Bully-Proof Yourself. Another Fresh Perspective By Patrick Maina
Article Commentary by ABC
ABC would like to Welcome back Patrick Maina, guest author, who is presenting his second Fresh Perspective article “Bully-Proof Yourself”. Patrick’s articles are presented in a unique energetic style with a contagious enthusiasm which is both entertaining and informative. These are must read articles which shouldn’t be missed. Don’t miss his premiere article, “Life After Workplace Mobbing, A Fresh Perspective” published in Jan. 2009. See author’s bio at the end of his premiere article. In photo on the right, Patrick says – “Boooo!” to all the big bad bullies out there, while trying on a much larger and more intimidatng body while on vacation.
Bully-Proof Yourself. Another Fresh Perspective. By Patrick Maina
I am no longer a victim of bullying.
Bullies / Office mobs no longer intimidate me. Whoever said knowledge is power wasn’t kidding!
Let me share with you some practical bully-proofing techniques that really work! No more pep talks or theories – these techniques, if used consistently, will free you from bullies and mobs PERMANENTLY.
The mistake most decent people make is to accept their role as victim. They find it hard to believe that other people can have evil objectives. The seeming lack of a reason (what did I do to you to deserve this? You barely know me!) makes it more painful to cope.
The other mistake we make is to over estimate the power and influence of bullies – simply because of what they say or do. Your bully is most probably not as powerful as you think!
Another mistake is to overestimate the value and importance of keeping your job in your company. Do you really believe that only one company can hire you? Did the company do you a favor by hiring you – or was it a mutually beneficial arrangement where they pay you in exchange for your talent?
As long as you fear getting fired you will have a weakness that bullies can exploit. You need to be aware of your value to your organization – and deliver tangible, documented results to prove your worth.
Take charge of your personal finances to remove dependency on your job.
Most importantly: Understand the labor laws of your country. Understand your company’s Employee policy manual. Know the legitimate grounds for dismissal (usually very explicitly stated) and ensure you never do anything that would provide such grounds. Also know your company’s grievance procedure.
Every move you make to counter bullies must be well informed, legal, and within company policies. This either guarantees your job security or increases chances of hefty legal damages in case of unfair dismissal.
Know that good things are not easy to get. High returns come with high risk. Hence you have to be ready to walk away to a new life or follow through to the end if you are dismissed (court case and all subsequent appeals if necessary, media/public support etc).
OK. Now lets start!
Mobbing is not a new phenomenon. Even animals do it. Take birds for example. .they will mob any perceived predator encroaching their nests or babies or injured mate etc. Since the victim is usually bigger/stronger, the birds use psychological harassment techniques to confuse and make it less appealing for the predator to move forward (noise/chaos, vomiting/defecating on the predator etc)
Now… humans… unlike bullies (who just enjoy what they do), most mobbers perceive the target as a means of achieving a certain self-preservation objective – e.g. “better him than me”. Just like the birds.
Given this understanding of bullies and mob behavior, it is possible to devise counter measures that turn you into the HUNTER rather than the HUNTED.
Lets go back to the birds example: clever hunters have devised tactics that take advantage of mobbing behavior to draw birds into a trap. Google it.
Here are tactics that I have used successfully. Be sure to combine them all as they are not mutually exclusive:
1. Take charge. Become totally unpredictable. Change your behavior frequently. At will. unexpectedly. one minute very friendly, the next very cold. Friendly with x, cold with y. Ignore some attacks, respond to some jokingly, respond to others seriously. Mix responses – one minute you brush it off – then after the person is disarmed, you raise the subject to him/her separately and say you wanna discuss behavior x, which occurred at date-time x, formally as an issue that is disrupting work. Note down his response and follow up by email to document the incident – including date/time and place.
This starts a guessing game. They try to figure you out .. to understand what you are up to.
When “mobbers” hold “conditioning conversations” indirectly targeting you (i.e. you are supposed to overhear and feel hurt/frightened etc). Simply walk off beyond range of hearing. Or wear headphones and focus on your work – totally ignoring them. Make them know that they have just been ignored big-time.
Suppose they try to chat you up – just say you are busy and can you talk later? Be extra nice and smiling…
If they send an emissiarry – to plant some rumor or veiled threat or misinformation cut him/her off mid sentence (soon as you notice whats happening), say you are busy, ask the person to write you an email so that you can look at it later and walk away. Repeat as often as necessary.
If you expect some output from them as your input, request formally in writing. Follow up stating (1st 2nd 3rd follow up etc).
If taken round in circles, such that your request starts at point “a” and goes round b, c, d, e, f, before coming back to a who then does it.. document it. Send a message to “a” and show how you went round in circles and how it resulted in delays and time wastage. Get “a” to promise it wont happen again.
Suppose they try a nibble (small direct attack) – to understand your motives, Don’t look hurt or offended. Look BORED. Take a notebook and ask whoever just made the nibble to repeat what they just said. Note it down. If they don’t repeat – repeat it for them and say you want to have it on record what exactly they are saying. Write down each of the mob’s comments.
Then quietly continue with your work. Try not to show any emotions (hurt or offense even if they say something nasty). Let them leave first before you make your move.
Next respond to each of the mob IN WRITING, as INDIVIDUALS and state the inaccuracies associated with his/her statement. Ask him/her to clarify and substantiate the issue with specific incidents – with dates and times and with no generalizations or ambiguities. State impact of his/her behavior on your work and ask him/her to stop. State that you are copying your boss or his/her boss and that if it happens again, you shall be compelled to escalate further. Keep it factual, brief, to the point, polite and business like.
If, when you are noting down comments, they react violently or you feel unsafe then get away to a safe place first then write to HR and cc your boss immediately about the threat!
2. Prepare for battle. Collect evidence left right and center. SEEK to be mobbed or bullied – then get it documented. Feign insecurity to make the bullies arrogant. Then when they cross the line (e.g. making derogatory statements or false accusations or generalized statements); pause the conversation thus:
“Lets talk about what just happened.” Provided you don’t feel physically threatened, insist you cannot continue with the conversation unless you first discuss “what just happened”.
If its not safe simply find a way to excuse yourself gently or just run out or scream for help (especially if you are a woman – this is an excellent age-old tactic even when you don’t really feel physically threatened but what the bully is doing would appear threatening to an outsider and the bully is a man!).
When you are in a safe place, note down the time of the incident and write a formal email to the bully stating what happened and saying how you felt in danger because of their behavior. Say that you are copying HR and his boss because you believe what just happened is against the company policy. Say politely that you are requesting for him to stop this behavior as it distracts from achieving the company objectives (always focus on how the behavior affects your ability to work on the task at hand). Ask for a commitment that the behavior will not be repeated. Once you get the commitment – DOCUMENT IT (even if it was verbal)
Most likely the behavior will stop – the first time you do this. However it can resurface after a few months.
Now don’t deal with the next incident as a new incident! Thats another mistake. It is CRUCIAL to establish a pattern. and with each repeating incident – escalate to higher management.
Also keep in mind that the bully has committed another offense. He has BROKEN A PROMISE made earlier to stop the behavior.
So your letter for Bully tantrum #2 would refer to the first letter you wrote 6 months ago on the same subject and say this is the 2nd/3rd/4th time etc that the behavior is recurring. Then refer to the PROMISE the bully made and show your concern that the bully DID NOT KEEP HIS/HER PROMISE. Say that its now more difficult to trust the bully on these issues because he/she has shown that he/she doesn’t keep promises. On this basis – escalate higher (or if at highest level, maintain).
Show the impact to your work. State possible impact to others. State he impact to you (do you feel safe etc). and ask “again” for the behavior to stop.
3. Attack from the heavens. Having collected damning evidence, write an objective research paper on bullying/mobbing – in your free time – with credible references, and submit to the most senior HR person in your organization. List the tactics in your paper an compare them to certain incidents you have seen in your organization (you will have evidence in hand at this point – e.g. written correspondence etc)
Ask the HR person for help. Document the request. If HR does nothing, and the offense is repeated, then write again to HR and refer to the PREVIOUS correspondence on the same. State you concern that this is the Xth time that you are writing about this issue and that the behavior is still recurring. Restate the impact of the behavior to your work and to the work environment. State any safety concerns etc. Ask again for “urgent help and intervention”on the matter.
More likely than not, the bully will be disciplined or fired. HR will know you are building a case and most likely will not dare touch you (especially if you already have evidence of their not taking action early).
4. Follow up with ground troops: Do you know former victims of the bully? Get them all together (those who are willing) and all of you simultaneously start a grievance process – if one exists – against the bully.
Now, at this point the bully is no longer in control of the situation and is probably confused… he/she may try to play victim and may spread rumors that YOU are harassing him/her.
To counter this, take any opportunity to talk about the harassment incidents that the bully took part in. Stick to facts and don’t exaggerate. Let people casually know you have escalated to HR – but don’t give details, don’t sensationalize, don’t speculate etc.
Keep doing the above and you will be the least desirable target for bullies and mobs.
Finally, If you see victims being bullied, help them in whatever manner you can. Else you become just as guilty as those who sat and watched when YOU were the victim.