Life is hard enough without the hell that bullies bring to the workplace every day. For two years, the type of bullying that I had to deal with was an insidious, passive-aggressive, and micro-aggressive one that kept the bully and her followers right under the radar from disciplinary action. When I started being bullied, I spent a lot of time trying to view the little digs about my work, exclusion from informal meetings, and episodes of strategic amnesia as separate, unrelated instances, instead of links in a chain of harmful, deliberate actions all aimed at making my life so miserable that I would leave.
But when my doctor told me that he would have to put me on Valium to keep my nerves calm, I knew that I had to do something different.
I went on a weekend assertiveness training retreat where I learned the language of assertiveness in a way that resonated with me–a language that made me see that confrontation was a good thing, an act of self-love, self-improvement, and activism. On the bus back to New York City from the retreat center, I promised myself that I would apply what I learned as soon as I returned to work.
On the morning that was to be “B-Day,” I started back-peddling about my commitment to self-advocacy until I passed a bodega on the drive to work. The red light was long enough for me to see two big brown dogs tied-up outside barking at a tiny white dog that was walking by, minding her own business. I watched wishing that I could pull over and kick the hell out of the two dogs.
But that little white piece of dog did not need me. She stood her ground. Her tail went up and she started barking back. She wasn’t going nowhere. “That’s right, mama. That’s right, you bark back,” I thought to myself, as the light changed to green.
My bully takedown happened in no place other than the office bathroom that afternoon. I used Assertive Communication Strategy. When using this strategy, make sure your voice is steady and strong and you are looking your bully directly in the eye. Your body language has to match what you are saying.
Facts —> Impact—->Feeling—-> Preferred Behavior (I added this piece)—–>Consequences for continued behavior (I added this piece,too)
Here is an example:
“When you omit my name from the email list, I am not privy to important work-related information, and I feel frustrated. Now that you know this, I need for you to include me on the email list. I will speak to our supervisor about this if excluding me from receiving emails continues.”
And here’s a breakdown:
Do not exaggerate the facts. Just state them. For emphasis, I used my fingers for the enumeration of facts and leaned into the conversation. She could not run from the reality.
If you use this technique and find the person denying everything, don’t worry. Finish your thought. Calling a bully out on anti-social behavior when you had not in the past, puts the bully on notice and shows your bully that you are different. And if you are different, things in the office will be different.
Also, avoid high-inference, vague statements such as “being mean to me,” “treating me badly,” or “treating me unfairly.”
Keep the impact factual: If they yell, others can hear. If they convene meetings without you knowing, you are unable to complete your paperwork. If they are consistently late without notifying you and you need them for a project, it keeps you from completing the activity.
Feelings such as “undermined,” “frustrated,” and “dismissed” are all appropriate feelings when dealing with co-workers that are bullies. I would avoid emotions like “sad” or “feel bad” because they carry a personal connotation. You are demanding peace, not friendship from your tormentor.
Preferred Behavior and Consequences For Continued Behavior
This is where you can tie a nice bow around everything in order to redirect the relationship. They already think you done lost your mind by confronting them. Now is the time to demand change. You have spoken up and now your bully knows the new expectations of the relationship. They are now on the defense; you will take your cue from their next move.
Life After I Rode The Bully
Life for me after this three-minute conversation COMPLETELY changed my work life. I had been invited to lunch, asked my opinions, and complimented on the quality of my work. I was not fooled. “Te conozco bacalao, aunque vengas disfrazado.” (“I know you, codfish, even though you come disguised.”)
But I got what I wanted: I went to work, did my work, and then went home in peace.
How have you asserted yourself to ensure that you are taking care of and standing up for yourself? If you use this technique, tell us how it went!