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.