Rest assured that, the warm and fuzzy best workplace reviews by PR trades notwithstanding, every firm has some form of workplace bullying. It’s impossible to prevent.
In fact, as Don Spetner’s superb column in the most recent issue of PR Week details, corporate bullying is very much alive and well.
Spetner’s personal anecdotes are riveting, and date from the 1980s and ’90s. My two experiences with corporate bullying aren’t quite as captivating, but also occurred during the same time frame:
– The first involved a loud-mouthed CEO who dropped the F-bomb in each, and every, sentence.
One day, having found displeasure with a recent newsletter I’d written, he proceeded to positively eviscerate me in front of 25 or so peers, and ended by saying, “Cody, you should be embarrassed every f*cking day when you look in the mirror!” Nice, no?
Like Spetner, I chose to rise to the occasion. After reflecting about the incident over a depressingly long weekend, I bounced into work the following Monday morning full of piss and vinegar (BTW, why would one be full of the latter?).
I walked up to the CEO and said, “Thanks for the feedback. Tom. I intend to prove you wrong.” I proceeded to double down on the quality and quantity of my work and, sure enough, he promoted me in a few months. The public dressing down had been a test.
– The second bully was also a CEO. But, he worked in a devious, destructive manner and employed subtle, subversive but oh-so-deadly tactics.
He’d never confront me directly.
Instead, I’d receive a call at 5pm from an account manager named Kate asking me why Jim had just asked her to remove my name from the list of attendees at that night’s client dinner.
That kind of last-second maneuver was typical of this bully.
Absolutely incensed, I’d charge across the hallway only to be halted by his PA Lorraine, who would tell me Jim (whose door was always closed, BTW) was not to be disturbed.
I’d end up going home, tail tucked between my legs, beaten down and totally clueless as to a counter-strategy. Fifteen months later, there was a mutual parting of the ways, and Ed and I gave birth to Peppercomm.
Modern bullying is very real and, with the advent of e-mail, even more pervasive.
We do our best to identify it when it occurs and end it as quickly and efficiently as possible.
We don’t hold workshops about workplace bullying, but we should. And, BTW, corporate bullying is not limited to the top down, boss-to-employee models described above. I’ve witnessed some very effective bottom-up bullying as well.
So, if your organization doesn’t provide anti-bullying guidance, here are some tips:
– Speak directly to the bully, discuss whatever his or her issues are, and see if there are ways to diffuse the situation.
– If that fails, sit down with your human resources manager, explain the situation and ask for guidance/intervention.
Whatever you do, do NOT attempt to counter-punch the bully in public (and by that I mean online or face-to-face). While it worked on one occasion in Spetner’s anecdotes, it almost always guarantees a one-way ticket to Palookaville. And, the senior executive won’t be the one boarding the train. It’ll be you.
So, please, share your personal workplace bullying stories with me. I’m all ears.