Bullies, Turtles, and Dr Jekyll’s…How to deal with difficult coworkers
So this is the hardest story that i have ever had to write. It is so deeply personal, that i kept procrastinating on writing it. All my life I have been pushed to my limits by different types of bullies. I even named them Bullies, Turtles, and Dr Jekyll's. Starting early in life with my Nana, through grade school, and into the workplace with people like Golden Boy.
Golden Boy was the worst, but he pushed me to discover how to end the repeating pattern in my life. And for that I AM Grateful.
Golden Boy (my nickname for him) was hired to be another web designer in the IT department I worked for. Most of the previous designers, couldn't handle working in the IT dept., and Golden Boy was no exception. He boasted that he was a great designer and knew how to code...which he didn't! The higher ups loved him, because he told them what they wanted to hear...and let's face it he was a charmer. I knew better...and he knew that I knew. I figured out early on that he didn't know how to code his own designs. It is one thing to code using a WYSIWYG editor, such as Dreamweaver, and another to work on a large complex website using Visual Studio.
It started out innocently enough, where he would ask me basic questions on how to do things. At the time we worked on separate projects, so i didn't have to deal with him too much. I just had to make sure that my "helping him" didn't set me back on my workload. In June of that year, i was told that I would be reporting to him. Whaaaaat!!!! How did this happen? He has less experience than me. I swallowed my misgivings about it so that I wouldn't seem unprofessional or not a team player. Bullies are notorious manipulators! Like a slow burn when you take a sip of brandy. Click To TweetGolden Boy started having battles with our marketing design team. After meeting with them, he would storm back to his desk and start lashing out at innocent people. I ignored it at first, but he kept trying to pull me into the drama. Slowly over time, he redirected his anger and frustration towards me. In meetings with other people, he would be happy-go-lucky, but as soon as everyone else left the room he would verbally attack me. Before working with him I was well-liked, and had strong social connections in the office. I started to notice that people began to withdraw from me. They started whispering about me like I was a leper. Later I found out that Golden Boy was blaming his mistakes on me and destroying my reputation in the process. This went on for months and his behavior towards me began to worsen. He started supplementing his lack of coding knowledge by engaging another developer. And then pitting me against the other developer. When our senior developer was on the verge of being fired for poor performance, Golden Boy transferred all the senior developer's Quality Assurance issues to my name. What he didn't realize was that I was an administrator on that system and could see the revision history. On top of that his promotion was announced! When it came time for performance reviews in April I wasn't sure what to expect. In that meeting he screamed "WHY DON'T YOU JUST QUIT???". It was the worst review that I ever received and I knew that I didn't deserve it. His behavior was unprofessional and I requested a meeting with his senior manager to discuss further. The senior manager missed the meeting, and later that day she apologized while meeting with me privately. I was expecting to be fired and when it didn't happen I was disappointed.
My "AHA!" moment came during a meditation when i realized that he was a bully. His issues had nothing to do with me, but i could change the way I reacted to his issues.
The power in this relationship started to shift. I had been documenting his behavior for the last few months and was preparing a case for HR. A week later, I wrote a snippy comment about him in an instant message (IM) to my friend. Only I sent it to him by mistake! He confronted me about it in IM and said "I don't think you meant to send this to me". I just owned up to it and said "Yes I did". There was nothing legally damaging in the comment and at this point I had nothing to lose. For the next few months I was being watched like a hawk. He didn't give me any work to do, withheld information from me, and tried to isolate me socially. He knew he couldn't do his job without help and when I wouldn't help him, he placed a target on my back. I was being setup to fail.
My higher power gave me the opportunity to see karma come back and bite Golden Boy in the behind. The redesigned corporate website went into production and the CEO HATED IT! Since Golden Boy had previously boasted that this was his creation, it all came crashing down on him.
Once I focused on changing my reaction to his behavior, I became less stressed. I came up with a plan to prevent this from happening to me again. That summer I worked on getting my power back. Golden Boy stole it and i wanted it back. I signed up for online assertiveness classes and started standing up for myself.
In September, Golden Boy's developer put in his resignation. GOLDEN BOY'S DAYS WERE NUMBERED! Three weeks later, Golden Boy quit too.
Honestly I didn't know how much he hurt me emotionally and physically until he left. I held on to the anger and hurt for too long and my body suffered under the stress. Not to mention that I needed to forgive myself for putting up with it so long. My only regret is that I didn't involve HR sooner.
What also helped me was a Dale Carnegie book that I read years ago. In his book, Dale Carnegie talks about living in day tight compartments and dealing with the issues in front of you today. Not in the past...and not in the future. I also made a worse case scenario action plan. What is the worst thing that could happen? I will lose my job. Then What? I will hunt for a new one..etc.etc.
So what can you do to handle the bullies in your office?
People tear you down to build themselves up. Whether the bully is criticizing you, conveniently "forgetting" to include you in important conversations, stealing credit for your work, or talking badly about you to others, his goal is always to make himself look good.
- Recognize the situation. The first step is recognizing that you are being bullied. Is this person nasty to everyone, or is it just you? Are you, possibly, giving this person too much power?
Remember that the workplace is a professional environment, which means it won't always feel warm and fuzzy. You don't have to be friends with everyone. There are bound to be some people you just don't get along with, and that's OK.
Bullies, on the other hand, engage in persistently aggressive and/or unreasonable behavior against a person. That means you're singled out and the person is being more than just annoying or rude. Various definitions of workplace bullying use the words systematic, hostile, threatening, abusive, humiliating, intimidating, and sabotage. In short, bullies are intentionally trying to harm you and your ability to do your work.
- Stand up for yourself. Don't be an easy target. If you shrink away and allow the behavior to continue without consequence, there's nothing to stop your bully from continuing on. Remember that people treat you the way you teach them to treat you (as Oprah has said about a thousand times). You give people instructions regarding what's acceptable behavior and what's not.The trick is to remain polite and professional while still setting your limits firmly. Don't let the bully get under your skin—that's what he wants. Practice your response so you're prepared the next time something happens and you can respond swiftly without getting emotional. Keep it simple and straightforward, for example: "I don't think your tone is appropriate." Don't get in a verbal tit-for-tat with your bully, but look him in the eye, stay calm, and be strong. Set your limits clearly and consistently, and your bully will eventually learn he can't get away with it.
- Document your situation. Get in the habit of noting what happens with this person and when. Keep detailed logs regarding your interactions—what he says and does, as well as what you say and do. Documentation will be your biggest ally should things take a turn for the worse in the future. And, of course, remember to always act in a way that you can be proud of. Don't let the bully push your buttons and bait you into an emotional reaction.
- Get Human Resources involved. Unfortunately, there may only be so much you can do on your own in this situation. Bullies can be stubborn and irrational. Often, when it's gotten to this point, there's no use trying to simply sit down and hash it out with the person. You need to call in the cavalry.
- Move on. Bullying left unchecked can harm your mental, physical, and emotional health. If you've done your best to manage the situation and you've sought assistance from HR but still no improvements have occurred, it's time to consider moving on. No, you're not letting the bully "win." You're simply taking care of yourself. You won't prove a point or teach anyone a lesson by staying in a dangerous situation.