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How to Stop Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying in the Workplace

My cell phone was ringing so much that the vibrating had rattled it across my desk and onto the floor. It had gone off four times in a row from the same guy (a client), someone I have known and worked with for years and years.

At the time of his call, I was working on one project for another client that was time-sensitive, so I didn't pick up my cell phone calls. I completed the project about an hour later – this was on a weekend, by the way – and decided to call back the person who had called four times in a row. We had known each other forever and he was a client so I thought, "For other clients, no calls back on the weekend, but it's this guy, so let's buzz him real quick."

As soon as he answered the phone, I knew I had made a mistake in calling him back. He lit into me from the start of the call and was ranting and raving about something that was wrong with his site, that why couldn't (or didn't) I fix it yet, that he had talked to four other web developers and THEY all said the problem was a simple fix, that he didn't I care about the quality of my work, etc… Now this was all done in what we called in the Marines, "A Loud Tone", which is Marine Corps-speak for yelling.

I was trying to get a word in edge-wise, but it wasn't working. I was also getting more and more tense, as I don't talk to others that way, regardless of how long I have known them or my relationship with them. I didn't appreciate the tone, the veiled threat about other web developers or the questioning of whether I cared about the quality of my work or not. Since I had known this guy for over twenty years and at one point he was a business mentor of mine, I decided to follow "conventional business and bullying wisdom" and let it slide. I addressed his concerns, told him I would get to work on it and got off the phone.

The problem was that I am the Bully Proof Sensei and after I got off the phone and went about my weekend, I was pizzed off – at myself.

I was angry with myself because I wimped out. I didn't call him on his behavior and tone right then and there, on the spot. I didn't tell him directly that I didn't appreciate the tone, that I never speak to anyone that way and won't tolerate being spoken to that way. I didn't tell him that if he ever had a problem, I will always address it, but it might not happen immediately or as soon as he would like, but it will get handled. I also didn't tell him that after all this time knowing each other, he knows me, what I stand for and my quality of work and questioning those things about me were out of line.

So, I stewed. I couldn't sleep that night and when I did finally get to sleep and got up the next morning, I said to myself, "Self, this is the very kind of situation that you work with people all the time regarding bullying at work; what advice do you give that always works – and why aren't YOU following it?"

I scuffed myself upside the head, picked up the phone and called the guy. I asked him where he was that day and what his schedule was; he told me he was at his office for the day. I told him, "Great – I am on my way there right now."

I drove the thirty-five minutes to his office and we sat down together. Long story short, I looked him in the eye and basically said I was going to address the issues with the site he had mentioned on the phone, but I was there to talk about  our relationship. I asked him if he had a personal problem with me. I asked him if he had a problem with my work ethic, abilities, work I had delivered in the past, or any doubts about my motivation in working with him and his company. To all of these he said he had no problems, absolute faith in my abilities, etc, etc…

I thanked him, looked him in the eye and said, "With all that being said, we have known each other long enough that there is no need to ever yell at me on the phone or get upset. I wouldn't do it to you and don't appreciate it when you do it to me. Don't do it again. You can always ask me anything and I will do my best, but we must treat each other with respect."

Then, I shut up and kept eye contact. We were silent for a moment and then he agreed. We talked about some other things work-related, stood up, shook hands and went about our day. There was no need for an apology and I didn't want one. What I wanted to do was point out the behavior, get him to realized that he wouldn't like it if someone did it to him and establish expectations going forward. Most importantly, I wanted to do it face-to-face.

There is an rule in life – and I can't remember who taught it to me – that states, "Everyone is braver over the phone."

In today's culture, that truth extends to e-mail, texts, Facebook posts, hand-written or typed letters (especially from attorneys) and everything else that can convey messages without physically being there, in front of the message recipient, staring at each other eyeball to eyeball. Because it is so much easier now to send messages or communicate without having to be in the room with the other party, it is MUCH easier for people to be what I call, "Tough Guys".

The problem is when it comes to cyber bullying or bullying in the workplace – people who bully others from afar and are allowed to get away with it usually keep doing it. There are many reasons why – usually because people who bully from afar are not confident enough to do it face-to-face, are non-confrontational in person and feel safer if they yell or do whatever over the phone, electronically or in print.

How I originally handled my situation was WRONG. I wrongly thought that "The client is always right", and "be the bigger man and walk away" were the right things to do. When it comes to human beings and interpersonal relationships, especially when it comes to bullying, those are the WRONG things to do. When you do those, it empowers the bullies. It does NOT teach them empathy, or get them to realize how they would feel if someone was doing it to them. Also, from the "Client is always right" school, is your self-respect and self-image worth the amount of moolah you are getting paid by your client, especially if they are the bullying or passive-aggressive types?

Never once, in my own situation or that of someone I have coached, has getting in a room and going eyeball-to-eyeball with a bully – either from work, school or home – and directly confronting and discussing the issue not worked. Not once. (On a side note: having martial arts training, or at least being in good physical shape is a huge plus in these situations, because you are more confident in yourself. But, more on that in a later post.)

If you have a bully in your life that is bullying from afar, cut it off right now. Arrange a meeting with the person, don't take "no" for an answer, get in a room with them and ask, "Hey, what's your problem?" Call them on the behavior. Be specific. Explain what you will and will not tolerate and stand your ground. Work things out so that you can both move forward. Some times you may discover – especially with bullying in the workplace – that bullies lash out because they feel as if they are not being heard or no one is listening/respect them. By asking them directly if there are any problems or concerns, it gives them the chance to feel as if they are appreciated and respected.

I think you may be surprised that after you sit down eyeball-to-eyeball and have a frank discussion, your relationship with the person who bullying from afar will improve. But, don't take my word for it. Do it.

Stay strong,

Sensei Huff

P.S. – Things like this are covered in the book, "Bullies Suck". I think you may be surprised at how much real-world, works-right-now information is contained in the book. What makes it different is that it focuses on tools for YOU, how to make you stronger, more resilient and able to stand up to bullies for yourself, instead of focusing on how to teach bullies to not be bullies, follow conventional wisdom that is being taught or turn to celebrities for help. Get yours today.


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