It was a letter from a reader who, like so many others, is totally fed up with “bully” bosses. The woman was at wit’s end and saw no way out of her dilemma.
“I found your article about abuse in the workplace very interesting. My question to you is, ‘What if the person doing the abusing is your boss?’ I, too, believe people need to speak up and not accept verbal abuse as ‘just part of the job.’ That is not easy for most people, especially when the one doing the abusing is an intimidator.” The letter-writer added, “Some employees need a firm hand, but there is no reason for disrespect, rudeness, interrupting, bullying, yelling, meanness and generally being insensitive.”
Letters like that frustrate me because I am often left with the belief there are only two choices — live with the horrible behavior or change jobs. That is a choice nobody should be forced to make.
My e-mail friend Dr. Deb Bennett is always a source of important wisdom. She replied to one of my columns with this: “You are very right to encourage employees everywhere to speak up when they think something unconscionable is going down, and to encourage management to listen to whistleblowers. But I think that in the case where the company is being run by somebody with the same emotional twists that the chronic spouse-abuser has, that no matter what you tell them they are certainly not going to listen to whistleblowers! What they will do instead is fire the whistleblowers and keep ‘sifting’ until the whole company is filled by people willing to be victimized.”
Dr. Bennett is correct, there are simply incorrigible bosses who will bully until they are confronted or stopped by upper management. But a health-care consultant from Scottsdale, Ariz., named Tecia Bond taught me there are ways to deal with serial bullies. She responded to a column I wrote about a nurse who had to deal with what Dr. Bond aptly characterized as “thuggish behavior toward hospital staff.”
Dr. Bond wrote that she and her partners designed this strategy years ago to address this problem:
“When a physician started verbally abusing and belittling a nurse, other nurses would mutely gather directly behind the humiliated nurse and silently stare at the screaming physician. Oftentimes, there would be as many as 12 to 15 nurses, sometimes more, looking on mutely while the doctor continued the tirade.”
In short order, “tantrum-prone physicians realized they had an invited audience observing their boorish and inexcusable behavior. Doctors found themselves tongue-tied, abashed and awkwardly backing away from the clutch of silent spectators.
“In time, word spread among other physicians that the nurses were literally standing up for each other by their wordless assembly. Doctors feared this sort of humiliation and over time virtually eliminated their hysterics and histrionics. They began treating nurses as healthcare professionals.”
“What we have learned over the course of our consulting career, Mr. McGuire, is that bullies never get nicer. Rather than implausibly going toe-to-toe with a bully, we recommend a strategy that will ‘put the shoe’ on the bully’s foot. This way, bullies (and doctors) can know firsthand what it feels like to be humbled, as they have so often and easily done to others.
“You might suggest this tactic to the nurse who recently wrote to you.”
You just did.
Tip for your search: There is power in numbers. When the bullying cannot be tolerated, group action is the only route. However, take note if nobody stands with you. You may be the issue if nobody else sees the problem.
Resource for your search: “Bullies, Tyrants, and Impossible People: How to Beat Them Without Joining Them” by Ronald M. Shapiro, Mark A. Jankowski, James Dale (Crown Business, 2005)
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