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.

You Can’t Say That!

Bringing Faith Into the Workplace

I once told someone that I couldn’t bring God into the workplace and the most amazing thing happened, she asked me “Why not?”. At the time, I shrugged and made up some lame answer because I truly didn’t have a sufficient response. What I hadn’t realized was that her decision to ask me “why not?” changed my life.

That’s the power of speaking your truth or being curious enough to understand others – you challenge assumptions or help others challenge their own. You also get a chance to learn so much more about yourself and for me, that moment was a “moment that mattered”. I started living the belief that you couldn’t hit pause on your faith because you or others are uncomfortable with it. Faith doesn’t come with an “on” or “off” switch.

As I matured and deepened my relationship with God, I began to understand the ultimate impact of being questioned on that “faith”ful day. You can’t wake up, give praise, and then forget about God until you get home from work. The workplace is a breeding ground for loving relationships as well as toxic ones and we need God’s help in navigating the terrain. He deserves our praise and continued faith throughout the day, not just when we clock out.

It’s funny because especially at work, you’re surrounded by people who are projecting the person that they want people to see. We all do it. Regardless of our work environment, we contain, dim and in some cases completely change who we are to protect the real “us”, the person we are when we are around people we trust. In the workplace, we are surrounded by impostors who struggle every moment with who they are vs. who they project. That’s why for me, staying grounded and rooted in my faith is so important for maintaining my mental, emotional, and physical well being.

I can’t leave god out of my story

I’ve learned and lived this the hard way – so when I decided to give blogging another shot, I was at a crossroads. I knew I wanted to share in the areas of career development, workplace dynamics and individual empowerment, yet I didn’t want to turn off an audience who wasn’t a believer in a higher power. I wanted to be inclusive and allow for my words to pertain to anyone who needed guidance, or at the very least access to my experience. I wanted to appeal to the masses and modify my story to be “one size fits all”. *chuckle* I was repeating my same mistake; I was actively in the present day excluding God from my story.

Smh.. crazy how that happens. The only difference is that this time, I heard his whisper and I shifted.

I can’t leave God out of my writing because my successes and failures are His doing. I did my part but only through His guidance, as His vessel for His work.

You don’t have to be a believer of God to read my blogs and learn from my experiences. We come from all walks of life, with all different faiths and a multitude of different perspectives. I know what works for me and I want to share what works with me with others. On my journey, God is the creator and I’m just the vessel, the character, the actor. I made the choice to accept God as my Lord and Savior in all things – home,work, life, driving, breathing, living, meditating, forgiving, loving and I pray that what I have to say brings guidance and “ah ha” moments to you all.

Thank you to the person for speaking up and questioning my ignorance. You were on assignment and I appreciate 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

Finding your North Star: What are your guiding principles?

The North Star is the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation and is commonly referred to as the “Pole Star”. Without GPS, travelers would locate the North Star and use it to guide them to their destination.  This is why we call guiding principles, the North Star. When you have nothing else, it is what will guide you and assist you with completing your goals. When all else fails, you can defer to your guiding principles to help you make decisions in your life.

As a follow up to my blog, Establishing a Baseline for Yourself, I wanted to provide insight into how to create goals that will excite and guide you into the next phase of your life. However, as I was writing, I quickly realized that in order to complete any goal, regardless of how great it is, you would first need to understand your reasons for wanting to complete that goal.

So how did I define my North Star? 
Years ago, I felt like I was in a fight of my life. I was going through a nasty custody battle for my son and during that time, there were people placed in my life that I felt had no boundaries as to how far they would go to hurt me or my son. I knew that for me personally, I feared the wrath of God and established spiritual boundaries that provided limits on how far I would act on my hurt, pain and even vengeance. Over time, those boundaries became more and more rigid. There were things that I would not do and there were things that I would not say in an effort to hurt or cause pain to someone else. I would learn to recognize when people were treating me wrong and force myself to elevate above them – that became my North Star. My North Star is to have enough discipline to rise above those who seek to oppress me or bring negativity in my life.

With this defined, I was able to move forward with establishing goals that were exciting and aligned to my North Star, my guiding principles.

So how do you define your North Star?

Think of a time that you would prefer not to repeat. A time, that sits with you, that was life altering – where YOU had the power to do something and didn’t. It’s a feeling that stirs in the pit of your stomach or the center of your torso; it reminds you that you should’ve done something differently. You didn’t like the person that you were at that time. It pissed you off. It upset you. It embarrassed you.  That moment in your life was life altering and shifted the way that you thought about things, the way that you thought about yourself. That moment defines your North Star.

  • Maybe you saw someone in the street struggling and you didn’t stop to ask them if they needed help. The feeling stayed with you.
  • Maybe you lost your temper over something minimal and you felt like a jerk about it.
  • Maybe you let someone get under your skin and you were embarrassed by the way that you reacted.

These moments define your North Star. It’s the promises that you made to yourself that would prevent or at the very least decrease the likelihood of you ever feeling whatever way you hated feeling ever again.

Taking the examples above, write your North Star in a declarative format:

  • I will do my best to make time to help those who may need an extra hand or those who are unable to help themselves.
  • I will identify what irritates me and understand why it irritates me.
  • I will not allow others to control me. I will not allow others to disturb my peace.

Keep in mind, that you may have several guiding principles and that is ok. Your guiding principles may change over time and that is ok, too.  Write them down and keep them at the forefront of your mind. Your North Star serves as a compass as you try to define and work towards your goals. It is what recalibrates you if you veer off track; it serves as your conscience and it should resonate with you to the point where you respect it above all else.

 

Before you say “Yes” – Compatibility with the Hiring Manager

In this day in age, there’s so much competition in the workforce that sometimes you’re just happy to get a callback. You chat it up with the recruiter and the phone screen goes off without a hitch, the next thing you know they’re scheduling your next round of interviews. You’re excited and nervous but prepared to take this next step. You walk into your interview to a panel of people, everyone is asking questions and you are nailing them; growing even more confident. This job is yours! They ask if you have any questions, and you rattle off a couple of rehearsed items before bidding your farewell. You send a thank you email and the next day – BAM – you get an offer letter and you accept! Sounds pretty awesome, right?

So tell me, who will you be working for? What’s their management style? Does it sync with yours?

Marcel Schwantes, a speaker, leadership coach, advisor, and syndicated columnist, wrote a story for Inc.com titled, Why Do People Quit Their Jobs, Exactly? Here’s the Entire Reason, Summed Up in 1 Sentence, and in it, he refers to a study conducted by Gallup that surveyed 7,272 U.S. adults about reasons for leaving a company and 50% stated: “to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.”

This reason is real. Every time I’ve thought about leaving a company that I’ve worked for, it was because of the management style of a boss or boss of a boss. Just listen to the water cooler conversations, they are riddled with people complaining about the micro management, the “laissez faire” attitude or the down right nastiness of their boss.

Here are some things that you can do prior to taking the job, that can help you assess compatibility between you and your potential manager.

1. Know what you need from your manager in order to be successful. It was through having a bad manager that I became aware of what I needed from my manager in order to be successful early in my career: protect my scope, run my cover, and give me the runway to do my job. In summary, don’t allow everyone to task me with any and everything, have my back by being my ally, don’t micro-manage me.

Maybe you need someone with a true “open door policy” or a person who takes the time to walk through a situation with you. Maybe you need a person who is loyal and defends the decisions of their people. Like any relationship, you have to first understand what are the key enablers and destabilizers to your success. Being micro managed or talked down to, could be destabilizing traits that can be demotivating to you as an employee. Think about your supervisors or maybe a matrixed manager, the good and the bad, and hone in on the elements that motivated and demotivated you. You have to know your hard limits before you interview for your next position.

2. Speak to the hiring manager prior to accepting the position. This should be a no brainer but never accept a position without first having a conversation with the person you’ll be working for. Maybe they are on vacation or out sick – wait for them to come back into the office before making your decision. You should be able to ask questions and gain an understanding of high-level expectations in their words. If the company is willing to hire you without input from the hiring manager, then that says a lot about the organization and its culture.

3. Ask tactful questions. I once interviewed a person who made me feel like I was the one being assessed for fit and guess what? I hired them. Their approach was tactful, sincere, and purposeful. Sure, I answered their questions but through the exchange, I was also able to analyze their approach, ask counter questions and gain insight. If the hiring manager is offended by questions related to their management style, then that should definitely send off some red flags.

4. Go with your gut. I know. I know. It’s cliche’ but it’s real. Short and to the point – If something doesn’t seem right, if you’re not getting a good vibe, then move on. It could be your dream job but with the wrong manager can turn into your worst nightmare.

Keep in mind, that even if you come across a good manager, it doesn’t mean that they are a good manager for you. Know what you need in a manager first, and then assess the manager against those needs. This is the best way to measure the future compatibility between you and your potential boss!

XOXO

Managing through layoffs

As a people manager, I understood the fundamental principle that I was no longer an independent contributor.  I had a team that I was responsible for, who looked to me for guidance. So when my company went through a steady stream of layLayoff Image 2off’s, I remember thinking about my team and how best I would handle their concerns. Regardless of whether your direct reports are directly impacted, meaning that they will be laid off or indirectly impacted, being that someone they know or work with will be laid off – as a manager, it is your job to manage the situation.

Inevitably, if you’ve established trust amongst your team,  your people will come to you asking, “What’s going on?”, “Am I safe from layoff?”, “What’s going to happen to our team?” How you choose to answer these questions will set the stage for the type of manager that you want to be.

1. Be Honest.

Sitting in a conference room with 11 eyeballs and a few more sets of ears on the phone waiting for me to answer the outstanding question, tested me in my role as a people manager. “Are there layoffs happening and if so, when?” I knew by the way that the question was asked that they anticipated a lie to tumble into the dense air.

The quickest way to lose respect from your people is to lie to them. At the end of the day, people are feeding their carnal concern of whether they will be able to survive and provide. Lying only prolongs the inevitable and provides another reason for your talent to look for other roles.

At the time, I received permission to confirm that the layoffs were indeed taking place but was told that the date was not to be communicated. When I was asked the question, I confirmed what my team already knew, that layoffs were indeed happening. Regarding the date, I informed them that although I knew the date, I was unable to tell them. I apologized for not being able to give any more information but when I could, I would share. Although they wanted a date, they respected my honesty as their manager.

2. Treat them like adults.

For weeks prior to my potential layoff, I was concerned about whether I would be laid off. The same questions that plagued my direct reports, plagued me when they I faced this dilemma. I wanted to know as much information as possible so that I could prepare for the worst. I was told absolutely nothing however, my workload substantially decreased over time. I went from being overwhelmed to having time to write my blog. I would ask, “Am I being impacted?” and I would get the same response, “No, not at this time.”  I knew they were not being honest and it insulted me.

When you treat your people like adults, they will in return act accordingly. Be as upfront and as honest as possible.  You may not be able to directly tell them that they are impacted but generalize the concern and advise your team to update their resumes. If they need resume assistance, offer to help or point them in the right direction. This prepares all impacted employees, regardless of whether it’s a direct impact or an indirect impact, for whats to come.

If you are able to tell them, do so. Advocate doing so. I had a boss who was laid off and he was told five months in advance of the action. He told me that this was the best thing that could’ve happened to him. He was able to prepare himself and his family for the inevitable, take steps to establish his next career move, and come to peace with his double digit tenure at the company. Instead of being upset with being laid off,  he was thankful and he gave 100% of his effort until his last day.

3. Show empathy.

Take a moment and imagine being in their shoes. Maybe you were on the other side of the table, digesting that there was a chance that you would be laid off. How did you feel? What thoughts ran through your mind? What was the firEmpathy Image 1st thing you wanted to do? If you’ve never been in the situation,  try and read the stories of others before you have the conversation with your direct reports. Imagine not knowing when you will receive another paycheck and the domino effect that that would have in your life.

Showing empathy is something that a lot of people talk about but have a hard time doing. Being able to recognize the feelings of others, communicate understanding and have a genuine concern for them as a human beings can be a bit difficult when you are under a lot of stress as well. Be sure to practice empathy on a daily basis to avoid trying to fake it during the time when you will need to show it the most. You owe it to your team to empathize with the situation.

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. 🙂