Saturday, February 18, 2012

Adult Bullying

When a child is being bullied, that child knows it.  Without a doubt something is wrong, something hurts.  An adult, on the other hand, will often put up with the abuse, day after day, without resistance.  There is a word for behavior such as this.   

Denial An unconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts, or feelings.

I’m a former US Marine and once studied martial arts for many years.  But I’ve had, on occasion, coworkers who snap at me with some of the nasty, vilest remarks, with full and accompanying attitude and intentions.  I didn’t bat an eye.  There have been other times the wrong look from the wrong person at the wrong time started World War III and it was not that I tore him a “knew one”, I simply ripped everything away from around the old one. That which was left on the floor made him a complete and total example of what he most truly was.    

But in this we discover the problem of Adult Bullying in the Workplace.  A target will put up with harsh treatment in order to get along and appease someone they view not as a bully but through the lens of this defensive mechanism called denial.  Often, I still catch myself wanting to put forth a friendly countenance in favor of good will and civility.  And always I’m punished for it.  To be nice to a bully goes against one of the tenets of dealing with a bully – Bullies do not care how nice you are or how hard you try to get along with them. You are simply rewarding and encouraging bad behavior.

Something you should remember about adult bullies, some are just loudmouths and control freaks.  Such bullies can be easily dispatched with some coaching and a few practiced and well timed verbal cheap shots below the belt.  There are others, the really bad ones, who are agenda driven sociopaths.

Sociopaths!  Really?  Like the nut jobs in the movies?

Yes, just like those nut jobs, only working in a cubical next you, or driving next to you in traffic, or operating a dangerous piece of equipment near you.  But have heart and a stout spirit for these champions of the remorseless make up but a mere 4% of the population.  Why that’s nothing, hardly 1 out of 25 people.  So, hey if you deal with more than say 20 people no more than 10% of the time you have nothing to worry about.  Well, not quite.  First, these loose cannons are working somewhere, even in an office of 4 or 5 employees.  I’ve been in that scenario, the affect was devastating and the turnover rate was through the roof.  And these jokers aren’t just walking around with a sign around their neck or lapel pin that reads, “Caution: Screw Ball”.  Admittedly: some of you could spot one if you were in a coma.  Second, for the most part your average sociopath’s bullying efforts will be a clandestine campaign of covert operations aimed at a specific target or targets to destroy or end their careers.  90% of the time these targets will never suspect the truth behind their involuntary unemployment.

Sounds crazy, even conspiratorial?  Well, once you know what to look for you begin to see patterns and these patterns happen over and over and over, the same way every time with the same results.

Let’s talk about the loudmouth for a moment.  This guy is usually some socially inept moron who either thinks he’s funny or just loves watching you squirm when he pushes your buttons. 

MAJOR TIP - You may think you’re ignoring the jokes and the taunts. But the bully sees your discomfort.  To your coworkers you’re becoming a punch line.         

The loudmouth doesn’t realize or care that he’s making you look like a fool in front of the boss.  If the loudmouth makes a comment comparing you to a poorly working piece of equipment, in a rare occasion that you make a mistake, everyone around might laugh.  If this loudmouth continues to milk the joke at every opportunity eventually people will develop the bias in the back of their mind its true.  The reputation of an honest man is far more damaged by an accusation than a known thief’s is when caught in the act of a crime.

There are vast numbers of people who will never realize how many times in their lives they’ve lost jobs, promotions, or the chance to make a good impression on someone they’re attracted too. 

Control Freaks are nothing more than petty, little, wannabe dictators with nothing more than assumed power.  To them you are incapable of properly performing even the simplest of Drone Required Tasks without their supervision, belittlement, or exasperated instructions.  

A hand held band saw was yanked from my hands once, while it was running.  I did not struggle or resist, I let go, put me hands up and stepped back. The “gentleman” of who I speak then proceeded to make his own cut.  I unplugged the saw, walked over to him, and calmly explained how deeply I would “accidently” cut through what ever available part of his body I could get the blade to if he ever tried that again.  He never had a problem with anything I ever did with a power tool again. 

There are several techniques for dealing with these bullies, often though, a customized approach is required.  I wish people would come to me before they start a new job instead of months later after a bully has his claws in deep.
Here are some rules to keep in mind once you’ve decided to confront your bully.

1) In order for the bullying to be effective, or even occur, the bully must have interactions with the target.  The target is not required to even be aware of the interaction.

2) The bullying will continue so long as the target is made more uncomfortable by the bullying than the bully. 

3) The only way to stop a bully is to make it uncomfortable, embarrassing, or detrimental to his ego or self-esteem to bully a target.  In other words it is your ultimate goal, as the target, to make that bully dread the sight of you or any interactions.

4) No good deed goes unpunished.  You can not win over a bully with good intentions and good deeds to him or on his behalf.  Bullies do not care how nice a guy you are or how hard you try to get along with him.  He will view your actions as positive reinforcement and redouble his efforts to mess with you.      

One thing adult bullies love to do is see how far they can get their targets to bend over backward trying to please them and always it is to no avail.     
My name is Rick Lawrence, The Covert  I have over 30 years dealing with bullies. There is no child bullying situation that can not be dealt with.  I wish I could say the same about adult workplace bullying, unfortunately Victory in a war for barren land only wins the right to starve while standing on the bones of a vanquished enemy.  Sometimes a dysfunctional company is beyond hope.  You have to move on.  I teach people how to start that new job with their eyes open.


  1. Hi. My name is karyn. I've been getting glared at, talked about, name calling like you wouldn't believe because I decided to stop talking to those co workers and my boss who is always putting me down because I work. There are times I go home and cry because they judge me the way I look. They say I'm mad, sick, crazy , jealous because I work fast on a machine. Mind you others run the same machine I do and are faster. So why do my co workers and my boss have a problem with me working? I just clock in say good morning to eveyone with a smile then the nasty name calling starts. I don't know what to do. I wanna leave. : (

  2. I love your approach. Growing up in the inner city of Memphis and dealing with bullies daily (I am female) I learned the only way to STOP bullying was to be the biggest, meanest badass on the block. There was only ONE boy who could beat me, but he only beat me once because the damage I caused to him wasn't worth trying it again. Many tried, but I cut them, put them in intensive care with head injuries (usually a big rock to the skull was all it took) and one time I even beat up TWO boys while their fathers jeered at them and threatened a bigger beating if they didn't "take me out." I put both in the dirt sobbing and bloody, flipped the double bird to their fathers and walked away without a bruise or a scratch. As an adult I was a cop, and I guarantee the streets are run the same way. Might makes right. Sad, but true. If schools would let kids fight it out, bullying would stop. Thank you for a great post. No, I've never been in jail, never hit anyone as an adult and now use my words to bludgeon bullies. It's all they understand.