5 Tips for Dealing with Corporate Bullies

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By Becky Blalock, former CIO of Southern Company, author of DARE: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage, and Careers for Women in Charge

This article is by Featured Blogger Becky Blalock from her blog BeckyBlalock.com

Kids on the playground are not the only ones dealing with bullies these days. Unfortunately, there are quite a few grown-up, corporate bullies out there too.

In fact, a WBI study found that 57% of women are targeted for workplace bullying. And not all of that ugly treatment is by men—some of that bullying is by other women. In a nationwide poll by the Employment Law Alliance, 45% of American workers say they’ve experienced workplace abuse. This study also showed that 40% of workplace bullies are women. They also found that female bullies pick on other women more than 70% of the time.

Why are adults, including so many women in a wide range of professions, bullying each other? And if you’re being bullied, what can you do to change the dynamic?

As the first woman to hold many of the leadership positions in a Fortune 200 company, I sometimes found myself in this situation. Since a woman had never held these positions, some people did not believe it was possible for a woman to do them effectively. Because of this, there were times when I was held to a much higher standard and did not receive the support I needed. When you are in the minority, the good news is that you stand out, but the bad news is that sometimes people don’t like 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 who just don’t like you, and that is ok. Bullies, on the other hand, engage in persistently aggressive behavior such as criticizing you, forgetting to include you in important communications, taking credit for your work or talking badly about you. Their goal is to tear you down. They do this because if they try to tear you down, they think it will make them seem stronger. It doesn’t.

In the two years since my book DARE was published, I have traveled extensively and talked with many people about being successful in the workplace. Unfortunately, the issue of bullying comes up fairly often. I am sad to say bullying is alive and well in our corporations. When coaching men and women who find themselves bullied, I share five tips.

  1. Deal in Facts, Not Emotions. You teach other people how to treat you. It is imperative for you to be polite and professional while still firmly setting your limits. Don’t let the bully get under your skin—which is exactly what they hope to do. Always act in a way you can be proud of. Some people are quick to blame you for something to deflect their responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, when you are to blame, the first thing you need to do is accept responsibility. But, if you and your team are not responsible, you should first ask, “Help me understand your perception of what happened here.” When you do that, you may learn new information that indicates you or your team did, in fact, have some responsibility in the matter. This question will allow you to clarify where the other person is coming from and their perception. It gives you a non-defensive way of making clear the facts of the situation. When people realize you deal in facts and not emotions, they will be less likely to blame you for something that is not your fault.
  2. Be Proactive. Make sure your work is credited to you and your team. Some people find it very hard to take credit for their work. We are taught it is not polite to toot your own horn. As a senior leader, I was shocked to see how some people were so brazen to make sure I knew about their work. It was a great lesson to me. You cannot assume your boss knows everything you and your team have accomplished. One of your key roles is to make sure others are aware of the great work you are doing. I found a couple of ways to get the word out: If your department does not have a status report, create one today. A status report is an excellent way to make public the great work you and your team are doing. Another way is to Acknowledge Wins. If someone on your team does something great, write a note to your boss and brag on them. After all, they are on your team. Writing this note and copying the team member does two things. It tells the boss you are a great leader, and it tells the team member you are looking out for them. Make celebrating success a key theme in the way you work. It will attract others to you and cultivate a more rewarding work experience for everyone. By being proactive in promoting the work of your team, it will make clear who is to be credited for your results.
  3. Document. Document your situation by keeping a detailed log of all interactions with the bully. This will be your biggest ally if things take a turn for the worse in the future. Documentation will also help you look objectively at things and take emotions out of the situation. Documenting bullying comments or actions may help you separate what is merely annoying from what’s actually destructive, aggressive behavior in your workplace.
  4. Seek Guidance. Find and talk with a mentor, advocate or seasoned/experienced friend. You may even need legal guidance from someone who specializes in bullying and inappropriate or discriminatory behavior in the workplace. Your HR organization can be helpful, but I always advise people to tread lightly here. This organization works for the company—not you.
  5. Seek a Fresh Start. Sometimes you just have to go. If you find yourself reporting to a bully, someone who always takes credit for your work and blames you when things go wrong, you may need to leave. Bullying left unchecked can harm your mental, physical and emotional health. Your personal health must be your top priority. I always advise people, “You have choices. There are always three things you can do. You can accept the situation for what it is, you can try to change it (which I have suggested above), or you can leave.” The last choice shocks some people who expect me to say you can always change the situation. Well, sometimes you can’t. If you find yourself in this situation, look at other places of employment. Dust off your resume and begin to see what else is available. There are always places for talented people to work where bullies are not tolerated.

Bullying by anyone is bad, but especially bad when women bully each other. I love the quote by Madeline Albright, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.”

Have you Dared to deal with a bully? Do you have any additional tips to share?

Originally published on BeckyBlalock.com.