We’ve all dealt with our fair share of bullies over the course of our lives, right? The snot-nosed brat in first grade that wouldn’t let us on the merry-go-round. The mean girl in junior high that made fun of our Sears Pretty Plus outfit (they had half sizes for those of us that might have been a lil’ bit “husky”). The eventual high-school drop out that teased us relentlessly for getting good grades. They pop up at various times in our lives to torment, to annoy and sometimes to teach a lesson (usually unbeknownst to us at the time).
But, what about workplace bullies? Have you encountered this type of monster (and yes, I’ve come to the decision that these types of people are monsters)? I pray that you haven’t. Because since college I have…many a time.
Last week my friend Kim and I decided there are two types of workplace bullies. The first type is a known hardass, usually trying to get their job done and be as efficient as possible in doing so. And to them, if you aren’t part of the solution, you are nothing but a problem. But if stand your ground, speak intelligently and push back, these bullies relent. They let down their guard and see you as a worthy opponent, someone that understands. They usually become a loyal friend and appreciate that they can tell you about their family one minute and debate a work task the next, nothing ever taken personally.
But the Monster Bullies, these are the worst kind of bullies. These bullies never stop, always out there in the wings, just waiting to strike. This is the bully I’ve encountered most often at work. Usually a woman (though there have been a handful of men), usually extremely insecure, usually very sneaky and always an expert in their craft. These bullies try to be your best friend at first. They are great actors to everyone around them, fooling most into thinking they are jovial and kind. They get you to let down your guard, share your personal stories and build what seems to be a friendship. And then, they flip the switch. It might start with a nasty email or a passive-agressive dig at your work performance. It might come as an unprofessional comment in a meeting in front of your team members. It might be withholding information from you to complete a task and then turning around and blaming you for the outcome. Whatever it is, you probably saw the signs at some point, something that punched your gut just a little bit but you dismissed it because this individual is your supervisor, colleague, “friend”. It’s like being in a bad relationship full of mind games. One minute you are the worst worker in history. The next moment, the bully wants to take you shopping or be your workout buddy. It’s a living hell.
Well friends, I’ve been in this cycle of Monster Bullies off and on since 2003. And last week, I finally broke the cycle. I finally stood up to my bully. And, I won! I’m a painfully nice person, I really am. I grew up thinking I had to be a people pleaser 100% of the time to get people to like me. With a little help, I’ve finally outgrown that thinking and was able to let go of the fear and stand my ground. I prepared as if I was going into battle, and that preparation made all the difference. I was relaxed, calm and assertive. And, it felt amazing!
But, I know this bully. I know the patterns, how this bully operates. There might be a calm before the storm, before the bully picks up again. The bully may pick a new target for a little while, as bullies tend to do. But at least I know if the nastiness comes around again (and it probably will), the fear is gone. And, I can stop whatever it is in its tracks instead of letting it go on again for too long.
So, if you are dealing with your own bully, I can’t tell you to do the same, to stand up to your bully and not be afraid. I was afraid for a long time. I had, at times, crippling anxiety over dealing with my bullies, days when I couldn’t get myself out of bed to go to work. Really terrible stuff.
But, this is what I can tell you. It feels amazing to get past the fear. It feels amazing to finally realize that not everyone has to like you (and you don’t have to like everyone). It feels amazing to finally demand respect. And, it feels amazing to move out of this awful cycle and be able to breathe.