It might start with a snicker every time you walk past the reception desk. Or maybe it's that snippy comment you've learned to dread every day: "Something smells," she says, wrinkling her nose as you enter the room. These small offenses may look trivial alone, but they accumulate over time to eat away at your confidence, sap team morale, and turn the job you love into a daily nightmare.
If you've ever been bullied, you know how much it hurts. And you're not alone. Studies conducted in 2005 by researchers at the Uni versity of New Mexico and at Arizona State Uni versity show that 25 percent to 30 percent of U.S. employees are bullied and emotionally abused sometime in their work histories.
It's not always easy to spot a bully. Some silently sabotage from the shadows and feign innocence when cornered, while others call the shots with show-stopping swagger. As a victim, you may be overloaded with tasks or cruelly stripped of gratifying ones. Once-friendly team members may avoid you, fearing the bully's wrath if they align themselves with you.
If this sounds like grade-school drama, you're not too far off. Playground tyrants grow up, but they don't often outgrow their tactic of intimidation. The irony is that beneath the bully's sinister exterior lies deep-seated insecurity, and often times, inadequacy. As Tim Field, author of Bully In Sight: How to Predict, Resist, Challenge, and Combat Workplace Bullying (Success Un limited, 1996), says, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, bully." Let's take a look at five common bully breeds and how to best manage their assaults.
The passive-aggressive sneak
The profile: Angela, the receptionist, appears angelic at first blush. Over time, however, you realize her seraphic sweetness is reserved for veterinarians and clients. Fearful of confrontation, she often uses sly comments or notes to boost her influence and make others look bad. You might hear her tell the doctor, "I can't trust anyone else with the schedule. We always end up overbooked when Ginger sets the appointments."
Coping strategies: This bully's choir-girl image makes her misdeeds difficult to expose. So when you catch her in the act, address the behavior directly. "Call her out on it without using threats," says Debbie Allaben Gair, CVPM, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a communication consultant with Bridging the Gap in Sparta, Mich. "Be kind, firm, and frank. Look her in the eye and say, 'I heard what you just said to Dr. Smith. That's untrue and I don't appreciate it.'" Since passive-aggressive bullies fear confrontation, calmly acknowledging her behavior will send the message that you're not to be messed with.
Dr. X makes you want to hide
The profile: It's Mary Manipulation's turn to mop. She slyly assures you she'll tackle the task. But when the clock strikes the hour, she's poised at the door, hat in hand, ready to bolt for the parking lot. With a sheepish smirk, she says, "Sorry, I got tied up. You'll help me out, won't you?" Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but it's the fifth time she's weaseled out of the work this month.