Surviving a Workplace Bully

Protecting your peace while figuring out your next steps

What is workplace bullying?

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as the

“…repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, interferes with the ability to get work done and/or is verbally abusive.”

There are many different perspectives on how to deal with a workplace bully. There are coping mechanisms, exit strategies and step by step guides on how to diffuse the situation. But outside of all of the guidance, what if you’re unable to leave? What if God has you planted in that spot for a reason and a season? What if in your heart, he’s whispering to you to “be still”? What then? How do you cope with a workplace bully? How do you protect yourself? How do you hop, skip and jump through a literal minefield?

Well firstly, it isn’t easy. It’s hard. Very hard. It can be debilitating. You can feel like you’re going insane. When I worked in a toxic environment with a workplace bully, I tried to leave. I applied and interviewed for roles. I networked. I reported them. I prayed some more. I went back to school, interviewed for more roles and prayed even harder. For two roles that I interviewed for, I was a final candidate and funding for the role was swept for both…in the same year. Lol. Looking back during the times when I tried to leave, I noticed a pattern, my God NEVER left me. When I felt like I couldn’t deal with the toxicity another moment, another day, another second, he relieved my anxiety, he healed my pain, he removed the pressure even for that moment which allowed me to press on.

At the end of the day, your goal should be to leave the environment. Your health and wellness is more important than a paycheck. In the interim as you assess your options, I would like to provide to you a few things to think about that will help protect your sanity and strengthen your resolve to move through this season.

1. Limit interaction– Wherever possible, I would limit my interaction with the bully. I would assess my responses to see if it’s necessary to engage. Out of habit, or fearing assumed incompetence, you may feel like you need to say something in their presence but if you don’t then don’t. By no means should you dim your light or feign ignorance; just don’t invite conversation. If speaking, keep it brief, being very deliberate with your words and non verbal cues.

2. Learn my Bully – This step directly contradicts me wanting to limit my interaction with my bully, however, when forced to interact, I took advantage of the situation. I would observe their behaviors, how they projected themselves, how they interacted with others. I would study them to gauge reactions to things said or not said. I would document their preferences, pick up on their social cues, and notice how they interact with others. My goal was to educate myself to be able to better plan for interactions with them.

3. Document, Document, & Report – I was very hesitant on adding this step because speaking up under the wrong conditions could provoke retaliation from your bully. It all depends on the type and size of the company, the reach of your bully’s influence, and how egregious the behavior is that they’re displaying. However, I strongly encourage documenting each encounter to have for your records to create a paper trail for your case. Before moving on from this point, I want to leave you with this bit of information, Human Resources (HR) works to protect the interests of the organization so keep that in mind.

3. Stay guarded– I would stay guarded at all times during my limited interactions with my bully. Regardless of the event, whether it be in the office or at a happy hour, I would always ensure that my words and actions were deliberate, clear, concise and grounded in positive intent. When I felt pressured or caught off guard, I would excuse myself from the interaction and regroup.

4. Stay prayed up – I prayed before every meeting and I thanked God after every interaction. I spoke feverishly to my God, sometimes taking advantage of the meditation rooms provided by my organization. I had a prayer partner at work, someone who knew my situation, could be trusted to maintain discretion, and knew what to specifically pray for on my behalf. I asked for protection and guidance from God, touching on my desire to be free from this bully but understanding that there is a lesson and a reason for this assignment.

5. STAY ready so you won’t have to GET ready – God will move you on his time but you still have a part to play. Take ownership of your career development. Invest in a new skill set. Meet new people with like interests. Go back to school. Get involved with a non profit to hone in on your skills you’re unable to flex in your work environment. Working on another development lane not only helps you to mature your skills but it’ll also help you to expel the toxicity of your workplace.

During my season of dealing with a workplace bully, I gained the most invaluable experience that helped me mature in my vocation. New doors opened that I couldn’t dream of that helped increase my exposure, credibility and knowledge. Even through this storm, God provided me with the people, resources and space to continue to progress and I know that he will do the same for you.

Still figuring it out? You are NOT alone.

I must’ve asked the same question several different times during the course of this week, “What are your plans after you get your degree?” Many people didn’t have an answer. Some fumbled with their response. Others provided canned statements around wanting to pursue a terminal degree. A couple of them gave me an answer that didn’t justify the need to get the degree but whatever. I guess the one thing that we all had in common was that no one, not even me, ever really gave an answer as to what their plans were for the degree that they worked so hard for, whether it be a Master’s or a Ph.D. I was bewildered. Here I thought that I was the only one in the room that didn’t have my life figured out and come to find out, I’m one of many.

I believe that we as people have a hard time saying, “I don’t know what my plans are.” or “I haven’t quite figured that out yet.” Meanwhile, we’re all feeling it in some way, shape, or form. We don’t do well with being vulnerable, with letting people know that we don’t have it all together which ultimately leads to everyone thinking that they must have it all figured out. Which is sad. Sometimes it’s OK to say, I liked the topic, I felt a connection with the subject but I’m not sure what I am going to do with the information just yet. Or even better, I need the letters or the degree to prove credibility within the field. How much of a relief would that be, eh?

I think the purpose of this post is to say that the people that are walking around, doing “things” with their lives- the ones who you believe have it all figured out – the majority of them don’t. They are out here brainstorming with their life, throwing ideas on the wall to see if it sticks, trying new things and identifying what they like, meeting new people and conversing about whatever comes to mind. I had a full fledged discussion with a group of I/O Psychologists about Vegas and how one lived in Louisiana and have never visited New Orleans – we don’t have it all figured out.

The only difference between you and them is that they are doing. That’s it. I’m currently in Alabama on a trip that might be a waste of time and that’s OK. I had a guy ask me if anything that I’d learned on this trip would be useful to me in the future. I told him that what I’ve come to find is that I can use any and everything that I learn. Maybe not in the near future but possibly in the distant. Even if it’s only to stir up a commonality between me and another person, even if it’s just to make that connection, to be able to relate, to speak with experience – it’ll be something that I use.

I sat with a group of ladies who were talking about submitting to symposiums and writing their thesis. One wanted to write on diversity in leadership and the selection process, the other on bias around online degrees and you know what? It was beautiful. I was sitting amongst potential game changers in the field of IO Psychology and here they were – “figuring it out”. Lol. No one had a concrete plan of action, where pivots were accounted for and purposeful decisions were made. That’s not how it worked. We had a direction and possibly a mode of transportation but the route, the pit stops had not been thoroughly mapped out.

People are still figuring it out. Don’t think you’re behind the curve or that you can’t do what you want to do because life happened. Life is going to happen. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that life is… life is hard and confusing. It’s tempting and troubling. It’s angry and upsetting but it’s also beautiful and sympathetic and forgiving and compassionate and hopeful. Life gives you chance after chance to do, to be.

Take advantage of it and figure it out!

XOXO

Establishing a Baseline for Yourself

I guess it’s the project manager in me but I love establishing a baseline of anything. Whether it be how much money I spend each month to how messy my house is on any given day – establishing a baseline gives you a starting point for whatever you are trying to accomplish. In this blog, I’ll discuss how you should go about establishing a baseline of yourself which is critical to moving forward with the rest of your life. (yes – I’m dramatic by nature.)

So about 7 or so years ago, the then guy I was dating, decided that he didn’t want to be with me anymore and ran off to marry his then baby mother. Around that same time, I got into a pretty bad accident that totaled my car and almost totaled my friendship with a good friend of mine who was riding shot gun from a night of partying.

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The night of my accident.

It was 5 a.m. We had stopped at a diner around 4 a.m, after coming back from DC, which was a good hour away from my house. I remember looking over at my homegirl who was fast asleep and thinking “damn she sucks as a passenger.” The next thing I knew, I was veering off the side of the road towards an embankment, I over corrected and hit a jersey wall. What I failed to mention was that this event was preceded by nights of partying, event hopping, and living by the stupid motto “#teamnosleep”.

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After the smack in the head by God, I decided that I needed to baseline my life. So I sat down one evening and wrote down the following 7 categories:

  • Education
  • Career
  • Transportation
  • Relationship
  • Friendships
  • Children
  • Living Situation

Now you can write more or less; the categories are completely subjective and are dependent on the areas in your life where you would like to place your focus. At the time, these items were top of my list.

Once I established my categories, I then made a column for where I was at that very moment in my life. Not where I wanted to be, not the pretty picture I paint for people or the lies I tell myself. The raw and uncut shit-show version that was my life. This was my baseline:

No. Category Baseline
1 Education in school but don’t know when I’ll graduate
2 Career dead end job; boss is the devil 😦
3 Transportation TOTALED; trying to figure out which car I want
4 Relationship single; out of a relationship and still not over it
5 Friendships Some of them are solid; others are hanging on by a thread
6 Children one week at my house, one week at his dad’s
7 Living Situation living with mom

Once I wrote it down, read it out loud and cried a little – I went down each line asking “Is this where I want to be?”, “Do I want more?”,  “Am I better than this?” For each area, the answer was “I deserved better for myself.” So I made another column and I added my goal for each area of my life regardless of how crazy it was. I didn’t confine myself to where I currently was – I dared to dream bigger! (cliche’ enough for you?)

So I made another column and I added my goal for each area of my life regardless of how crazy it was. I didn’t confine myself to where I currently was, what resources I had – I dared to dream bigger! (cliche’ enough for you?)

No. Category Baseline Goal
1 Education in school but don’t know when I’ll graduate Graduate with my Bachelors before 2011
2 Career dead end job; boss is the devil 😦 get the hell out of (insert company name)
3 Transportation TOTALED; trying to figure out which car I want Buy a car
4 Relationship single; out of a relationship and still not over it I’m good – I need to figure out me
5 Friendships Some of them are solid; others are hanging on by a thread Solidify them. Be a better friend. Show up to events and give gifts.
6 Children one week at my house, one week at his dad’s Stability for him at all times.
7 Living Situation living with mom buy a house

This exercise not only pulled me out of my rut but it helped me to refocus my life. It gave me a north star to follow and it taught me to establish boundaries with friends, family, and situations. Inadvertently, it taught me that it was ok to take some time out to focus on me.

XOXO

 

Before you quit…

You know when it’s time to leave a company. You get that sinking feeling like you’ve overstayed your welcome or that you’re in a bad relationship where neither one of you want to make it work. Every meeting is a waste of time, every email is “WHAT do you want?”, every call is a “Can you call someone else?” – your heart and mind is just no longer in the game. It’s time to move on to greater pastures and explore the open terrain – there are millions of company’s out there looking for a star like you, right? Of course – but before you quit, chuck the deuces and eat your “good luck” cake, think about completing a few of these tasks:

1. Have a job lined up.

Seems like common sense but when your emotions are in high gear- common isn’t so common. Make sure that you’ve spruced up the resume and yes, even the cover letter, sent it off to some potential employers, received a job offer AND accepted the job prior to leaving. The last thing you want to do is walk out of one stress pit and into another.

2. Have a plan.

Maybe another job isn’t for you. You’ve saved up enough money, fell into an inheritance or moved back in with the parentals so that you can meditate with monks until you find your calling. So what? As long as you have a plan that is sustainable – make it work and stick to it.

3. Exit with grace.

Oh how you’ve dreamt of giving your boss the middle finger or tripping your nosey co worker as they come bouncing down the hallway. I would strongly advise you not to do anything that will disrupt your grace. Don’t burn any bridges and keep your vengeful thoughts to yourself. You never know who you might see or need on your way to the top.

4. Stay in the game.

You’re quitting. You know this and everyone else who knows you know this as well but don’t go out like a quitter. Give your best until your very last day. Make sure that the transitions of your work products are smooth and pleasant. Be present and continue to share your thoughts and ideas. Smile and remain friendly. You never know who is watching you. Be sure to leave a lasting impression even if you have your own selfish reasons for doing so.

5. Show empathy.

If you are quitting because the work environment sucks, then it should be easy to show a little empathy towards the folks that you’re leaving behind. They haven’t figured out their way out yet, they’re probably just as miserable as you are, and could probably use a kind word or 10. Stay humble and show some compassion. Quit dropping hints about you leaving, about how “they” will miss you when you’re gone and blah blah blah. Even if the work environment is great, your work will still need to get done; folks will have to increase their workload and their productivity levels in order to stay ahead and fill in the gaps. Translation: More work for them.

Being able to quit a job is such a glorious feeling. You’re able to leave on your own terms and on your own time. Make the most of it and make sure that when you do decide to quit that your plan is solid, your reputation is in tack, and your network is reliable. You may want to come back one day – you never know. 🙂