If you haven’t encountered a workplace bully, you’ve been incredibly lucky. Or, more likely, you haven’t been working very long. In either case, be thankful you’re one of the few who haven’t had to suffer a bully’s manipulative and malicious behavior.
I worked for a bully for two years, 20 years ago, and my gut still knots up when I think about him. I remember the dread I felt every time I pulled into the employee lot and saw his Audi tucked into its parking space. Walking to the door, I would ask myself, “What will it be today? Another pointless assignment with ridiculous deadlines? A new wrongheaded and hurtful policy to implement? A browbeating for not solving a problem that never existed?”
The staff had a nickname for him. They called him “El Loco.”
I thought about El Loco this week as I was reading a new book, “Beating the Workplace Bully,” by Lynne Curry. I’ve known Lynne for decades, both as one of her coaching clients and as her editor. After reading her book, I realize now, I should have gone to her for help with my bully. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening or why, or have a clue what to do about it.
Now I do, after reading the book.
Lynne is well equipped to help the victims of workplace bullies. She has a doctorate in social psychology and is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources. She founded and runs Alaska’s largest management and HR consulting firm, with 3,500 clients in 14 states and five countries. More personally, she acknowledges that she herself was the victim of a bullying relationship.
As more and more desperate victims of bullying bosses, co-workers or even subordinates came to her for help, she developed a series of strategies for her clients. She saw that most bullied employees found very little relief from either their employers or the law. And her clients reported back that her approaches worked.
That led to the idea of a book that would catalogue the types and styles of bullying, tactics for coping with discrete types of bullies, and exercises for victims to make the mental adjustments to become less inviting targets. She also offers advice to workers who see bullying but aren’t sure what they can or should do to stop it.
She defines three types of bullying in the workplace:
-- Verbal bullying, meaning slander, ridicule, name calling, offensive remarks,
-- Physical bullying, like pushing, kicking, obscene gestures, threat of assault, and
-- Situational bullying, through sabotage, interference or acts of humiliation
She describes the characteristics, behavior and vulnerabilities of seven workplace bully types: the Angry Aggressive Jerk, the Scorched Earth Fighter, the Silent Grenade, the Shape-Shifter, the Narcissist Manipulator, the Character Assassin and the Wounded Rhino.
Most people who have spent much time in an office of any size will recognize at least some of these types. If you recognize all of them, you have my sympathy. Lynne explains that people bully for all kinds of reasons: because they grew up with bullying, as a way coping with feelings of inadequacy, as a strategy for job security and advancement, and more. She says bullies rarely stopped bullying; they just find other victims.
The book combines readable, anecdotal accounts of real-life situations — “case studies” — with social psychology research about the behavior of both victims and bullies, especially as seen in the workplace, followed by step-by-step coaching on how to either side-step, minimize or defeat the bullying behavior.
She reviews the physiology of human stress reactions and explains how victims of bullying can get control of their reactions, using visualization to help them to listen and respond effectively to attacks that otherwise might stun or intimidate them into shamed silence.
She addresses relatively new but increasingly problematic cyberbullying (which is not confined to school kids), and concludes with a quick review of the law, as it does and doesn’t apply to bullying. (I learned, for example, that California is the only state that specifically outlaws bullying in the workplace.)
When I sat down with “Beating,” I assumed it was a book of relevance only to current victims of workplace bullying. But after finishing it, I see a broader value. Everyone who has a job or is planning to get one ought to read it. It will prepare them to recognize bullying for what it is and give them the tools to address it, whether they’re the victims or simply find themselves on the sidelines of a bullying incident.
Maybe I’ll send a signed copy to El Loco.