I am currently working with one of the biggest bullies I’ve ever met. We’ll call him “Brutus.” (That is his real name. I hate him that much. Just kidding!) Brutus is truly the Regina George of my office, deftly manipulating coworkers and inspiring both fear and adoration everywhere he goes. At first, I thought I was the only one to see Brutus for who he really was. But after having a few side conversations it appears people on my team are all equally aware of Brutus’ true nature– and equally scared of him.
It’s one of the secrets of adulthood that bullies don’t remain on the blacktop as ancient relics of our childhood. You’d think once bullies got enough time-outs and detentions they’d eventually morph into positive, pro-social people, but unfortunately they just get more expert at hiding their true nature. This sneakiness makes a bully hard to spot– at least at first.
If in the (very) likely event you do find yourself working with a bully, here are some of the things I’ve learned from making mistakes with Brutus.
- Document everything: Not only is this important if things escalate and you need legal support, but it also matters to avoid any future manipulation. People like Brutus are only interested in getting ahead themselves, and that means they’ll twist your words as deftly as they’ll twist that knife in your back. It’s important that you have a written record of conversations you’ve had, promises made, etc. so that you can stand up for yourself if the bully turns on you.
- Remain Calm & Light: Even if the Brutus in your life raises his voice or loses his temper, it’s important to keep your cool and maintain as light of a conversational tone as possible. This shows that the bully cannot bait you into overreacting, or (maybe worse) threaten you into doing what he wants.
- Be Clear and Firm in Communication: This can be a tough one, especially if you are trying to avoid the bully’s wrath in making an unwelcome request. Bullies respond to strength, though, which is why you need to communicate your needs clearly and avoid wavering from what you’ve asked for– unless you really are able to compromise.
- Have Empathy: I have the hardest time having empathy with difficult or manipulative people at work, but the fact is these people are the way they are because they are insecure and/or don’t know how else to get what they want from others. Try to keep that idea in mind when you’re feeling pushed around, and it will be easier for you to stay calm.