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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bullies: From the Playground to the Boardroom

During my childhood my family moved several times, including a stint overseas, which resulted in my attending six different schools during my pre-college years. That means I averaged a maximum of two years at any given district before we up and moved again.

Parents don't usually think about these type of things during a relocation, but any school-age kid who’s experienced such nomadic maneuvers, has likely experienced the corresponding phenomenon of bullies.

While not unique to me (my sisters and brother didn’t have an easy go of it I'm sure), it seemed that I was getting in fights at every new school as the resident bully had to assert his “alpha-ness” against the new kid.

Despite those physical tests, I learned internal coping skills that have helped me mature. And according to a recent story in Parade Magazine adults may need to marshal those skills as reports of workplace “bullying” are on the rise. Here’s the link:
Basically, the core of the story focuses around a recent Zogby poll that found almost 50 percent of U.S. employees have witnessed or been victim to a workplace bully. It’s important to note that the study was funded by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) so the study results should be viewed with that light.

However, while I don’t doubt that bullying occurs on the job both overtly and covertly I really don’t think we need a legislative solution to the problem which is the question the article poses. I do like the quote offered in the linked story by Victoria Pynchon, an attorney-mediator in Los Angeles. “At best, [a new law would be] a jackhammer solution to an Emily Post problem. At worst, it’s a new scheme for extortion.”

Having a law seems like one of the worst options for the victim, it’s akin to telling the teacher about the schoolyard bully – who then makes nice while supervised but amps up the abuse once they’re out of detention. Within a job scenario, the plodding process of the legal system would likely magnify the bully’s anger against the co-worker.

Perhaps the best solution for bullying on the job would be for those directly involved to air everything out during a working lunch session – possibly over a fresh knuckle sandwich and a refreshing glass bottle of San Pellegrino to the head of the offender.

Of course I’m joking but the idea of a boardroom Fight Club is provocative – perhaps we should hire Tyler Durden to facilitate the meeting!


  1. Great article, Tor. I'm reminded of my early days in television when I, clearly, was not welcomed by some of my colleagues. Looking back I realize, I wasn't "bullied" physically, but what I endured in ostracization certainly amounted to me feeling "beat up" at the end of the day. Today, there remain certain employees who continue to bully, but it's done so slyly, its disguised as humor and those who would dare speak up for themselves are labeled as "stuffed shirts." I agree, laws aren't the answer. I believe direct contact with the bully is. Twice in my life, once while on the job, I confronted my bully. In both cases, he lost his steam and the taunts ceased. Guess both men weren't expecting me to speak up and they were shocked into submission. I've learned bullies are just as insecure as the rest of us - -they just have louder voices and bigger muscles in some cases.

  2. Norma, I completely agree that the single most effective way to handle a typical overt bully is via face-to-face confrontation. You're absolutely correct that everytime that approach is taken the bully backs down.

    As you additionally noted, it gets very tricky the more subtle or smarmy the bully. Covert bullying is much harder to address - but can be done.

    Since I've been out of the newsroom, most of the bullying I've experienced has been covert. The book "48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene" has a great chapter titled Law 44: Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect.

    Basically, what he suggests is that you replicate exactly the behavior the opponent/bully/or enemy exhibits toward you. This confuses them because they can't figure you out, causing them to overreact which then opens them to confrontation.

    It's a great read - well worth the $15.

    Please comment anytime even if you disagree, I welcome your thoughtful input!

  3. Laughed out loud at the part about the working lunch..brilliant!

  4. Six different schools....grrrr. I tried not to count. And you are right it wasn't any easier for me just different. I've also experienced it at the work place but never confronted the bullies. You are right we don't need another law since one already exists under EEOC guidelines and Sexual Harassment....Hostile Work Environment.

  5. Hmm... I am in a similar situation, here, but the offender is a tricky one. She talks over me constantly, makes a big huge deal over the smallest things and always seems to feel the need to discredit my ideas, no matter how trivial. I'd not dare to imitate her behvior, though, because everyone we work with is absolutely charmed (How, I'll never figure out...) by her and considers her an expert in her area. What is one to do, especially with priority being to act toward her as Jesus would. I may have a hard time with her, but I know God loves her dearly. But I'm getting to the point where something needs to change, and I can't go to my boss or my boss' boss, because I'm the new girl and they are very buddy-ish with her.

    (Rock...Cheryl...Hard place)

  6. @Cheryl, I sympathize with your situation. From a Christian worldview, the best way to handle it would be to pray for the offender. I've found that works at either changing them or me. Regardless the situation changes.

    Additionally, we can be loving without being walked on. Turning the other cheek is fine to a point, but I think once that point is reached and discerned Matthew 10:16 needs to be applied, where Jesus said, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."