My Boss is a Bully! Or How I Learned to Confront a Bullying Boss
Years ago, one of my first ‘real jobs’ our of college was at a water sampling/well-testing business. I spent the day compiling raw observational data and lab analysis into succinct reports for private clients and larger-sized corporations. All was well, or so I thought, until I began to feel singled out by the wife-half of the husband and wife owners. My work in particular appeared to be more closely scrutinized by her. At one point she would stand over my shoulder to see what I was working on. I also learned through other co-workers that not only was the wife questioning my work during the day, but after I clocked out in the evening she would rifle through my desk, double-checking reports and my time schedule.
Needless to say I felt shocked, appalled and most especially, very hurt that she obviously thought I was somehow slacking in my work efforts and worse yet, was the idea that she had gone behind my back. I felt belittled and bullied at work. I thought to myself, ‘Oh,no. My boss is a bully!’ I stewed about this for weeks until my boyfriend (now husband) convinced me to face her. Of course, the very idea of confronting my bully boss was a daunting task, yet when I thought about her actions and how she had put my entire work ethic in question, I saw no other alternative. And so we met one night after work and began a discussion.
I can hardly recall the first five minutes as it was completely terrifying, but eventually we were able to discuss our issues. Initially, I think she was a bit embarrassed that I called her on the ‘sneaking around’ part, going behind my back and questioning my work with others and her red-face confirmed it, however, she defended her actions by saying she thought I was spending too much time recording work on a personal file instead of just writing it on her gigantic company board (which I also did). Apparently she didn’t like the idea that I had a separate file at my desk. Clearing the air helped solidify a better working relationship between us. She knew to ask me directly if there was something about my work that she had concerns about and I would no longer keep a second record of work in my desk.
My bullying boss went on her way to find other people to turn her attentions to and left me alone. Not long after this occurred, my soon-to-be husband and I ended up moving out-of-state and I found other employment, but when I look back upon the experience, it is with mixed feelings.
Bullying comes in all shapes and sizes and when it involves your employment it can be greatly difficult and overwhelming, According to statistics, 35% of the adult workforce has experienced some form of bullying. Adult bullying or bullying bosses can have a long lasting and detrimental effect upon their staff and management. Their behaviors can include yelling, demeaning and emotionally belittling someone’s work or personality and worse case, could even escalate into the realm of physical violence. Those who suffer under the brunt of such abuse often manifest illnesses and symptoms such as depression, anxiety and gastrointestinal issues like ulcers.
Merely because you have left the proverbial ‘schoolyard’ behind, doesn’t mean a bully has also just remained a distant childhood memory. Think of it as ‘geography’, the schoolyard has now become the corporate arena. Don’t forget, those that bullied in school also grew up and sometimes they have turned their very strong and assertive personalities into very powerful positions of authority. Bullies often enjoy making themselves feel stronger by cutting others down in attempts to make others feel smaller and less powerful. After all, in my case, my ‘boss’ was signing my checks and hopefully keeping me gainfully employed, but it didn’t minimize the fact that she had power over me and easily called into question my very work efforts, leaving me in a very vulnerable and indefensible position.
But I did what all people should do to bullies: confront them. Bullies thrive in silence, silence means acquiescence, less-resistance. Their power is only strengthened in the quiet acceptance of their horrible behavior. I didn’t yell, I didn’t get in her face, I simply used this very effective formula: “When (you) did (this)… it made me feel (this)…”
Not only did I speak in a calm and direct manner but I kept my emotions in check. Bullies love to see people squirm and choke up, it only confirms that their actions have a direct effect on someone’s world and well-being. But what happens when you tip the tables, if you show them that they have little power over you? Logic, reason and confidence on your end suddenly causes their power to evaporate. They now find themselves in unfamiliar territory and in the hot seat.
Try this out with your child, co-worker or associate if you are ever in such a ‘bullying’ situation. Most often than not, bullies or even bully bosses are afraid to have someone usurp their sense of power and may be initially abrasive if you confront them in a similar derogatory manner but when logic is applied calmly and rationally, they too can own up to their own culpability and begin to empathize, reflect and hopefully change their behavior rather than resort to their usual aggressive tactics. Oddly enough, they may even befriend you now that you have confronted them. Bullies tend to respect those who stands up to them.
Apply the idea of confrontation the next time you think, ‘My boss is a bully’. If logic doesn’t seem effective, go the HR route. Your workplace should not have to be a battleground. Stand firm and committed to righting ‘wrong’ behavior. It is difficult, but the rewards gleaned from the peace of mind you will receive are well worth it.