Wednesday, December 31, 2008

15 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

While I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with negativity, it is something I find myself having to actively work on. When I’m caught off guard and end up resorting to a defensive position, the result rarely turns out well.

The point is, we are humans after all, and we have emotions and egos. However, by keeping our egos in-check and inserting emotional intelligence, we’ll not only be doing a favor for our health and mental space, but we’ll also have intercepted a situation that would have gone bad, unnecessarily.

Here are some tips for dealing with a difficult person or negative message:

1. Forgive - What would the Dali Lama do if he was in the situation? He would most likely forgive. Remember that at our very core, we are good, but our judgment becomes clouded and we may say hurtful things. Ask yourself, “What is it about this situation or person that I can seek to understand and forgive?“

2. Wait it Out - Sometimes I feel compelled to instantly send an email defending myself. I’ve learned that emotionally charged emails never get us the result we want; they only add oil to the fire. What is helpful is inserting time to allow ourselves to cool off. You can write the emotionally charged email to the person, just don’t send it off. Wait until you’ve cooled off before responding, if you choose to respond at all.

3. “Does it really matter if I am right?” - Sometimes we respond with the intention of defending the side we took a position on. If you find yourself arguing for the sake of being right, ask “Does it matter if I am right?” If yes, then ask “Why do I need to be right? What will I gain?"

4. Don’t Respond - Many times when a person initiates a negative message or difficult attitude, they are trying to trigger a response from you. When we react, we are actually giving them what they want. Let’s stop the cycle of negative snowballing and sell them short on what they’re looking for; don’t bother responding.

5. Stop Talking About It - When you have a problem or a conflict in your life, don’t you find that people just love talking about it? We end up repeating the story to anyone who’ll listen. We express how much we hate the situation or person. What we fail to recognize in these moments is that the more we talk about something the more of that thing we notice. Example, the more we talk about how much we dislike a person, the more hate we will feel towards them and the more we’ll notice things about them that we dislike. Stop giving it energy, stop thinking about it, and stop talking about it. Do your best to not repeat the story to others.

6. Be In Their Shoes - As cliché as this may sound, we tend to forget that we become blind-sided in the situation. Try putting yourself in their position and consider how you may have hurt their feelings. This understanding will give you a new perspective on becoming rational again, and may help you develop compassion for the other person.

7. Look for the Lessons - No situation is ever lost if we can take away from it some lessons that will help us grow and become a better person. Regardless of how negative a scenario may appear, there is always a hidden gift in the form of a lesson. Find the lesson(s).

8. Choose to Eliminate Negative People In Your Life - Negative people can be a source of energy drain. And deeply unhappy people will want to bring you down emotionally, so that they are not down there alone. Be aware of this. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands and do not mind the energy drain, I recommend that you cut them off from your life. Cut them out by avoiding interactions with them as much as possible. Remember that you have the choice to commit to being surrounded by people who have the qualities you admire: optimistic, positive, peaceful and encouraging people. As Kathy Sierra said, “Be around the change you want to see in the world.”

9. Become the Observer - When we practice becoming the observer of our feelings, our thoughts and the situation, we separate ourselves away from the emotions. Instead of identifying with the emotions and letting them consume us, we observe them with clarity and detachment. When you find yourself identifying with emotions and thoughts, bring your focus on your breathe.

10. Go for a Run … or a swim, or some other workout. Physical exercise can help to release the negative and excess energy in us. Use exercise as a tool to clear your mind and release built up negative energy.

11. Worst Case Scenario - Ask yourself two questions, “If I do not respond, what is the worst thing that can result from it?“, “If I do respond, what is the worst thing that can result from it?” Answering these questions often adds perspectives to the situation, and you’ll realize that nothing good will come out of reacting. Your energy will be wasted, and your inner space disturbed.

12. Avoid Heated Discussions - When we’re emotionally charged, we are so much in our heads that we argue out of an impulse to be right, to defend ourselves, for the sake of our egos. Rationality and resolution can rarely arise out of these discussions. If a discussion is necessary, wait until everyone has cooled off before diving into one.

13. Most Important - List out things in your life most important to you. Then ask yourself, “Will a reaction to this person contribute to the things that matter most to me?“

14. Pour Honey - This doesn’t always work, but sometimes catches people off guard when they’re trying to “Pour Poison” on you. Compliment the other person for something they did well, tell them you’ve learned something new through interacting with them, and maybe offer to become friends. Remember to be genuine. You might have to dig deep to find something that you appreciate about this person.

15. Express It - Take out some scrap paper and dump all the random and negative thoughts out of you by writing freely without editing. Continue to do so until you have nothing else to say. Now, roll the paper up into a ball, close your eyes and visualize that all the negative energy is now inside that paper ball. Toss the paper ball in the trash. Let it go!

How do you deal with difficult people? What has worked well for you in the past? How do you cool down when you’re all fired up and angry? Share your thoughts in the comments.

(From Think Simple Now.)

"What we think determines what happens to us, so if we want to change our lives, we need to stretch our minds." - Wayne Dyer: Self-development author and speaker

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dealing with Difficult People

Can you recall the last time you had to deal with a negative or difficult person? Or the last time someone said something with the intention of hurting you? How did you handle it? What was the result? What can you do in the future to get through these situations with peace and grace?

No matter where we go, we will face people who are negative, people who oppose our ideas, people who piss us off or people who simply do not like us. There are 6.4 billion people out there and conflict is a fact of life. This fact isn’t the cause of conflict but it is the trigger to our emotions and our emotions are what drive us back to our most basic survival instinct; react and attack back to defend ourselves.

In these instinctual moments, we may lose track of our higher selves and become the human animal with an urge to protect ourselves when attacked. This too is natural. However, we are the only animal blessed with intelligence and having the ability to control our responses. So how can we do that?
I regularly get asked “How do you deal with the negative comments about your articles? They are brutal. I don’t think I could handle them.” My answer is simple, “I don’t let it bother me to begin with.” It wasn’t always this simple, and took me some time before overcoming this natural urgency to protect myself and attack back.

I know it’s not easy, if it was easy, there wouldn’t be difficult or negative people to begin with.

Why Bother Controlling Our Responses?
Hurting Ourselves - One of my favorite sayings is “Holding a grudge against someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” The only person we hurt is ourselves. When we react to negativity, we are disturbing our inner space and mentally creating pain within ourselves.

It’s Not About You, It’s About Them
I’ve learned that when people initiate negativity, it is a reflection of their inner state expressed externally and you just happen to be in front of that expression. It’s not personal, so why do we take it personally? In short: Because our ego likes problems and conflict. People are often so bored and unhappy with their own lives that they want to take others down with them. There have been many times when a random person has left a purposefully hurtful comment on TSN, and regularly checked back to see if anyone else responded to their comment, waiting eagerly to respond with more negativity.

Battle of the Ego
When we respond impulsively, it is a natural and honest response. However, is it the smart thing to do? What can be resolved by doing so? The answer: Nothing. It does however feed our ego’s need for conflict. Have you noticed that when we fight back, it feels really satisfying in our heads? But it doesn’t feel very good in our soul? Our stomach becomes tight, and we start having violent thoughts? When we do respond irrationally, it turns the conversation from a one-sided negative expression into a battle of two egos. It becomes an unnecessary and unproductive battle for Who is Right?

Anger Feeds Anger. Negativity Feeds Negativity.
Rarely can any good come out of reacting against someone who is in a negative state. It will only trigger anger and an additional reactive response from that person. If we do respond impulsively, we’ll have invested energy in the defending of ourselves and we’ll feel more psychologically compelled to defend ourselves going forward. Have you noticed that the angrier our thoughts become, the angrier we become? It’s a negative downward spiral.

Waste of Energy
Where attention goes, energy flows. What we focus on tends to expand itself. Since we can only focus on one thing at a time, energy spent on negativity is energy that could have been spent on our personal wellbeing.
Negativity Spreads - I’ve found that once I allow negativity in one area of my life, it starts to subtly bleed into other areas as well. When we are in a negative state or holding a grudge against someone, we don’t feel very good. We carry that energy with us as we go about our day. When we don’t feel very good, we lose sight of clarity and may react unconsciously to matters in other areas of our lives, unnecessarily.

Freedom of Speech
People are as entitled to their opinions as you are. Allow them to express how they feel and let it be. Remember that it’s all relative and a matter of perspective. What we consider positive can be perceived by another as negative. When we react, it becomes me-versus-you, who is right? Some people may have a less than eloquent way of expressing themselves - it may even be offensive, but they are still entitled to do so. They have the right to express their own opinions and we have the right and will power to choose our responses. We can choose peace or we can choose conflict.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Throwing (positive) snowballs

In October, the World Health Organization published a startling report entitled “Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope.” Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the WHO, noted that the “global toll of mental illness and neurological disorders is staggering.”

Psychologist Corey Keyes of Emory University notes that the absence of mental health may be just as harmful to a person as depression. He places emphasis on social well-being as critical in a healthy adjustment to life. According to Keyes, a socially healthy person:

1. Sees society as meaningful and understandable
2. Sees society as possessing growth potential
3. Feels a sense of community belonging and acceptance
4. Accepts most parts of society
5. Sees oneself as contributing to society

Workplace bullies are not socially healthy. They do not believe their workplace (or the people around them) are meaningful or have growth potential, and they certainly do not feel a sense of community belonging.

But neither do targets of bullying. Bullies can rip any faith in one's workplace community to shreds. As victims are scolded and yelled at, and responsibilities are taken, they lose faith in their leaders and the opportunity to grow, and they certainly lose any chance at belonging and acceptance. It's easy to let a bully rip all hope of positive thoughts from your soul.

But negative experiences lead to more negative experiences. This is called the Snowball Effect. When you stub your toe it becomes easy to think your day is going to be bad. As your day continues it gets worse and worse, but that's because of your own negative outlook. As the ol' adage claims: "When it rains it pours." But think about this - we think things are that way because we think they are that way. In other words, we have a choice as to how we view what's happening around us.

Luckily, positive experiences can do the same thing negative experiences can - but creating a “positive snowball” effect instead. When you get out of bed and think your day is going to be good, it usually is.

This positive thinking comes from vigor and thriving within your organization. The former refers to feelings of emotional energy and cognitive liveliness, and the latter to experiencing a sense of vitality and learning at work. When we experience these positive emotions, we are more likely to be healthy. Positive emotions provide us the capacity to develop effective responses to challenges, navigate through change, and promote our own development.

Thriving and vigor require constantly being in touch with your emotions, and an active intentional engagement in personal and professional growth. That means not allowing the bully to take your positivity away from you. Keep in touch with your own emotions, and hang on to your positive feelings. The bully can't take your vigor. It's yours to give away.

Nelson, D.L., & Cooper, C.L. (Eds.) Positive Organizational Behavior (2007). London: Sage

Monday, December 22, 2008

Holding Bullies Accountable

Bullies are people who seek power and control over others. They look for ways to dominate the people they deal with, and they use their evil bullying tactics to overcome you. But who allows the bully to dominate? You do.

Bullies behave as badly as they are allowed to behave. Most often, other people you work with are too scared to say anything to the bully, and managers and HR don't always see the bullying happening. If they do, they choose to ignore it because they don't know how to deal with it, and they don't know how damaging it is to you and the organization. So bullies are left to run rampant - but they only run over the people who lay down flat in the street.

So it's up to you to get out of the street and put a stop sign up. You must protect yourself. You must hold the bully accountable for his or her actions.

Point out the bully's behavior to him or her, and do it in front of other people. During the next staff meeting try: "Why don't you try to talking to me with a less harsh tone. That statement came out pretty sharply, and I'm sure you didn't mean to speak to me like that." You can also try a more assertive tactic: "You need to speak to me with more respect," or, "From now on, when you speak to me try to be more polite." Again, be sure to do this is front of other people - so you have witnesses, and so you have protection. More than likely, the bully will not retort.

The key here is that while we normally tell people not to use the word "you" when addressing others, the bully needs to hear it.

For example, "You make me feel..." is not the proper way to talk to a loved one. It causes us to shut off our ears and stop listening, because it's evaluative and accusatory. "I feel..." is much better and has a much greater likelihood the person you are talking to will continue listening.

But, when talking to a bully, if you say, "I feel like you take advantage of me," the bully will say, "That's your problem." If you say, "You are taking advantage of me. From now on I will not cover you on your extra long lunches," the bully is likely to take the information in. He or she may not like it, but too bad. You are standing your ground.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Quick lesson on evolutionary psychology

Evolutionary psychologists say that we develop emotions to keep us safe.

Humans are social creatures, and there are no known societies in the history of the world where being alone was acceptable. We rely on others to live; and to produce food, shelter and clothing for us, keep us company and help us survive. Evolutionary theorists would say, then, that we feel the emotion "aloneness" in order to inspire us find other people when we do end up alone. Being alone means not surviving, and feeling alone prompts us to go and find companionship and other people.

This means you have control of your emotions. You can fix them, and normally you know how. If you feel lonely, you seek someone to be your companion. You feel sad, you seek out something to make you happy. But when it comes to bullying, many of us retract - instead of controlling the emotion of feeling badly about the situation.

But you have a choice.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Quote of the Day

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."

— Wayne Dyer: Self-development author and speaker

Being Assertive: Part 2

Let's continue with the assertive stuff shall we? Let's talk about how to be assertive.

Use assertive body language.
Face the bully and look him or her square in the eye. Do this with a pleasant face, but serious expression. Keep your voice very calm. Stand with your hands on your hips or lean in a little bit while you talk. Do not fold your arms or look down. If you're sitting down, do not cross your legs. Keep both feet on the floor, toes pointed straight out in front of you.

Use a Stop Sign.
When the bully turns on you, and begins to put you down, use a stop sign. Say something like, "Now let's stop here for a minute. What just happened? You are raising your voice at me and I am not certain why." or "Whoa! Is there a reason you are talking down to me like that?" If they don't cool down, and continue to keep a raised voice or condescending tone, then say, "I can see you are awfully upset. I am happy to discuss this with you later when you've calmed down. Are you available later today?"

Use "I" strategically.
When speaking with the bully, keep focused on yourself and your confidence in what you have to say. Example: "I can have the report to you by end of business Tues" instead of, "When do you want the report?" This leaves the bully less opportunity to pick on you, because you've already stated what you can deliver and when. End of story.

Avoid battlephrases.
Avoid saying things like, "He makes me feel bad about myself. He is hurting my feelings." The reality is that you have a choice in the matter - so he isn't doing anything to you. Start saying, "I feel bad about myself" and "My feelings are really hurt." Then see how empowered you feel. You will start to understand your feelings are yours to conquer, and then it becomes easier to change them.

Remember, assertiveness is the belief that if you do something in a certain way, it will work. So gather up that confidence of yours and give some of these things a try. Once you become comfortable, these behaviors will become regular habits, and you'll be feeling much more confident about the situation you are in.

You can handle it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Being Assertive

A woman approached me after one of my recent workplace bully workshops to tell me about her experiences being bullied at work. After working in her school district for over 20 years, her last 3 years have been miserable thanks to a new boss. The new boss has begun giving the woman who approached me very low performance reviews, despite over 20 years of really good reviews, promotions and raises. The new boss is essentially using the annual employee reviews as a venue for bullying.

Thus far, the woman hasn’t said anything to her new bullying boss, but has reported the incidences to her union. The union has indicated they will refrain from taking any action until she brings the issue to the attention of HR. And she hasn’t done that because she fears the repercussions. She is also scared of her boss, and perhaps rightfully so.

But not addressing the issue directly with the boss is a problem. I recommended that she try to be more assertive.

Assertiveness is the ability to honestly express your opinions, feelings, attitudes and rights without stepping on other people’s toes. It’s not aggressiveness – that would make you a bully. But it’s not being a doormat either.

Assertiveness is dependent upon feeling good about yourself and a sense that your behavior will produce the results you are seeking. Therefore it requires confidence, along with the following three parts: a) validation, b) statement of problem, and c) statement of solution.

a) Validation refers to showing your understanding of the other person.

For example, saying something like, “I understand you believe my performance is below par” will acknowledge the bully’s point of view, even if you disagree with it. But remember he or she is seeking power, so dismissing the bully’s opinions may not be the answer either.

b) Statement of problem describes your difficulty or dissatisfaction, and explains why something needs to change.

For example, “But when you write these negative things on my performance review without providing any real tangible evidence of their existence it hurts our working relationship and my ability to continue to produce satisfactory work for you.”

c) Statement of solution provides a specific request for a specific change in the other person’s behavior.

For example, “I have received over 20 years of positive and even raving reviews, so clearly there is a disconnect in our relationship, because all of a sudden the reviews I receive from you are not so positive. I believe I continue to be a fantastic contributing employee, so your reviews concern me. From now on, I expect that we will work together on any of the areas you feel need improvement. So when are you free to meet with me to discuss your review in greater detail and provide tangible goals for me to reach? And by the way, I will be bringing another co-worker with me to the meeting just to sit in and listen.”

From here, you’ve cornered him or her into having to take a meeting with you. As scared as you might be to attend that meeting, this is what standing up for yourself is all about. Bring a co-worker, as is your right, so the bully is less inclined to use that behavior during the meeting. If the bullying does come out, now you’ve got a witness. This guest’s role should simply be to sit in the corner and listen. They should not say anything at all.

If the bullying boss will not take a meeting with you, send a few emails attempting to schedule it. If still no response, then send an email to HR indicating that you’d like to work on your performance, but can’t get a meeting with your boss to discuss performance goals.

Remember, bullies pick on everyone, but they single out the people that allow the bullying to occur. Start demonstrating you’re not okay with being treated that way by serving your self-confidence up to him or her on a silver platter. Mrs Roosevelt had it right when she said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Quote of the Day

"The last of the human freedoms is to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances."

Victor Frankl: Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Annoyer, antagonizer, browbeater, bulldozer, coercer...

My thesaurus uses terms like annoyer, antagonizer, browbeater, bulldozer, coercer, insolent, intimidator, oppressor, persecutor, pest, rascal, ruffian, terrorizor and tormentor to describe the word bully.

Going to work can be very difficult when you know among the cubicle walls lurks an antagonistic, annoying, browbeating, coercive, ruffian of a pest co-worker. Feeling like a deer scared to tip toe down to the water in fear of the lion lurking in the tall grass, the trip to work can certainly cause anxiety. Once you get there, the depression and other negative feelings kick in. That dread can cause us to lose sight of things, and lose faith in ourselves.

But think about this. Every minute of every day we are thinking. Every second we are thinking about all kinds of things from what to cook for dinner to how to handle the bully at work. You never stop thinking, and therefore you never stop affirming for yourself that the goings on around you are in fact true reality. Every second of every day you are affirming beliefs in something. Even now you are agreeing or disagreeing with what you are reading, and thus affirming your belief (or disbelief) in the content of this blog.

“My child is doing really great on his baseball team.” There. You made it true in your mind. “That customer was rude.” There. Now it’s a reality. “The new marketing manager is kind of cute.” There. You affirmed something else. “That bully is hurting my feelings.” “My loyalty to management has just dropped off the chart altogether as a result of the way I am treated.” “It doesn’t matter what I do, that person will never respect me.” Oops, you did it again.

When you say those things to yourself you affirm they are true. You make them so. These thoughts affirm the bully is winning, and knocking you out cold. These thoughts take away your desire to succeed in the organization, or even in your career. They affirm that you have given up.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your reality was “I am the best out there at my job.” “I absolutely deserve respect from everyone I work with.” “I am a confident, dependable and important employee.” Aren’t these thoughts better?

You are in charge of your own reality. You write the story, not the bully.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Honest talk about bullying

A dear friend in the Bay Area clipped this article written by Gwen Minor and Margaret Lavin (Elementary, My Dears column: Honest talk about bullying) from the San Mateo Times, 9/15/08, and sent it to me in the mail. These days everyone I know sends me anything "bully" they come across.

The article offers tips for parents who's children may be getting bullied at school. But interestingly enough, it absolutely applies to bullies at work. So here you have it, 4 tips for dealing with bullies at work:

1: First and foremost, tell someone, preferably an adult (at work). If you get no help, tell someone else, and keep telling until the bullying stops.

2: Keep people around you. Bullies pick on (people) who are isolated... Remember, there is safety in numbers.

3: Help others who are in need. If you witness bullying, refuse to join in. Walk away and report the bullying. Speak out if you feel safe and, if possible, get a friend or two to help you.

Just standing beside the bully's target or inviting him to join your group can relieve the situation.

Chances are the bully who picks on you also attacks some of your peers. You may be able to prevent future suffering from happening.

4: Get active. (Competent and confident employees are safe from bullies. Continue to do your work and do it well. This will ensure no one can come down on you for that. You should also find ways to get more involved in work too (I'm not saying take on more work load). For example, your department might be seeking volunteers for a special project, or HR may be seeking event planning help for the company holiday party. Get to know as many people in the organization as you can in order to maximize your support system.)

With these strategies, (you) will be safe from the harm of bullies and may even help change the climate at (work).

The most important strategy for all of us is to be kind. Kindness, more than anything else, is the death of bullying. One act of kindness may be enough to lessen another person's pain or give someone hope.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Minimizing Workplace Negativity Podcast

In this podcast, human resources consultant Susan Heathfield discusses how managers can diagnose the problem, deal with individual and group negativity issues, and turn negativity into positive action.

Made available from one of my favorite eNewsletters, BNET. Click here to listen:

Susan cites the main causes of negativity at work:

1. excessive workload
2. concerns about management
3. confusion about the future
4. lack of challenges in workload
5. insufficient recoginition of work

And indicates the best solution is creating a culture of empowerment.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

5 Quick Solutions to Conflict

The CW San Diego 6 Morning News asked me to appear as a guest and discuss strategies for dealing with workplace conflict. You can check it out if you live in San Diego and are up at 7 am on Monday morning, Oct 13.

Here's what I came up with:

Determine what you need to gain from the conflict.

We often have conflict because our needs are not being met or there's some sort of power struggle. Are you having conflict because you're feelings were hurt and you need an apology? Did someone take an important responsibility away and you need to find something new to make yourself feel useful again? Are you just butting heads with someone and you need to find a way to work together anyway?

Think about:
o What you hope to gain out of this conflict
o What the ideal outcome of the conflict is and whether it is realistic
o What your plans are for getting what you need

Now put yourself in their shoes.

I know this seems awfully difficult and perhaps even unnecessary. Alas, it is very necessary and important in order for you to get anywhere in resolution.

You want this person to see your side. You want them to understand what your needs are in this, so you can feel understood and the problem can feel resolved. Then you can move on.

Well so does she (or he). She wants you to understand what her needs are in this, so the problem can be resolved. Then she can move on.

Try working together.

The first step here is to recognize part of the problem is your fault. You are half the conflict. It "takes two to tango" so to speak. Blaming the other person will not resolve anything, but understanding your role in the problem at hand will.

Approach collaboration with calmness and confidence. Getting emotional will not resolve anything. Remain calm and collected, choose your words carefully, and speak with confidence. Remember, there are two goals: to help the other person see your side, and to understand his or hers.

Finally, avoid battle phrases, or things like, "you always," "you never" and "you make me feel..." These phrases increase the other's defensiveness, and can result in emotions flying off the handle. No one likes to be accused of anything, let alone making you feel anything. You are in charge of your own emotions, so no one makes you anything except you.

Essentially, stick to the facts, and focus on the real problems and issues.


What are you willing to compromise on in order to resolve the conflict? What is the other party willing to compromise on? Can a compromise even be reached?

You won't know unless you ask. So man up, open your mind and your heart, and approach the person you are in conflict with. Is it possible you can come to an agreement?

Maintain professionalism.

First and foremost, continue to do your work, and do it well. Do not get distracted by your conflict, or swept away in gossip or emotions. It's easy to do this because if other's know about your conflict they will ask you about it. Everyone loves dirt. But, talking to co-workers about your issues doesn't make you look good should it come around to the boss that you were blabbing about it.

If you must, go to Human Resources. But make as much attempt as you can to resolve the problem on your own first. Take notes of these encounters and hang on to any emails, notes, memos or other items you collect in relation to the conflict. Then, if you do need to go to HR, you have a trail of your communication with the other party. If the other party is particularly mean during all this, or bullying you, then this documentation becomes even more necessary.

If you keep your cool, and attempt to show the other person an agreement is desired, your conflict should resolve itself.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dealing with the Steamroller

When dealing with a steamroller, also known as the verbal "big bully," stay calm. Typically, they are trying to "rile you up," wanting you to elevate your emotions to their level. Don't let them do it. Keep eye contact with them. Remain assertive. Let them go on and on, let them unwind. Then when they spool down a bit, interrupt them!

When you interrupt them, you will have the chance you need to become assertive. That's when you pick up the ball. One effective approach is close to Muhammad Ali's Rope-A-Dope! Muhammad Ali was known to have the ability take a great many punches to his mid-section. He would lean against the ropes, and let his opponent "box himself out"/get tired. He would wait for his opportunity, and then, BAM! He would knock them out. In a similar fashion, you should do the same thing verbally when dealing with the steamroller. Allow them to verbally wear themselves out, and then, when you see your opportunity, BAM! You take your turn.

Call them by name, and then say, "OK, now wait a minute, I have something to say. I've been listening to you, now you listen to me." You will start, and what will happen? They will interrupt! What should you do? Be assertive! Say, "Hey, I said wait a minute. I listened to you, now it's my turn." Don't back down! That's what they expect! Also remember to keep eye contact. Just don't back down. You may not "win" the argument or discussion, but once you stand up to them, they typically will become your best buddy. It only takes one time! They may still bully other people on your team, but they won't bully you any longer. By going "toe to toe" with them, you may have just earned their respect.

From Tim McClintock, PMP, Global Knowledge Instructor, Dealing with Specific Types of Difficult People - Global Knowledge's Expert Reference Series of White Papers

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Ver IIegar"

"Ver IIegar"

A Spanish matadors' phrase for dealing with the beast. A bull.

A large terrifying animal, yet really terrified himself. Though he appears angry he fights for his life. And matadors must use great concentration and calmness to overcome the wrath of this large beast.

Hemingway describes the phrase in Death in the Afternoon: "the ability to watch the bull come as he charges with no thought except to calmly see what he is doing and make the moves necessary to the maneuver you have in mind. To calmly watch the bull come is the most necessary and primarily difficult thing in bullfighting."

As your bull(y) comes charging toward you, nostrils puffing and snorting, watch the charge calmly, with no expression. Observe as the bull(y) rushes toward you. Observe the beast as it's aggression pushes out like a tea kettle's steam pushing though the spout at full speed, desperately aching to exit.

And as you permit, then, the noise shall bounce off the walls around you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What would you have done differently?

What would you do differently?

What a powerful question.

They say hindsight is 20/20...

So looking back on that interaction with the bully you had today, what would you do differently? Did he or she say something that caused you to cringe, or question your own abilities? What did you do to react? What could you have done differently, now in hindsight? Is there something you can do now to be proactive, rather than reactive?

Looking back now while it's fresh in your mind, what would you have done differently?

I don't have an answer for you. You were there, and you felt your own emotions. So you have to answer this one yourself, but let me give you a little encouragement.

We consistently receive evaluation from other people, all the time. A particularly obvious person is the manager or human resources department at work. They are assigned the task of evaluating everyone in the company, and while they do many things to make the process easier and less damaging to the work force (such as calling them "reviews," "goal-setting," and "career development"), really, they are evaluating you and your work.

But what about you - do you ever evaluate yourself or your "work?" Self-evaluation is one of the most important kinds of evaluation, because only you know what really transpired and why you acted a certain way. But did you underperform or overperform? Did you do everything in your power to show the bully you weren't the victim type? What could you have done differently to make that interaction better and more comfortable for you?

The only way we can learn to defend ourselves is to learn from the past. Evaluate the situation, come up with solutions to the challenge, and try again. Don't allow your fears of the bully or what will become of you as a result of your standing your ground to get in the way - don't let him or her stop you from achieving your goals.

Recommended Exercise:

Take a few moments to jot down a few notes about the most recent interaction you had with the bully, just to help you remember what happened.

Now, make a few bullet points and answer the following questions:

During the interaction I felt:
(Ex. scared, annoyed, frustrated, angry)

And my nonverbal communication showed it, because I was:
(Ex. looking down, not looking the bully in the eye, folding my arms in across my chest)

I felt this way particularly because:
(Ex. I was being yelled at in front of a peer)

Next time I have an interaction with the bully, I will:
(Ex. stand with my hands on my hips, look the bully in the eye, and address the bully with confidence in my voice because I know what I am talking about)

Give it a try...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Write your own script

Being bullied at work is hard on us. It tears us down, it rips us apart, it takes away our dignity. We don't need to reach very far inside us to notice the inner damage we feel when we tell yet another chapter of the bully-at-work saga to our loved ones. We don't need to dig very deep to feel pain while we re-live Friday's ridiculous bully-encounter as we lay in bed early Monday morning wishing we didn't have to go to work.

In re-living these horrific stories either within our minds or with our confidants, it becomes easier to tell ourselves that things are beyond our control. Your manager won't help, others are being bullied right along with you, and the bully seems to keep getting promoted. Before you know it, discouragement has settled in along with a hefty decline in self-esteem, and we can't see beyond the situation. To us, it seems hopeless.

Now, have you ever noticed that you talk to yourself? We all do it. We all carry on conversations within ourselves while we're driving, brushing our teeth, or having a fresh cup of coffee. And not only do we talk to ourselves, but we tell ourselves stories. We re-live things that have happened to us, and we verbalize those stories to others.

Stories create our sense of self. They help us understand who we are. They give us an identity. They create a "you". They help us organize the things that have transpired in our past so that we can function in society as we move forward toward the future.

For example, you've told yourself the story of the doctor's appointment you attended last week, haven't you? Next time you go the the doctor, you know about what will happen, because it will likely follow the same script as the last appointment. The story you created in your mind provides guidance for the next time you attend the scenario of a doctor's appointment.

Now take a closer look at the other stories you've created in your mind most recently. Regardless of what's happening to you in your life at this moment, you've woven some narratives that explain where you've been and where you're going, who you are and who you're becoming. It's easy to presume that life's events dictate those stories, and that things are beyond our control. Right? But you write the script. You're the author. Things aren't out of control because you can change the script just as easily as I can hit "delete" this very moment and start over on a new blog entry.

Whatever you tell yourself is the indicator of how you will respond to life's various scenarios. Imagine what you could do if you tossed the ol' bully story in the garbage and started on a fresh piece of paper.

We have the power to make choices. We have the power to write our own stories. We are not characters in "The Devil Wears Prada," where the script has been written for us. We are our own authors. That means we have to make decisions about the direction of our stories and what happens to the characters within them. Continue to replay that same old story about being bullied, and guess what will happen?

Start fresh with a new story about a fantastic work-life, and guess what will happen? So open up a fresh new Word doc, pick your favorite font, and begin your new story.

We are not idle passers-by in our own lives, and we have the choice to change things for the better. Be proactive, not reactive, and your scripts will have a Hollywood happy ending.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Quick Quote

"In a time of crisis we all have the potential to morph up to a new level and do things we never thought possible."— Stuart Wilde, author, researcher on consciousness

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Polly Want a Cracker?

Don't want to speak up to the bully yet? Too scared? Too unsure? Don't worry. There's actually something you can say that's not quite a comeback, but it's not just "taking it" either. It's called, "Parroting." You don't have to feel brave or sure of yourself to do this.

When someone bullies you, either at work, home or school, you just state what happened, or what she said, in a question, without making a judgment about it. This technique allows you to speak up enough so you show the bully you noticed a criticism or a slur, but requires very little courage to pull off. You merely parrot what she just said back to her. Here's an example.


You're collating and binding multiple folders. It's a process that your boss, Jan, normally pays no attention to. She has never timed anyone else's work, because everyone, including you, always does this quickly. You've noticed she has been nit-picking you for little things for several months, and you've never said anything to her about it. You've hoped she would stop on her own. And besides, it's not "that bad." Maybe she's been having trouble with her husband or her kids, and it has nothing to do with you. (By the way, these explanations to ourselves only allow bullying to continue.) Today, you finish in your usual amount of time. But Jan decides to criticize you.


"That took you an awful long time. You're going to have to pick up your pace around here."

That's unfair, you think. I'll try what I read in Abbey's article the other day.

"I'm taking too long? And I'm going to have to pick up my pace?" You look at her emotionless without confronting orbacking down either."Yeah, just try to speed it up a little."

...when you parrot back what she's saying, it's not necessarily challenging to her. Why? In her own mind, she's not being that critical of you. To her, there's nothing wrong with her words. In fact, she may feel she's hiding her distaste for you rather well. Hearing them back may not sound all that bad to her. It's the fact that you repeat what she said, not her words, that give her notification you may not quite agree with what she said. It throws her off a little, if it doesn't completely stop her. She back pedals a bit, "Just so you know, for future reference."It may not stop her completely. But you'll have registered your objection for her benefit ... and for yours.


So, what are the benefits to you for doing it this way? First, it shows her you're not a doormat who will take anything she dishes out. Repeating what she says is both gentle and noticeable. It may discourage more bullying ... a little. A little is better than no discouragement. Second, it requires very little thinking on your part. You just use her words verbatim as a question back to her. Very simple to do. You don't have to be the least bit creative. You don't have to memorize a comeback. The bully hands you what to say when she puts you down. It's right there for you to turn back on her with a question. Third, and most important, you don't feel like a doormat. In fact, you feel pretty good. It feels good to register your opinion, no matter how subtle. It may leave you longing for more of that powerful feeling when you do assert yourself. You may like the way you feel so much that you'll want to speak up more.

From Abby Whitehall, Author Bully Blaster: How I Stopped the Bullying, and You Can Too

Monday, July 7, 2008

Understanding Power: The Pistol That Fires In Both Directions

THE LOCK: I am not a powerful person. Those I face are always more powerful than I. How can I win against them?

THE KEY: All power, yours and theirs, is yours.

The secret source of power: When I argue, I face power, the power of the Other. It is the Other's power that I wish to overcome and that I fear. I am therefore fascinated by power and I wish to trace its source. If I understand power, if I understand its nature and where is abides, if I understand how to get it and how to resist it, I will have attained great power of my own. I want power. I need power to win.

Understanding how power works: Power is first an idea, first a perception. The power I face is always the power I perceive. Let me say it differently. Their power is my perception of their power. Their power is my thought. The source of their power is, therefore, in my mind.

The power others possess is the power I give them. Their power is my gift. I give them all the power in the universe, as, indeed, the faithful give to God, or I give them no power at all... if the Other possesses power, but I do not perceive the Other's power as effective against me, he has none - none for me.

An excerpt from How to Argue and Win Everytime, by Gary Spence

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Crazy Guy

The other day I was headed to my lunch appointment in a high rise building. In order to get to the restaurant on the 40th floor, I had to wait in line for one of the elevators that stopped only on floors 21 through 40 to arrive. I spoke with my associate as I waited, hungry, and slightly annoyed just like everyone else around that we’d had to wait this long.

As we stood there, a man with something like crazy wild-eyes came pushing through, his assistant in tow. He pushed his way through the crowd until he’d pushed clear through to the other side, almost gasping for air has he realized we were all waiting for the same thing: the 21st-40th floor elevator. He then made what seemed to be a subtle but very clear classic-temper-tantrum-foot-stomp. It was just one, but I swear I saw it.

The elevator finally arrived and as the doors opened, “Crazy Guy”, as my associate and I had so cleverly named him, stood leaning forward slightly with one hand on his hip, and the other waving his assistant through the crowd to cut in and hop on and be sure they made it on this particular elevator ride. The next one was clearly just too long of a wait for wherever they were headed (hopefully not to the same place I was) and whatever business they were attending to. It must have been so very important for him to act this way.

As so often occurs on these particular trips to the restaurant on the 40th floor, no one got off until floor 40 was reached. Crazy Guy, because he’d been so eager to get on the elevator, had overshot and managed to push his way all the way through the crowd to the very back corner of the elevator. Now, that we were all getting off to put our names in for a table near the window, Crazy Guy found himself at the back of the line.

As we waited for the party of three in front of us to finish their personal business with the hostess, we heard cries from behind us. It was Crazy Guy, commenting on the long wait to someone he was standing near. His assistant stood there quietly by his side, while my associate and I gave each other a look that said, “I hope we don’t have to sit near him!”

Over lunch my associate and I mocked Crazy Guy for his seemingly ridiculous behavior, and after a couple of good laughs, we realized that what we’d really been doing is calling this man a bully. The man never said a word to either of us, and the only talking we did hear was muffled angry comments coming from the back of a line. How then, did we know he was a bully?

We knew because of his body language. He leaned forward slightly during that entire interaction. When he caught you looking at him, he glared right through you, his eyes fixed upon yours as if he was going to take your soul (hence the granting of the name “Crazy Guy”). He pushed through the crowd of people as if he had the right to, and as if we should know better than to get in his way.

The most interesting part of the whole scenario? We let him act that way. All of us did. We all let him bully us. No one said anything to him. No one asked him to apologize for pushing. No one told him to pipe down while we waited. No one pushed him back.

I propose that if someone had asked him for an “excuse me,” that person would have eliminated him or herself as a target of the bully antics. If someone had glared back at him, instead of diverting their eyes to the floor as so many of us did, that person would have easily become exempt from the soul-stealing stare the rest of the elevator ride. If someone had told him “It’s not that bad, just be patient,” while we were in line at the hostess stand, they would have become void to the irrational commentary.

Give it a try…

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What we say without words

Check this slide show out! Hosted by Kathryn Tolbert, of the Washington Post, "Former FBI Agent Joe Navarro describes how our torsos, hands, feet and legs frequently communicate emotions that are not put into words."



"Crossed arms: Suddenly crossing arms tightly is a sign of discomfort"

"Neck touching: Indicates emotional discomfort, doubt or insecurity"

"Jiggling/kicking foot: Indicates discomfort"


"Fingertips spread apart on a surface: A display of confidence and authority"

"Arms akimbo (hands on your hips): Establishes dominance or communicates there are 'issues"

"Steepling (fingertip to fingertip): A powerful display of confidence"

Give it a try...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Cognitive Modification

A distinguished difference exists between aggressive, passive and assertive communication. Aggressive communication includes that which is designed to be hurtful, or violates another person, much like a bully’s style of communication. Passive communication, on the other hand, is often perceived by others as having a low concern for yourself, or lack in ability to “stand up” for your beliefs.

Assertive behavior refers to expressing yourself in ways that do not violate another person’s views, but still allows you to maintain concern for your own self and well-being. It refers to the ability to “stand up” for you, without hurting other’s feelings, or offending them or onlookers.

Further, we often compensate for another person’s communication when we feel uncomfortable. For example, if a person is standing in our personal space, we likely back up a little to alieve our uncomfortableness and gain more space. By doing so, we have managed to maintain respect for ourselves without offending the other person by asking them to back away. In another example, if a bully is communicating aggressively, we likely compensate with passive communication, simply because aggressive communication is hard to handle.

Having read that, now read the following scenario:

Your manager is a bully, and often takes credit for your work, downplays the fantastic job you do, generally interrupts you when you are speaking, and ignores your ideas. During a staff meeting, you are asked to provide a status report on the project you were assigned to do in coordination with your manager. As you flip open the notepad you jotted some notes on and begin to speak, your manager interrupts you and charges into a play-by-play of the project with seemingly no discount for your input or feelings.

Describe to a partner or write out how the scenario would play out if you re-acted to your manager’s behavior using aggressive communication, passive communication and assertive communication.

Now discuss which communication style seemed to work the best? What was good and bad about each scenario? How did you feel at the end of each scenario?

This activity is the beginning of a process called cognitive modification. This trick, perhaps most commonly used to develop public speaking abilities, allows you to envision a communication scenario before it occurs, and cognitively assess it so that you are more prepared for it. In this case, it allows you to envision “standing up for yourself” without being seen as aggressive or disrespectful by the bully or the other people in the staff meeting. (Not that we care about being disrespectful to someone who is disrespectful to us, however in a workplace it is important others see you as respectful.)

Think of real interactions you have had with a bully at work and what your communication looked like during these interactions. Were you aggressive, passive, or assertive? If you were aggressive or passive, how could you have modified your communication style to an assertive one?

Continue to envision typical or potential interactions you may have with a bully, and continue to envision what your assertive response to the bully’s aggressive communication looks like. Continue to think about, and talk yourself through, these scenarios so as to build up your assertive communication skills. When you find yourself in a situation much like the one described above, you will already have a “plan of attack” that will allow you to keep their self-respect and yours.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Don't be a victim of your own perception

We are victims of our own perception. We make judgment calls all day long about the people we come across and the places we go. We perceive the situation we're in with the bully as a reality, where there's nothing that can be done about it - because it's a reality. But you can change your perception, and therefore you can change your reality.

When you get to work, do you think about how horrible your day is going to be because of that mean ol' bully? What about going to work and thinking about how positive your day will be because you are better than that little twirp who goes out of his way to make you miserable? Instead of harping on the asshole with your co-workers, and dwelling in how much you despise him, start gearing your co-worker conversations towards how much you like each other, your jobs and your company. Don't focus on the negativity the bully brings to your workplace.

As you change your perception of your situation you'll notice your reality will change. Your perception can in fact be rewarding, if you focus on staying positive.

Don't be a victim of your own perception, change your attitudes, change your life.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Change your outlook. Act the part. Bully will notice (and stop acting like a jerk-off).

Have you ever come across one of those people that just seems to have success and happiness bleeding out of their ears? Everyone seems to like them, they are always in a good mood, and they just seem to really enjoy life.

And have you ever come across one of those people that just seems to have bad luck with people, and with their jobs? They're usually very hard working, honest, and generally nice, but for some reason they just can't seem to get ahead in life.

What makes them so different? Why can one person be so happy and one be so miserable? The answer is their outlook, or perception of the events going on around them.

The former wakes up each morning enjoying life. No matter what happens that day, he is happy with his life and his situation. He learns from the mistakes he makes, and he doesn't blame them on others.

The latter wakes up each morning upset with life and the situations he anticipates coming across that day. He often blames others when things go wrong and rarely learns from his experiences.

In 2003, some researchers found that while 1/3rd of participants were the receipient of office asshole antics, only 1/5th actually identified themselves as a victim of them.* Well how could that be? The observers watched all of these people get yelled at and belittled, but some don't show any sign of feeling bullied, while others do.

The answer is their outlook, or perception of the events going on around them.

If you're feeling victimized by a bully at work, perhaps now's a good time to take a look at your outlook. I'm not saying, by any means, that the bullying is your fault or you're making it up in your head.

What I am saying is you may not have the power to change your boss, but you do have the power to change your outlook, or your perception of the events going on around you.

While you're getting ready for work each morning, tell yourself you will not feel bullied today. Tell yourself you will not allow the jerk to hurt your feelings. Tell yourself you have the power to overcome it. Although not in your bathroom with you, the bully will notice.

During the day, as you walk toward the stupid bully's office to make your daily report, walk with your head held high, shoulders back, and chin in the air. When you get to her office, walk in with your head held high, shoulders back, and chin in the air. And when you walk away from the encounter, walk with your head held high, shoulders back, and chin in the air. The bully will notice.

On your drive home, drive with your head held high, shoulders back, and chin in the air. Take a breath of fresh air and remind yourself that you are a smart, intelligent person who knows how to do your job, and who has respect from co-workers. Although not in your passenger seat (thank goodness!), the bully will notice.

Change your outlook. Act the part. Bully will notice (and stop acting like a jerk-off).

*Jennifer, D., Cowie, H., & Ananiadou, K. (2003). Perceptions and expeerience of workplace bullying in five different working populations. Aggressive Behavior, 29, 489-496.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Do unto others as they would do unto you...

Remember the Golden Rule? Treat others as you would like to be treated.

Let's tweak it a little... how about: Treat others just like they treat you.

I know, I know, it seems rude. But communication experts call it "mirroring" and I recommend giving it a try when dealing with your office asshole.

Mirroring is essentially playing copy cat with a person's nonverbal communication style in order to create a more relaxed situation. Nonverbal communication is of course any gestures you make while speaking, but it also includes:

  • rate of speech
  • tone of voice
  • facial expressions
  • breathing
  • attitude
  • tempo
  • word choice

Essentially, nonverbal communication is everything but the bathroom sink, or everything but the actual words you say.

So, for example, I advise my customer service trainees to slow down their speaking rate and volume to match the customer on the other end of the phone. I tell them to do this because it creates a sense of comfort and trust on the client's part, and the client feels a subconscious connection with the customer service representative. This leaves the customer with a warm fuzzy feeling and a good impression of the company when the call is over.

During your next interview pay attention to the interviewer's body language, and as she changes her leg cross, you do it along with her. As he picks up his cup of coffee to drink, you pick up that bottled water you brought along and take a quick swig. If she's talking at a quick pace and seems very excited, then you should do something similar. (Don't do this with every single gesture he or she makes, that will make you seem weird. Do it strategically throughout the interview silly.) Again, this creates a subconscious connection within the interviewer's mind, and you may very well land the job because of it.

What does this have to do with handling a bully? Obviously anything you do at this point isn't going to bring a warm fuzzy feeling to the bully when he thinks of you, or get him to assign you that project you've been wanting. But it will allow you to create a bit of a subconscious connection - which isn't a bad start.

Start mirroring the bully during conversations, meetings and phone calls. Match the rate of speech, the tone, the tempo, the volume, and even some word choice. If he speaks at a slow pace speak at a matching one, and if his volume goes up so should yours. Try to emulate the bully's attitude, and if she drinks you drink, if he folds his arms you fold yours.

This is going to take a bit of practice, and it's also going to take some courage - particularly matching tone and volume of voice because it's more noticeable than copying something like a leg cross. But you can do it, with a little faith in yourself. And remember that you don't deserve to be treated that way.

This is a start to standing up for yourself. This is a resistance strategy will help keep the bully from targeting you.

Friday, April 18, 2008

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Day in and day out, the bully Kate worked with attempted to micromanage her, and turn their boss against her. He picked fights with her, harassed her, and showed up in her office once in awhile to yell at her. Over the course of Kate’s employment in that position her mental health declined steadily, with stress and anxiety increasing almost daily.

Toward the end of her five-year stint in that position, a tattered lined piece of paper hung above her alarm clock with the words “Get up! Get up! Get up!” written in blue highlighter. It was her only source of inspiration, and an ever failing attempt at motivating herself to actually get out of bed when the alarm went off. Depression increasing, so was the number of times she hit the sleep button each morning.

On the drive home the day Kate finally quit, she swore she’d never be that unhappy again. The decision had been made, and she learned later that the desire to follow through with it was immensely powerful. One day in her next position, where work days were normally happy and even fun, her boss sent her a rather scathing email in response to a mistake she’d made, which he cc’ed to half the company and all of the management team. He also heckled Kate a few separate times as he walked by her desk to the water cooler, and in an office with no cubicle walls or privacy, everyone could hear him.

At the receipt of the email, Kate had a few choices.

She could ignore it, or write a timid apology claiming she would never let it happen again. But that would have led her down the path of becoming yet another victim of yet another office bully. The other option was to stand up for herself, and compose a polite, yet firm, response.

So she clicked “reply to all”, acknowledged (not apologized for) her mistake, provided several options for solution, and advised she was free to discuss them further with him that afternoon, behind a closed door, if he felt so inclined. Within thirty seconds of Kate's clicking “send,” her boss' office door flew open; he marched straight over to Kate, and said, “Fantastic email Kate! Way to put the hammer down!”

The moral: He respected Kate’s new found ability to stand up for herself. He knew he’d bullied her, and he also knew now that she would not allow it. She’d ended it once and for all by standing up for herself, and it did not happen again.

You have the ability to change your situation, and as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Exceeds Expectations

I went to an ASTD luncheon a few weeks ago, and the Director of Training & Development for Cox Communications here in San Diego was the keynote speaker.

Somewhere in her speech, and in between my bland broiled chicken and not-so-good cheesecake, she talked about what kind of person would make a leader in Cox, versus what kind of person would not.

In terms of Communicating Effectively, she indicated that a successful leader in Cox would meet the following criteria:

- Articulately clarifies purpose and follows a logical sequence when explaining complex issues
- Communicates vision and goals
- Shares ideas, opinions, and concerns openly with team members and actively seeks input
- Adjusts communication style to audience, uses terms and examples relevant to the audience

A person that would not be a successful leader in Cox would meet the following criteria:

- Consistently has difficulty clarifying purpose and following logical sequence when explaining ideas
- Fails to communicate vision and goals
- Does not share ideas, opinions and concerns openly with team members or listen to input
- Consistently has difficulty adjusting communication style to audience

Now let me put this in perspective for you.

A person that is not victimized by a bully will meet the following criteria:

- Articulately clarifies purpose and follows a logical sequence when explaining complex issues
- Communicates vision and goals
- Shares ideas, opinions, and concerns openly with team members and actively seeks input
- Adjusts communication style to audience, uses terms and examples relevant to the audience

A person that is victimized by a bully will meet the following criteria:

- Consistently has difficulty clarifying purpose and following logical sequence when explaining ideas
- Fails to communicate vision and goals
- Does not share ideas, opinions and concerns openly with team members or listen to input
- Consistently has difficulty adjusting communication style to audience

Now by no means is this the end all, be all, of all the bully talk. But, for the most part, people who communicate with fervor and vision, and pay attention to what's going on around them, are less likely to feel bullied than someone who doesn't speak up and ignores differences in their audience, thereby not adjusting for it accordingly.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Evil HR Lady: Manager Troubles

Evil HR Lady: Manager Troubles

Manager Troubles

Borrowed from blog posted by Evil HR Lady at:

(I had to do it - I love her answer.)

Manager Troubles

What is the best way to deal with a team leader who is constantly putting others down verbally, cussing me and other employees, and milking the time clock for overtime? I have been to the HR dept. here and all they have done is get my team leader to sign a paper saying he will not use inappropriate language. Of course he never quit being a jerk. It's getting very frustrating for me.

I am a maintenance clerk at a company that makes car parts. I am responsible for ordering whatever maintenance needs and doing inventory on a monthly basis on the parts we have. Other people who have had my job in the past have been to seminars to learn about maintenance duties and the programs that I use, but when I ask if there is anything I can do to further my knowledge they tell me I can't go. I feel really ignored and looked over.

Please help if you have any suggestions on how to deal with this or at least how I can make my days go a little smoother. My motivation for my job is just about disappearing.

Unfortunately, being a jerk isn't illegal, as long as he's an equal opportunity jerk, which I'll assume that he is.

I'm going to caution you right now, that my advice may result in you being fired for insubordination, depending on how much power your team lead has and how wimpy your HR department is. I'm sure my brilliant readers will have better advice that will magically turn your team lead into the nicest person on the planet, but I don't know what that is.

First, I'm going to ask you to read something that you'll think is totally bizarre in relationship to your question. This is an account of a woman who thought she was going to be attacked and how she handled it. For those of you too lazy to click, a brief summary is that she was in a parking garage, alone, and there was a man there not acting how one would expect. As she's walking in, she knows he's behind her.

This is what happened next:
Then I abruptly turn around and ask “Can I help you with something?” while making sure to stare straight in his face. When I did this, I discovered he was not more than a couple steps behind me. He had gotten way too close. My abrupt turn and question caught the Character off guard. The look on his face was priceless. He managed to mumble a ‘no’ and walked past me as I stood there watching him.

The security camera later shows him running away--not what a normal person would have done in the parking lot.

Why do I share this? Because jerks are jerks because they can be and no one objects. This potential criminal changed his action when someone objected. I think you can apply the same concept to your team lead.

The next time he's a jerk, say calmly, "That behavior is not appropriate and I won't be treated like that." This is especially effective if there are other people in the room. If he continues to yell or undermine or whatever, just repeat, "You are still acting inappropriately. I am happy to do whatever work is necessary, but I will be treated with respect.

"The first time you do this he will probably be so shocked he won't know what to say. Or, he may fire you. As I said, there is definitely danger in this, but I've found that bullies really are so not used to being confronted that it stops them in their tracks.

As for training, stop asking if there is anything you can do to improve your skills. Start asking directly. "There is a training class for X on June 5th and 6th at Y location. This would directly benefit my position because it would teach me Z. I've filled out the registration form and I just need your signature."

I'd be shocked if he said no, but if he does, then be prepared. "Is there a specific reason I can't go? The three previous people in this job attended this class." or "If there is a scheduling conflict, it will be taught again in September. I'll go then. Here's the form for that."

Force him to give you a reason why you can't go. As I said, this may fail miserably and you may get fired (and never come here for advice again! Although, think of the free time you'll have to surf the net!), but you don't have a great desire to stay there anyway. Polish up your resume before you start your jerk training. Document EVERYTHING. This will be needed proof when you apply for unemployment.

Church of You

So how do you overcome a bully?

Steven R. Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says we should “Begin with the end in mind.”

We can do that by following Former Congressman Ed Forman’s advice, and saying out loud and in the mirror every morning before work, "I am happy, I am healthy, I am terrific!" Heck, even while you’re at work, close your office door or step outside a few times during the workday and say it out loud then too. With a little faith, those words can turn your life around and end your days as a victim in a workplace bully's stranglehold.

Faith develops through repetitive affirmation of whatever it is you have faith in. If you are religious, for example, and attend church each Sunday to hear a sermon, your faith sustains and even grows a little each week as you receive information that is directly in line with your beliefs. Stop going to church and your faith likely falters. The same happens when we stop believing in ourselves.

As you head to the “Church of You” each morning and stand in front of the mirror to shout your personal affirmations (“I am terrific! I am great at my job! I will overcome the bully! I am not a helpless victim!”), your thoughts turn to faith in yourself. The more you say it, the more you feel it, the more you feel it, the more you believe it, the more you believe it, the greater your courage becomes, the greater your courage becomes, the closer you are to standing up for yourself in the eyes of the red-eyed bull.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Use Power Words to Shield Yourself from Workplace Bullies

Workplace bullies don't show up to work one morning and decide you're the one they'd like to bully. They don't pick you out of the accounting department as the poor sucker who's gonna get it this week.

Bullies are bullies because they lack communication skills. Perhaps they don't know how to articulate their ideas or frustrations. Perhaps they feel threatened by someone around them, and they backlash as a result. Perhaps they don't trust someone in the organization and it's showing up in their interactions with others.

By the same token, victims lack the ability to communicate effectively with the bully. That's not a slap on you, it's just the basic facts (hey nobody's perfect). The bully pushes on you, the victim, because there's something about you that creates that dynamic between you (and there's something about them). I'm not saying you deserve it or it's your fault. What I am saying is the long-winded version of this: Communication between the two of you just isn't working out so well.

There are some things you can do with your own communication, however, that will keep the bully from attacking you, sort of like a soldier and his shield. I call these communication tactics strategic resistance. These tactics are ways of communicating with everyone (not just the bully) that give you an aura of confidence and leadership - and exhibiting confidence and leadership is enough to keep the bully from bullying you. Exhibiting confidence and leadership is also a way to move ahead at work (a definite bonus).

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends & Influence People once said, "The ability to speak is a short cut to distinction." Granville Toogood, author of The Articulate Executive, said, "What you say and how you say it determines your success." What these gentlemen mean is that the way you speak certainly gives people an impression of you. With words you have the power to create the person you want to be, and the person you want others to see in you. Sometimes use of formal words like reduce or maintain can be effective (perhaps in something like a resume or business letter), and other times words informal power words are better.

In your next staff meeting, try using:

cut or slash, instead of reduce
yet, instead of nevertheless
so, instead of therefore
give, instead of donate
ask, instead of appeal
launch, instead of implement
but, instead of however
guess, instead of estimate
use, instead of utilize

Do you see where I'm going with this? A simple word like yet is so much more vigorous and full of life than nevertheless. It's got power and pizazz. "We've got to cut costs in order to keep profits up," sounds more intense and persuasive than "We've got to reduce costs to keep profits up." Do you see the difference?

Get a bully across the table from you and use a word like slash, instead of reduce, or so instead of therefore, and you're demonstrating you've got what it takes to be a leader. You're someone not to be messed with.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Being an effective communciator works

I had lunch today with a business associate - and he is a perfect example of a person who avoids feeling bullied by way of having effective communication skills, or social skills. Effective communication (essentially social skills), or what I call strategic resistance, will keep you out of feeling victimized by a workplace bully.

Let's recap lunch - somewhere inbetween our sweet and sour pork and won ton soup we got on the topic of my research on workplace bullies. I told him my interest was in teaching victims of workplace bullying conflict management skills, by way of teaching them communication competence, or successful strategic resistance (social skills). I explained to him that I believed one's communication competence, or ability to effectively communicate with others, would make them less likely to be victimized. If I could teach people effective communication, or how to speak in a manner that asserts power, or stand in an authoritative way, or come across with strength and courage, they could avoid being bullied by nature of these interpersonal skills. This resistance to bullying doesn't require a grievance complaint with management or a conflict management meeting with a supervisor. It does, however, create a way for the victim to essentially push back on the bully, without being confrontational.

He responded by telling me that as a child he was bullied, and sometimes has felt bullied as an adult. He thinks feeling bullied is a result of his lack in conflict management skills, or ability to confront others. He avoids confrontation like the Black Plague he says, and that lends itself to feeling like a victim of bullying.

On the other hand, he proceeded, "The other day a co-worker told me she was intimidated by me up until she got to know me quite a bit better" and he thought, "How could someone be intimidated by lil' ol' me?" My answer to him: "You communicate with confidence. You command power like no other when you walk through a room. You understand communication better than most people" (we went to grad school together, and he teaches at some of the major San Diego universities).

The point? Today's lunch buddy may not have conflict management skills when it comes right down to it, but what he does have is the ability to avoid getting into a situation involving conflict in the first place. He avoids these situations because he can communicate well. His gestures and word choice communicate power and authority, and friendliness, and even humor. Communicating effectively will keep your feeling like a victim contained. If you can exude power and confidence, the bully can't touch you.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

You are not a helpless victim, contrary to popular belief

The ABC News segment that aired the other morning, Battling Bullies in the Workplace, further confirmed my frustration with the literature and advice out there on dealing with a workplace bully, so much so that I literally just hopped out of the shower, only half scrubbed, to write. Words were pouring out of my head and onto the surrounding tile where they’d slip down the drain along with the water, and be of no use to me. Thanks ABC, you’ve succeeded in lighting a fire underneath me, and I am officially starting the blog I’ve been thinking of writing for months.

The segment featured Ruth Namie, PhD, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute (which she runs with her husband, Gary Namie, PhD), an organization that recently released a very well-received and oft-quoted research study, indicating that some 57 million Americans, or four in ten people, are bullied at work. Namie indicated that her interest in bullying sparked from her own horrific experience being victimized by a bully, as did mine. The piece also featured Tory Johnson, ABC’s regularly appearing workplace correspondent, who provided advice, or tips on dealing with workplace bullies.

You see, any interaction between two people, whether one of love, friendship, immorality, or degradation, is, by nature, between two people. That means whether it’s a kiss from your lover at a romantic restaurant or a co-worker degrading your work in front of others, the context, and the two parties involved, are all very much a part of the occurrence. There are no innocent bystanders in communication interactions.

The question isn’t what to do; it’s how to do it. How does someone "confront" the bully? Where do they learn the skills?
Victims of workplace bullying are victims of workplace bullying because of past events and personality traits. That means victims were likely bullied as a child in school, and are shy, lack confidence, lack conflict management skills, or are unable to communicate their side of a debate, allowing the bully the ability to “push” on them without fighting back.

In exactly the same way, workplace bullies are workplace bullies because of past events and personality traits. They were bullies as children in school, and they learned it from their parents, who also bullied them or other adults. Bullies also have a high threshold for negativity, so they don’t see their actions as negative, and have been identified as narcissists, Type A personalities, lacking in the ability to make their point in an argument, motivated by aggression, and socially excluded individuals seeking revenge. My most recent research also indicated they bully because the organizational environment seems to permit it.

My point here is that it seems the trend in the workplace bullying discourse is to tell victims they are helpless. “It’s okay you poor pathetic victim,” it says, “It’s not your fault.” Well bull shit. Victims aren’t victims; they are people that can change their situation by learning how to do just that.

We are a result of the choices we make, life doesn’t just pass us by, and we are active participants in it. Reactions and reactive thinking, instead of conscious action and choice making, are what perpetuate the paradigm currently ruling the literature out there on workplace bullying. I am making my pledge, here and now, to bring to light some of the real, actual, and attainable tips to communicating with competence, passion and leadership, the key to ending your victimization. I will provide readers with exercises, success stories, and real information they can use to beat the bully - and we will call this “Strategic Resistance."

Remember that you are not an innocent bystander who happened to be in the way of a tyrannical co-worker or manager as he barreled down the hall like the WB’s Tasmanian Devil cartoon character. Communication is a two-way-street, making the likelihood that you are a helpless victim very small. You are a communicator because you are a human, and I’m going to teach you how to understand your situation, and communicate appropriately within it. From there, it’s up to you to be pro-active, rather than reactive, and tame that ridiculous and self-worth seeking wild beast running around your office. You are not a helpless victim, you are a person with choices and the courage to overcome abuse.