Almost each of us has encountered bullies while we were in school. Good riddance, we think, hoping to never see such characters again, especially not at the workplace. But workplace bullies exist and they can be a nightmare for those working under them.
‘My manager is a bully. She drafts nasty emails to clients, with harsh language and skewed facts, and gets me to send them from my mailbox. I don’t want to, but she stands behind me and makes sure I do. I am in a catch-22 situation – if I send these emails, my job is in danger; if I don’t, my manager will not approve of me.’
‘My manager is a yeller. He just walks into my bay and yells out his feedback to me, regardless of the presence of other colleagues near me. What am I to do when he is screaming like that? Should I shout back and defend myself? Or should I look away? Being treated this way is humiliating. I find myself unable to make eye contact with my colleagues after such incidents.’
Having witnessed such a spectacle, I have realized that managers who resort to public humiliation are often relentless bullies or just plain vindictive. If you are unable to get into their good books, start looking for exit options. Vindictive managers are often not open to feedback, and being candid with this person will not result in any meaningful outcome. However, if you feel the manager is just going through a bad patch, and is supportive otherwise, there are ways to handle the other traits. Here are a few tips that might work:
▪ Stay quiet and do nothing. When a bully is yelling there is nothing much to be done. Avoid the situation if you have to – keep your head low and walk away. Retaliating will only infuriate this person further, resulting in more yelling. Your objective is to diffuse the situation for the time being.
▪ Walk away from the person if you have to. Come back after an hour or so. This technique works like magic. The person may still be angry with you when you return, but most likely, he or she would have calmed down.
▪ Have a friendly chat with the manager’s manager or the HR department if there are too many such incidents, and mention the issue. If the work atmosphere is becoming toxic, an escalation is justified; however, it does not need to feel like a complaint or a report, but a conversation seeking advice. Develop common ground in the conversation and seek advice on next steps and actions, because these folks will know about the organizational dynamics and will help protect you as well as your reputation. Here is an example of how this conversation can pan out:
‘Hey Rohini, I want to share feedback on my manager. He resorts to public humiliation and often yells at me in front of the whole team which creates a bad working environment.’
‘Hey Rohini, have you seen the new movie release this Friday? I went for it … it was really nice – the acting was excellent. In fact, some of the dialogues reminded me of my manager. You know what, the last one week has been crazy; he has been a bit angry and has told me off a few times in front of the entire team. I don’t feel like speaking to him directly, as the last time I tried that, I failed miserably. Do you have any ideas – what can I do?’
The first conversation is serious feedback, and will require the HR/manager to have the same stern conversation with your manager as this is a formal complaint and will require them to take action. Whereas the second conversation is a bit subtle; it will make your HR or manager’s manager aware, and help them take some informal action to diffuse the situation. However, if the situation is too toxic, find a way to secure yourself and move out of the situation, and then file a complaint. That said, as you plan for an exit or report uncouth behaviour, ensure you gather the relevant evidence, e.g. emails and texts. If your manager yelled at you publicly, try to record it. Formal complaints are prone to more scrutiny and you need to be prepared.
‘Sunaina is that person. Stilettoes and red lips, long hair and smart! She parachutes into my project at the last minute, and with just a smile and a wink, combined with a lot of yap-yap, she walks away with all the credit for my work, while I, the brains behind the project, am left with only a few congratulatory smiles.’
* * *
‘When it was time to expand the team, my boss brought in people from his previous organization – these were people he had worked and developed a good equation with. Once they joined, our existing staff lost favours, as he wanted to make “his” team of boys succeed. In the last few months, the business has tanked, despite which his “favoured group” received handsome bonuses for their contribution. For the poor showing, he blamed our existing staff and replaced them eventually. Is there a way I can get into this group of favoured people?’
Favouritism is frustrating and demoralizing, to say the least. I admit I do not have any real solution to this issue except to say that life is not fair and you will have to deal with it. You can show two reactions to this issue: become frustrated and retaliate, or keep your head down, work hard, and hope that one day, the tide will turn. I have rarely seen any good come out of the former. Patience and persistence often deliver better results. Before you start reacting, step back and evaluate if the person being favoured is in fact worthy and if you are overreacting or being overly emotional. By separating transactions from emotions, I have come to realize that most of our obsessing over a favoured employee is an emotional response, and we might still be able to complete the transaction or the tasks at hand. Here is what you could do instead:
▪ Focus on work, not the pet employee. Stop obsessing about the pet and focus on your job. There may be a favourite who is getting all the plum projects but it is all right to have the next best project where you can excel. Focus on being the best of the rest and build skills and a repertoire of projects that will help you carve a niche for yourself. However, if you have made up your mind and are already in an exit mode, then involve yourself in the least ‘taxing’ work, so that you have time to explore other opportunities and interact with your possible future manager.
▪ Give the benefit of doubt to the favourite. Maybe he has superior skills or an understanding of the manager that you don’t. Maybe they worked well as a team; hence he is here. Instead of being resentful, see if you can glean something from the favourite that could help you either grow or improve the relationship with your manager.
▪ Choose the winning side. If you have to work with the pet and have a choice of which team to be on, be on the winning team, the team with the pet. Most likely, the manager will continue to support this group and you will win some credit too.
Collaborate with the pet, identify your niche in the project and deliver on it. This will help you have an identity, in spite of being on the same side as the pet.
If carving out a niche does not seem feasible, stay on neutral ground. Smile, keep your head down, do not bad-mouth, and continue to work as usual.
Try not to be on opposing sides with the pet, because then you will have to compete with the favoured employee. Unless the pet falters, this will be an exercise of huge effort and risky return
▪ Plan a switch to a manager who favours you, because this tide will take its time to turn. It might be more astute to move on to someone who understands you and values what you have to offer.
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