Most people do not want to work with bullies. Rather, they gravitate to people they like. It is easy to discount a bully. They make you tense, frightened, and angry. Why bother with the hassle? Surprisingly, people who engage in bullying behavior are generally more capable than others realize. Nevertheless, it is easy to overlook them because of their aggressive nature.
When dealing with bullies, a contrarian frame of reference is helpful. Once you understand their bullying behavioral nuances, you can choose to rise above the emotionality in the moment, which tends to diffuse bullies’ attack modalities.
Often, bullies are:
- Interpersonally very adaptive – they effectively use persuasive and/or manipulative tactics to intimidate diverse personalities into submission.
- Exceedingly charming and charismatic – when they want to close a sale, secure monies for a pet project, or convince a colleague to do something against his/her better judgment.
- Vehemently outspoken – and typically overly aggressive. They are especially jealous and are hyper-critical of inspiring leaders who are transparent, confident, and motivate others to achieve extraordinary results.
- Politically savvy – as they have successfully weathered a number of senior executive changes because they have extensive knowledge of the company, the industry, and customers. Bottom line – if bullies are unable or unwilling to change, invite them to wreak havoc on your competitors!
As you can see, bullies have a number of enviable competencies, though tragically they pervert them so others do their bidding or leave them alone. The challenge and opportunity is to understand their “beneath the surface” intentions to do well and to engage them in non-defensive behavior. No organization wants its employees to be fearful of or refuse to work with bullies.
The question for CEO’s might be – what are you doing to draw out the positive traits of bullies in your organization?
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What if the bully is the CEO?
MJ – Excellent question; simple and yet, my response is anything but.
When I experience bullying behavior from someone, especially a CEO, I attempt to evaluate what might be some of the underlying factors through a series of questions. I may ask myself: What might I have done / or not done that triggered this emotional outburst? How different is this person’s interpersonal style than my own? If my style is dramatically different, how may my behavior and/or thought processes cause frustration and upset in my colleague(s)? What factors might be at play that are causing highly assertive behavior in this person? (lots of stress . . . ) How habitual are emotional outbursts? How many others are the target of bullying behavior or am I getting more than my share? If I was to take full accountability for creating the upset in a 1-on-1 discussion with this person what might I learn regarding how my attitude, behavior, and performance influenced this person’s reaction? Bottom-line: if you have candidly discussed this issue with your boss and the offending party – and sincerely adapted your behavior – and you are still being mistreated, you may consider looking for opportunities elsewhere. The reality is that if you continue to stay in an abusive relationship at work for an extended period of time, you will lose much of your courage, boldness, and confidence that you’ll need to show up powerfully in a new setting. Hope this helps! Best – Clyde