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How to deal with bullies at work

March 24th, 2009 · 5 Comments

Sooner or later, you’ll encounter a bully in your workplace.

When I was a young professional fresh out of college, I was shy, passive, and naive. I was an easy target for bullies at workplace.  I remember when I first started working as an entry-level product manager, a bully took a major project I just completed, made a big presentation in front of an important audience, and took all of the credits. I broke down in tears at my mentor’s office.

One night I was watching an NBA game. Michael Jordan just scored several points in a row. The player on the opposing team who was guiding Michael Jordan got really agitated. He was grabbing Jordan, hit him from the back, and doing all kind of dirty tricks.

The referee was young and inexperienced, and didn’t notice some of the dirty tricks. It was interesting to see how Michael reacted — he was obviously annoyed, but he didn’t let his emotion to take over him. He simply elevated his game to another level — he kept scoring and scoring, and simply deflated his opponent’s spirit. The dirty tricks didn’t work! At the same time, Michael was working hard on the referee, kept telling him that he had missed several calls. Near the end of the game, the opposing player got a technical call.

There were several interesting lessons here:

  • The opposing player was playing dirty tricks because he wanted to distract Michael Jordan. In the corporate world, bullies treat you badly because they believe that’s the best way for them to achieve their own goals.
  • Michael didn’t let his emotion take over. He knew his goal was to win the game. If he got frustrated, angry and distracted, he would not be able to perform at the highest level. And that’s exactly what his opponent wanted to see. So, he stayed calm, and focused on his own goal.
  • When Michael kept scoring points, his opponent’s spirit was crushed. He stopped doing the dirty tricks. Similarly, in the corporate world, never let bullies’ get into your head. Keep doing the right thing, and bullies’ spirits will be crushed eventually.
  • Michael continued to work on the referee to make sure he knew about what’s happened. This is very important. To fight bullies effectively, you need to get help from the public — you need to expose them to your colleagues and managers.

Finally but not lastly, I have noticed one common trait among bullies — they’re actually very weak inside. One bully boss I worked for was always freaked out before presenting to his own boss. Bullies act like the way they’re because they feel very insecure inside. They’ve a lot of issues.

Never let bullies get under your skins. Do the right thing. Focus on your goals. Be a winner.

Excellent resource on dealing with bullies and office politics

Tags: Frustration@Work

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Andrew Wang // Mar 25, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Great article. I've encountered my share of bullies as well. Here're my thoughts on the matter.

    http://winning21st.com/2009/03/25/bully-the-bul

  • 2 AnotherGeekMBA // Apr 6, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Sometimes a bully needs to be confronted head on. One guy was an Engineering Manager, and because he was technically good and was in good terms with the VPs, he thought he could force his priorities down the product manager's roadmap. When I did not let him have his way, he threw tantrum and raised his voice.

    I told him not to speak to me like that, and pulled him aside to let him know that is an unacceptable behavior. I also let my boss and his boss know that behaving like a jerk should not go rewarded.

    The bigger issue is whether the environment tolerates bullies. If the leaders of the company do, it is not a healthy place to work in, and the HR people should be notified about it. Ultimately it is your choice whether to continue or move on.

  • 3 GeekMBA360 // Apr 6, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I respect the way you stood up against the bully! So, has the bully changed his behaviors after you confronted him?

    I have to admit that I tend to avoid confrontation with bullies in sales or engineering because in a lot of organizations product management simply didn't have enough leverage to fight sales or engineering heads on . If the sales guy can meet his numbers, no matter how much a bully he is, the company is likely to keep him. If the engineering manager knows important part of the system, he would be kept by the organization. It's very hard to win battles against those guys given their leverage. To certain extent, because of their position, they could “keep the company hostage”. Product Management plays a very important strategic role in a successful organization, but sometime it's hard for prod management to have the political captial since you drive a lot of things, but you don't have any resources per se.

  • 4 AnotherGeekMBA // Apr 6, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Sometimes a bully needs to be confronted head on. One guy was an Engineering Manager, and because he was technically good and was in good terms with the VPs, he thought he could force his priorities down the product manager's roadmap. When I did not let him have his way, he threw tantrum and raised his voice.

    I told him not to speak to me like that, and pulled him aside to let him know that is an unacceptable behavior. I also let my boss and his boss know that behaving like a jerk should not go rewarded.

    The bigger issue is whether the environment tolerates bullies. If the leaders of the company do, it is not a healthy place to work in, and the HR people should be notified about it. Ultimately it is your choice whether to continue or move on.

  • 5 GeekMBA360 // Apr 6, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    I respect the way you stood up against the bully! So, has the bully changed his behaviors after you confronted him?

    I have to admit that I tend to avoid confrontation with bullies in sales or engineering because in a lot of organizations product management simply didn't have enough leverage to fight sales or engineering heads on . If the sales guy can meet his numbers, no matter how much a bully he is, the company is likely to keep him. If the engineering manager knows important part of the system, he would be kept by the organization. It's very hard to win battles against those guys given their leverage. To certain extent, because of their position, they could “keep the company hostage”. Product Management plays a very important strategic role in a successful organization, but sometime it's hard for prod management to have the political captial since you drive a lot of things, but you don't have any resources per se.

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