
  • Been denied a raise or promotion without being given a valid reason?
  • Been subjected to derogatory name calling?
  • Been the target of rumors or gossip?
  • Shown little empathy or sympathy when you were having a tough time?
  • Had co-workers fail to defend your plans or ideas to others?
  • Been given unreasonable workloads or deadlines — more than others?
  • Had others destroy or needlessly take resources that you needed to do your job?
  • Been accused of deliberately making an error?
  • Been subjected to temper tantrums when disagreeing with someone?
  • Been prevented from expressing yourself (for example, interrupted when speaking)?
  • Had attempts made to turn other employees against you?
  • Had someone flaunt his or her status or treat you in a condescending manner?
  • Had someone else take credit for your work or ideas?
  • Been reprimanded or “put down” in front of others?

Steps to take if you are being bullied:

  • In the early stages, consider telling the bully that his/her behavior is not acceptable and firmly ask them to stop. You can ask a supervisor or co-worker  to be with you when you approach the person.  This may not be helpful if the bully is a sociopath who lacks empathy.  It could even backfire, causing an escalation of the bullying.  It’s a judgment call.
  • It is very important to keep a factual journal or diary and record each instance of bullying.  The record should include:

o The date, time and what happened in as much detail as possible.

o The names of witnesses.

o The outcome of the event.

Here’s a possible example of a journal entry:  11/21/10: Bob came down the corridor at approximately 10 a.m.  He grabbed my arm, pulled me into an unattended office and shouted, “Get that ***** project on my desk by lunchtime.” He  then walked out without giving me a chance to reply. I felt humiliated, pressured, disrespected, and emotionally distressed.  John Doe witnessed the incident; I talked to John later that afternoon. John said he was shocked by Bob’s  actions, which he called “violent” and “uncalled for.”

Keep your notes in a safe place – not at the workplace.

  • RETAIN copies of  letters, memos, e-mails, faxes, etc., received from the person.
  • RESPOND to criticisms or allegations in writing, and ask the bully to respond in writing.
  • KEEP all memos and correspondence related to your work if the quality of your work is challenged.
  • It may be necessary to file a complaint. It may be advisable to first consult with an employment lawyer in your community. Most employees work  in an “at will” employment state, which means they  can be fired for any reason except an unlawful reason (such as race or age discrimination).  It is important to know your rights so you have a realistic assessment of your options.
  • If you COMPLAIN,  follow the process outlined in your employee or workplace policy manual. Complain to the individual who is identified as handling harassment complaints.   The courts will interpret this as providing proper notice to your employer of the harassment and bullying.  If your concerns are minimized, proceed to the next level of management.  It is usually advisable to make sure that your complaint clearly  states the problem; this is not the time to sugar coat the issue or to worry about being the squeaky wheel.  If feel you are being bullied because of race discrimination, provide the evidence upon which you base your belief to your employer.  Down the road, the account you provide in your complaint my be important in a retaliation or wrongful termination lawsuit.

Sadly, the Human Resources officer may not be an objective or neutral arbiter.  He or she may perceive their role as acting as an agent for management.  Management  may view your abuser as more valuable to the organization than you.  It is important to provide management with as detailed a record as possible about what is occurring so the employer can see the pattern of abuse.  A single instance may be dismissed as  trivial.   One would hope that management would recognize that  the bully is having a negative impact in the workplace or is creating needless legal liability.  But be aware that most targets of bullying are forced to  quit or are fired. Some experts advise targets to immediately start looking for another job.

BUT DO NOT …

RETALIATE

If you retaliate, you could appear to be a perpetrator.  This may  confuse the manager who is  responding to your complaint.  Also, an estimated 70 percent of bullies are bosses and in these cases the power dynamics do not favor the target .

Abusive bosses  may simply be clueless, insecure and poorly trained.  However, an abusive boss may a  narcissist or sociopath. without empathy. Their actions may be very  deliberate. They could be skilled at manipulating management and co-workers.   To the bully, it’s the equivalent of a chess game.  But  you may feel a range of  strong emotions, including fear and anger.  Bullies often try to manipulate their targets into making an impulsive and unwise move.  As best you can, stay detached and focused. Don’t give the bully more ammunition than he or she already possesses.

* Patricia G. Barnes is an attorney with expertise in both domestic violence and employment law.