Dear ABC. ABC Answers Your Questions.

Subject: Rude Supervisor

Dear ABC,
I am just curious. I seem to be having all of these problems with a supervisor and know that I am not the one at fault. But how do I get anyone to listen to my side of the story as it is never heard.

Every time management comes to me I am told a story that is only a little piece of the truth and find that the rest has been twisted or made up, even when they say I said things. What do I do?

I seem to have no one backing me in this store and I am not the only one having problems with this supervisor.

The only other associate that was willing to speak up is one of my best friends and yet management has said that we are just ganging up on this supervisor.

It makes me sick to my stomach as my job is being jeopardized every day and I have 3 children and a household to support. I cannot lose my job as where I live it is very hard to find a new one.

I am lost and confused and have no where and no one to turn to.

Dear Curious,

You are in a very difficult, but typical workplace bullying situation, when it is a “closet bully” that you are dealing with. A “closet bully”, is a type of bully, whose need to hide their compulsion to emotionally abuse others, is as great as their psychological need to do so in the first place. In the workplace their compulsion to abuse others is accomplished through the misuse of their position of power which they hold within the company. At this stage of the game, the bully is emotionally abusing you by using half and/or twisted lies against you. When you react emotionally, the bully uses this against you as well, putting your mental health, competency and loyalty into question.

The “closet bully” is highly skilled in using their emotional intelligence and charm to manipulate others against the target. It is often very surprising to everyone, especially the target, when the closet bully’s true nature is revealed. The term “Jekyll and Hyde like” has been used a number of times in anti-bullying literature when authors try to drive home this very important aspect of this type of bully’s behavior. It is nearly impossible for targets to get others to see their perspective and to believe that the bullying is really taking place, because it’s so unbelievable. Much of the bullying is done behind closed doors, and in covert ways, such as the liberal use of innuendo, nit-picking and trivial fault finding. MOST of the time, trying to get others “to listen to your side of the story” by using the following methods, are a wasted effort, here’s why:

  • Trying to talk it out with the bully or to reason with the bully. Why? You can not reason with a bully because a bully’s complaints are not valid nor based on reason.
  • Talking to the bully’s direct supervisor. Why? Often the bully’s direct supervisor hired the bully and therefore, and/or by level of responsibility, is responsible for the bully’s behavior. An upper manager who acknowledges the existence of their middle manager’s negative behaviors is admitting their own failure and inability to control their subordinates behaviors.
  • Going to Human Resources. Why? Human Resources primary function is to protect the employer, not the employee. It is easier and the path of least resistance, to follow the directives of upper management than to stick up for a low level employee.
  • Asking coworkers to become involved. Why? Coworkers who believe the target, and talk to the bully, the bully’s manager or the company’s Human Resource Department, often find themselves to be a target of workplace bullying. Studies and target’s testimonies, have revealed that bullies will sometimes back-off the original target, to intensely victimize and take down a supporter, usually a supporter who is weaker and easier to take down than the original target.

For all of these reasons a bullying campaign, which often develops into a bullying and mobbing campaign, is a very complex phenomenon to first understand, believe, and then to overcome, many times impossible.

What do you do if the usual means of understanding one another in the workplace are thwarted as in the above mentioned ways? You find yourself “lost and confused” with a job “you cannot lose” and “3 children and a household to support with no where and no one to turn to?” When talking doesn’t work, what’s left? STOP TALKING!

I have found that the best way to deal with a bully boss and any little mob that they’re able to manage to pull together, is to NOT REACT to anything they do or say. It must always be kept in mind that THE TRUTH REMAINS THE SAME regardless of what is said or done to make you and others feel or think otherwise. It is important to know that the bully’s primary objective is to engage you in battle, to manipulate, subjugate and control you. Bullying attacks are premeditated with the intention of not just hurting, but destroying, to take their target down.

If you deny your bully the gratification of a reaction, the bully will probably move on to someone else. It can sometimes be that simple. Don’t give the bully what he/she wants, a reaction. The following points are all based on the primary objective which is: DO NOT REACT! and…..

  • Continue to be the good, loyal, hardworking employee that you have always been.
  • Continue to be the reliable “go to person”, that is always easy for coworkers to approach and get help from.
  • When a bully attacks, defend, do not attack back. Always respond calmly with statements that succinctly demonstrate the truth. For example, when confronted with a lie, state the truth and when ever possible back the truth up with objective evidence. For example, if your bully says that your productivity is down. Show the statistical reports that prove otherwise.
  • Keep a journal of your bullying experience. Record even minor incidents or incidents that you’re not sure about. Keeping a journal makes this experience real and is self validating while clarifying these events for future reference. While writing and reflecting about the details of various events, you may gain insight in retrospect that didn’t occur to you at the time it took place.
  • After a bullying attack, never discuss the incident with coworkers. Behave as though nothing at all is wrong.
  • Never say negative things against your bully. Instead, act concerned and/or perplexed when others question the bully’s behavior.
  • Start looking for a new job. Having insight and information about the phenomenon of workplace bullying and mobbing will make this experience easier for you but may not be able to save you from the ultimate likely outcome which is suddenly being fired by your bully. One way or another 80% of targets lose their job within two years, once chosen as a target. It could be physical or emotional illness, suicide or going postal in extreme cases, that causes you to lose your job. It’s best to go about finding a better job while you’re still employed. You will be more likely to find the job of your dreams, if you have adequate time, rather than being forced to take any job because of a sudden loss of income.
  • Find support for yourself outside of your workplace. Contact your state’s BullyBuster group which are affiliates of the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington state and founded by Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie. Here’s a link to their site:

I wish there was more hopeful information I could share with you, but the bottom line is that being a target of a workplace bully and his or her little mob, is probably the most difficult situation you’ll ever find yourself in. Isolation caused by the bully, denial by everyone involved, and a general lack of information in the United States about the phenomenon makes being a target a very lonely place to be, for sure, but nothing important is easy. The saving grace being two things, one being this experience may motivate you to get out there and find the job of your dreams! Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants? Just think of it – someday you may be at a new job in which you couldn’t be happier, with a wage to match, and you would have never found this opportunity if you weren’t forced to by your bully. More importantly, you learned first hand, one of the most important lessons of human nature that exists. In grade school we were shown real footage from the atrocities of World War 2. One movie showed emaciated dead bodies being thrown down shoots from second and third floor windows, into open trucks on the street below, to be taken away for burial into mass graves. The teachers justified showing such horrific footage to young children by saying it was important that we know what happened so that our generation could stop it from happening again. This continued to haunt me as an adult because although I knew what happened, and even studied it further, I still didn’t understand how Adolf Hitler was able to get so many people, to do such atrocious things, things that they would normally be incapable of. I then learned about workplace bullying and mobbing, now I know, and you do too. ABC

8 Responses

  1. I am a paralegal, and last November, I was recruited away from a position at a law firm by a woman who was a supervisor at a bio-tech company. I knew this woman, whom I’ll call “Jill”, for several years through the Washington State Paralegal Association. Jill sent me an email saying that her paralegal was moving out of state, and this position would be great for me. I interviewed with her, and she had me convinced that even though this was an in-house position, requiring quite a bit of training, that I’d really enjoy it and would learn new things. It sounded wonderful.

    A week into the new job, she had hired a temp for an administrative position in her department. This temp happened to have 9 years of bid coordination experience, although she was not a paralegal.

    This temp, “Susan” became Jill’s new protégée, and was much easier to train due to her prior experience. Meanwhile, I was trying to learn a whole new language – purchasing, contracting, bid coordination!

    Then it started –Even though I was new, I took good notes, and worked very hard to learn all the nuances of the non-paralegal aspect of my job. Nonetheless, she began to nitpick and berate me for ridiculous things, paper not stapled in the right place, too many spaces in emails, etc. Even when the errors were hers, I got blind-sided. She would go to her boss, who was in another state, and tell her how terrible I was doing.

    She made up scenarios about errors I had made and railed at me unmercifully. I have always taken my work seriously, and been a professional dedicated employee. She was obviously trying to set me up to get rid of me. Her boss is in California, so nobody in management directly supervises her. Two of the four people in our department are her longtime personal friends!

    To further complicate matters, I have Attention Deficit Disorder. Jill knew this before I started. Well, after 5 months, it seemed like my ADD medication wasn’t working. I couldn’t focus at all, was not sleeping, felt depressed all the time, and had terrible headaches. I went to my doctor, and she recommended I take some time off, and get my medication reviewed by a psychiatrist trained in ADD medications. I took FMLA leave, on May 14th, and my leave is up on July 31st. My official reason for FMLA leave is depression, headaches and adjustment of ADD medication.

    After a couple of tries, I am on a new ADD medication which is working, and having been away from the environment there, I have begun to feel much better. I am going to put my resume out and try to get another job. My medical leave is up on July 31st, and I can’t imagine going back there. I would rather drive my car into a tree. I just don’t know what to do. During my leave, Jill hasn’t called or emailed once. It’s as though she expects me to simply disappear. Should I just resign? I just want my career back, without this woman doing anything to harm me, such as giving me a bad reference. I would refer all references to HR in California, but what can they say, legally? Please help me with any advice at all. Thank you so much.


  2. Dear Nervous,
    I think your right. Jill DOES wish you would simply disappear. She’s been nitpicking and lying because you haven’t done anything significant enough, to justify firing you. I think by not contacting you, she hopes you get the hint and just quit.

    Although you are being bullied, I don’t think this is a typical, classic case of the bullying phenomenon. Your case varies from the usual sequence of events and timing that most targets experience. When real bullying occurs, there is no valid reason for it. Typically, the only motivation, is the gratification and enjoyment a bully feels, at the expense of their target’s troubled reaction. Being able to make a subordinate squirm, is a thrill for them.

    In your case, I think Jill is motivated by more than just that. Your trouble only began after Jill hired the temp, who you said yourself, “was much easier to train due to her prior experience”. I think Jill regrets hiring someone who needs the level of training that you do, only realizing this in retrospect, after she hired someone with the level of experience that she really needs.

    The only way to find out if this is the real problem, is to ask Jill. You might start off by saying that you can see for yourself that the temp is more experienced. If this is the real reason, Jill may feel relieved that she didn’t have to initiate this conversation herself. If this is not the real reason, ask her what are the real reasons behind the nitpicking and lies.

    If the reasons are valid and pertaining to the actual quantity or quality of your work, then this meeting needs to be followed by another meeting in which together with Jill, you would identify your knowledge deficits and develop an action plan to correct those deficits.

    If the reasons are vague, invalid and/or do not pertain to productivity expectations, such as consisting of petty complaints, personal insults and put-downs, then you are dealing with a workplace bully, and it’s best, to find other employment.

    Many employers do not give references only verifying the period of time in which you were employed by them. I would not ask Jill for a reference. Instead, ask former supervisors or coworkers for personal references. Even in classic workplace bullying and mobbing cases, the bullying usually stops once the target is eliminated from their job. It is only the rare, exceptionally extra nasty bullies, who would continue to go after a target, by spoiling their chances of finding other employment.

    I hope this helps. ABC


  3. By saying/advising people who are bullied at work to look for another job while still employed because there is NOTHIG anyone can do about bullying managers is outrageous and sigraceful for so called lawful and democratic country!!! Australia appears full of workplace Hitlers or Sadam Husseins and it seems that neither the givernment nor the media want to put a stop on it. Is it because there are plenty of covert bullies in the government and media that they see nothing wrong in having more of like-minded in the management roles??? Apparently so.


    Dear Gabi,
    I do not agree that “By saying/advising people who are bullied at work to look for another job while still employed…” is “outrageous and disgraceful”. My advice is the best advice possible for targets of workplace bullies because the odds are stacked against them. Workplace bullying and mobbing is a “phenomenon”, meaning each case has striking similarities and a predictable pattern. It is known that only 20% of targets remain in their positions once chosen as a target by a workplace bully. Those are tough odds to beat. Knowing this, it makes plain, simple, common sense, to find other employment. Bullies think in ways that are hard for most of us to understand. It would not be unusual at all, for a workplace bully to suddenly fire a target on a whim, which is a hard, cold reality. My “saying/advising” others to find other employment is not the thing that is “outrageous and disgraceful”. The thing that is “outrageous and disgraceful” is my need to say it.

    I agree with your comments that there seem to be bullies everywhere you turn and that government and the media don’t seem interested in doing anything about it. I also think you are right about your theory that “covert bullies” in government and the media are what’s keeping a lid on the whole subject. I think Big business is also a big player in this.

    I think more people need to speak up and even leave their jobs, if a culture of bullying and mobbing is tolerated and accepted as the norm at their workplace. “Saying/advising” this it not wrong but saying nothing, while tolerating workplace bullying and mobbing is. Not only is it wrong, it can also be described as “outrageous and disgraceful”!

    Let’s all learn to Recognize it, Name it, and End Workplace Bullying and Mobbing together!


  4. My boss acts exactly like the ‘closet bully’, and I’ve tried to address calmly the issues she raises with me. But when I do so, and provide tangible evidence I did not do what she accuses me of, she says I’m ‘being defensive’ and that doesn’t make me look confident.

    Another piece of advice I got was to act combative with her and refute anything she says, to which she says I’m being ‘defensive’.

    In the moment, are there any strategies for dealing with this to diffuse the bully?


  5. Dear Sally,
    You can’t reason with a bully. No matter what tactic you use your bully will always twist and turn your meaning to whatever she wants. You see, bullies have no intention to work through issues with their targets. Their only intention is to drag you into senseless battle with them. Don’t take the bait! Always have someone accompany you when meeting with this very obvious bully. At least having another normal person in the room will help if there is question about your true meaning down the road. Good Luck, ABC


  6. My battle with a closet bully has gone on 4 years until I made a mistake that she to HR & her boss but embelished, exaggerated & conveintly left out deatsils that could explain it. So my 90 day ‘probation’ is going on & her manipulation is in full force. Basically they have given me a 90 day warning to my firing.
    Bully has a long history of running decent & exceptional people out. One thing we noticed is she stays away from minorities. I think if you are in a “protected” group you may have a legal case. Me & bully are same sex and race so crazy as it is I would never bother with a case.
    I know I need to move on & put energy into a new gig–anything you suggest to do on the way out to help others left behind or to elevate the behavior so the company sees it? Sad reality may be that it is just part of Corp culture…doesn’t unnecessary firing/hiring cost these companies $$? Have any studies been done of statistcs or costs these bullies incur? Between the time, HR expenses, health costs from I’ll employees, backfill costs, lost productivity–I could to on!
    Ps I never knew how common this was until your site


  7. Dear Kiki,
    So sorry that you have been going through so much! I think you are right about the 90 day probation possibly leading up to your dismissal.

    As far as helping others left behind in your company, I am not sure there is much than can be done unless you can somehow convince the management that workplace bullying and mobbing took place and was the true reason for your probation and dismissal. You can write down your perspective in regards to the complaints made against you. List each complaint, followed by your perspective of the truth. After the list you should “name it” stating that you believe your boss is a “closet, serial bully boss”. You can copy an article off this website or any other Internet resource on the subject, that most closely describes your situation. Have you read the article on this website titled “Tactics of a Workplace Serial Bully Boss”? Several readers have written to tell me that this article describes their situation “to a T”.

    I am not aware of any published statistics which gives specific data regarding how much money a company loses when their company is plagued by bullying and mobbing, although a general statement I have used on occasion is that “workplace bullying and mobbing is likely the largest hidden expense in business today”.

    I would not discuss your situation with coworkers until you are no longer employed there. After you leave, you may want to warn others about “bullying and mobbing” by giving them information about resources in which they can read about it for themselves.

    It is very hard to convince others about this problem because it is so unbelievable, but it is worth a try.

    More importantly you should give your full attention to finding another job before your 90 days are up. Good Luck! ABC


  8. My old boss is a closet serial bully. I am not currently on her team, thankfully! I have worked with her for 2 years, and have not been targeted, and at this point might never be a target.

    Until reading up on this website, I did not have a name for what I was witnessing on our work team. I knew coming on the team that there was something definitely wrong. The turnover rate has been incredible. We have lost at least 8 employees in the last 2 years, and it is a very small team. Some of the people were able to successfully bid into other roles in the same company and are back to enjoying their job. We have had several that have had to quit.

    The first was a woman that had been with the company for 9 years. She finally got sick of the nit-picking and constant closed door meetings and snippy e-mails. I talked to her a couple of times before she left. She agonized for months about what the financial implications of quiting would mean to her family. The last I heard, she is extremely happy at a new job that appreciates having a dedicated and talented employee.

    The last one that was forced out was a woman that had been with the company for 11 years. She had some health complications, and a new baby. The final insult was being put on written warning for not doing ‘mandatory overtime.’ She actually couldn’t do the overtime, as the law states that you can only have your baby in childcare for 10 hours. Even when she went and complained to our bully’s supervisor she was still written up for not doing the overtime. Our bully boss didn’t have one bit of compassion for her.

    Rediculous!! And this from a company that prides itself on work/life balance. I encouraged her to quit. I told her that she was never going to be able to reason with our boss, and the time with her baby could never be replaced. Luckily, this woman did not ‘need’ the job as so many bullied people do and was able to quit.

    The thing that saddens me the most, is that there isn’t anything that can be done to get rid of these people. You are absolutely right about the timing too. Our boss starts a new campaign within 2 weeks. And the person selected can be anyone. There is only one person on the team that seems to be ‘safe’ and she is also a bully…just not as good of one. She definitely fits the Wannabe bully profile to a T.

    The thing that is absolutely the most amazing is that you would think that someone would rate these bosses performance as horrible as their ability to retain talent is ZERO. This boss has whittled the team down to 3. Instead of getting let-go, she has been given a new role to manage…a new team of 5 more players!

    My friend that is currently under attack is waiting until spring to leave. IF she can hold out that long. I have decided to watch to see who the next person will be. I am thinking that it will most likely be the nicest and most productive team player! Ugh! I just wish that our corporate leaders knew what I knew!!

    There is something that I have noticed about our closet bully. I don’t think she does the normal pass-nibbles. Our bully sends out an e-mail with some minor procedural mess-up that the employee did. I have always answered mine as promptly as possible, and have thanked her for pointing out my poor work, and have asked her professional advise (yes, I know that I am a brown-noser) I have noticed that she selects the person that actually fights back for attack. She will campaign endlessly and is more than willing to take months and months. She doesn’t seem one bit worried when people document their work, and try to appeal to reason. As pointed out by the others, there really is no reasoning with her. Eventually, she will drive out the best employee by giving them horrible call scores and finding the most trivial stuff to seize on.

    About the only thing that doesn’t happen is the mobbing. Thankfully, we don’t have that going on, but I really think that this is due to the personality makeup of the individuals on our team. If there were some different people…especially ones that wished desperately for promotion…


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