Bully (verb) – use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something.

by Elara Mehta

Rose Alley, April 2016 —

I have been bullied in school and even retaliated – it is easier to identify bullying at school level and even take necessary correct steps.

Workplace bullying on the other hand, is more subtle and at times difficult to retaliate without risking your career or reputation. The bully at work is generally someone who uses intimidation under the cloak of “getting the work done” or “executing the instructions given ” and within the established rules which make it hard to pinpoint the behaviour.

The other issue is that most times employers or supervisors view bullying as a positive “go getter” attitude which gets the job done and end up rewarding and encouraging the behaviours making matters worse.

Personally, I have been bullied at work by a woman who told me to wear clothes more appropriate to my bust size even though I wore t-shirts and shirts which never exposed an inch of cleavage. Of course, this is perhaps the lightest example of workplace bullying that takes place at the work environment. In many cases the behavior of bullying is more severe, with a touch of politics and penalty which includes isolating one in a group, openly showing disfavor or allocating someone crappy jobs with no growth potential, verbal abuses, backstabbing etc.

As a part of the diplomacy, company disciplines and performance management procedures are often-time leveraged to control, threaten and humiliate the bully victims. I once had the conversation with someone about the trickiness in the verbiage (not language) of a performance review and the tendency they imply. A review can be positively written with negative connotation. By acknowledging you are “conducting the basic skills well”, the underlying message of “not taking the initiatives to take on more” is intensively implied; by emphasizing on your “strong execution ability” the whole paragraphs, your “leadership aptitude” is buried. Unfortunately, many corporate bullies tend to have a good handle on manipulating literature. Some even make you feel good when bullied.

Now, the question is: how can one handle bullies? Here are a few fundamentals:

No. 1. You cannot be an under-performer. At the workplace where one is mostly judged by his ability to deliver quality results, verbal or disciplinary attack on a bad performer is always seen as just.

Furthermore, try developing a skill and expertise that others don’t have but all need – nothing fancy. For instance, one of my co-worker was very good at one particular data analysis tool that helps streamlining the process and cut the work time. It’s not some complicated system to learn and one can probably grasp it in 2 hours of online classes. However, almost everyone comes to him for help, and apparently his was never the target for bullies despite his junior level and soft personality.

Conclusion: a solid skill will reduce your vulnerability.

No. 2. Make friends. You don’t need to flamboyantly make friends with everyone, but you definitely need a few in your inner circle who can speak up for you. It is also known that bullies don’t tend to bully well-networked people.

No. 3 Keep the communication line wide and open. Let your boss know you are doing a good job. Build trust with him with your firmly positive work capability and personal charm. If one of your coworker or project supervisor (working under him) has the tendency to bully you, give him a hint or a heads-up, informally.

No. 4 Email documentation. Leverage email as much as you can. Try document as much as work related bully conversations as possible. These will be helpful in executing No. 5.

No. 5 Bully back. When all documented evidence on his bullying and being unethical, you can go straight to the compliance office, or you can take the bully into a room for a one on one discussion about what you might want him to do to save his reputation and potentially his job. You call your own price.