Can you survive workplace bullies?

Can you survive workplace bullies?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Have you encountered workplace bullies? This post is dedicated to all the bullies who make shatter the dignity at workplace.

“Son, your age is equivalent to my experience,” once said an ex-boss of mine. He was driving across a point during a strategic discussion. I was 24 and he was 46. And the above pointer was made to have his way in the discussion. I promptly shut up and followed his line of thoughts from there on. Thinking back in time I think he bullied me to listen to him by frequent mentions like that.

Then there was this infamous distant uncle of mine.  I can’t help but be reminded of him having terrorized our childhood. Thankfully, he wasn’t a child or wife abuser. In fact, he hardly raised his voice on more than a few occasions. However, those rare occasions of outburst were so bad that it kept the 30 of us silent whenever he was around. I distinctly remember how he used to switch off the television when the entire family was gathered in front of it. Those days weekend was the only time when movies were played on TV and somehow he used to rob us of that too.

Our neighbours too were victims of his rare burst of anger – he would shout at them (our neighbours) for a full hour if one of the cows walked into our property. Even though his bullying acts were few and far in between, he came across a terrifying bully to his family and neighbours!

Bullies at School

And how can I miss out on my experiences of bullying during high school?  I had some wonderful teachers who transformed me as an individual and to whom I’m forever indebted. However, I will never forget my science teacher. He stole the show because of his fists – yes, he would use his fists to “remind” my classmates and me of our mistakes. We were forced to remember him for his punches and sarcastic remarks (and not Science!). And he was a bully to his colleagues too with him getting his way with the choice of plays to be enacted for school performance days. We always felt that was much against the wishes of the other teachers.

By now you must be recalling the many faces of bullies in your life. Starting from home to school to college and now, the workplace. There are people who always want to have their voice heard even if it’s offending, intimidating and many times, loud. Some of them will try to hijack conversations by asking too many questions or by acting as a prickly shirt. We have also witnessed individuals who are oblivious to their team members shocked faces on their continual one-sided comments. I don’t need to describe a workplace bully. Their name evokes disgust and fear but nothing can be done about it. Interestingly, they are most likely to be in key positions in organizations.

And unfortunately, (knowingly or otherwise) they stall your progress at work by their act, voice, words and sometimes, decisions. Truth be told, they want you to know that they are very important and must never be ignored.

Interview Bullies

My friend Asif’s experience after the third round of interview with his super boss is also worth narrating. ‘I only hire people whom I can fire,” declared his then soon-to-be-boss. Asif ignored this rather bizarre comment and joined the company nevertheless as it was a great brand name. Our weekend drink sessions had so much spice from then on thanks to this office bully. Once Asif questioned the logic of a decision which this famed boss of him pushed into. When Asif showed some resistance the boss apparently said, “look if you don’t do it, somebody from HQ will come and get this done!”

The Bully in Me

On hindsight, I too may have indulged in acts of bullying. Once I was made in charge of a biz unit which had not made profits for ages. I called for a detailed plan for a turnaround with timelines. When we met a week later, 4 out of 6 direct reports said I was ambitious. Furthermore, they added that it would take at least 2 years or more to get to where we should ideally be. I declared in that meeting that we would make profits “with or without them (the 4 direct reports)”. In subsequent formal and informal discussions, I kept on saying that my favourite number was “with or without you” by the English band, U2. Then I felt that by saying so I would get them to align with our ask to breakeven.  and get to my prescribed ways of doing things.

But, now I think those behaviours of mine looks like bullying.

The U2 number became so famous in our region that people who used to visit us from other countries will to whisper to me about it and I used to smile at the whispers with foolish pride. The icing on the cake was when they played a video of my tenure with the same song in the background for my farewell. 🙂

There are different definitions of workplace bullies. In my opinion, every time a colleague or a boss stops engaging, states only negative consequences and name dropping, I think of them as bullies. But then on the other side, could there be a thin line between persuading and Bullying depending on the trust/relationships?
I prefer the statues, real bullies at work scare me!

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