Friday, September 10, 2004

Office bully can be beaten

Fight workplace abuser with detailed documentation

By Peggy O'Farrell
Enquirer staff writer

So you're a smart, savvy worker bee who's been around the water cooler a few times in your day, and you think you can handle just about anything the corporate gods can dish out.

What do you do when a bully - the kind who used to shake down first-graders for their lunch money on the playground - sets up shop on your turf and decides you're the next victim on the list?

We talked to experts at the University of Cincinnati's Center for Threat Assessment and the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute in Bellingham, Wash., and put together this quiz.

Question: What kind of person is most likely to be the office bully?

A. The skittish little guy in research who has never been seen at an office function.

B. The independent self-starter who keeps the nose to the grindstone, not in co-workers' business, and gets the job done.

C. The corporate glad-hander who always says just what the higher-ups with the corner offices want to hear - at least to their faces - and gets invited to all the important meetings.

Answer: Is anyone surprised to learn that C is the right answer? Workplace bullies tend to be very charming to their bosses and to everybody but their target, says Gary Namie, co-director of the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute, and know how to weasel their way through the office power structure.

That's important since workplace bullying tends to be a subtle campaign.

Q: What's the end result of most office bullying?

A. The target leaves the job rather than continue to be tormented.

B. The bully is found out, publicly reprimanded and forced to attend all sensitivity training classes offered until retirement.

C. A big lawsuit and settlement.

Answer: A, says Namie. Seven out of 10 targets leave their jobs - only 33 percent voluntarily.

The other 37 percent are fired, often for performance issues related to increased sick leave, absenteeism and errors on the job.

Q: The woman in the next office has you in her sights. She sends snide e-mails to you and your boss, threatens to file complaints about your boss and co-workers say she's spreading nasty rumors about you. You've confronted her, but to no effect. What's the next best step?

A. Introducing her to your cousin Vinnie and his pinky ring.

B. Taking note of every single insult, rumor and lie she perpetrates.

C. Gritting your teeth and working harder while you ignore her.

Answer: B, says DeAnna Beckman, executive director of the Center for Threat Assessment. Beckman's advice is to document, document, document any and every incident, along with dates, times, locations and potential witnesses. Keep all memos, e-mails and replies. And forward anything the bully sends you, along with your response, to your boss and your boss's boss. "E-mail makes a great paper trail," Beckman says.

Q: What's an office bully's favorite tactic?

A. Fabricating errors to make the target look bad.

B. Cornering the target and demanding their cappuccino money.

C. Tripping the target on his way up to the podium to collect his "Employee of the Year" trophy.

Answer: A, Namie says. It's sneaky, it's non-violent, and it's a great way to get the target bounced from the company, because if the abuse continues long enough, the target will start making mistakes - mostly as a result of the stress he or she is under.

Q: Your team's tantrum-prone manager decides you're the reason the quarterly report is late and starts screaming at you during the morning staff meeting. Should you:

A. Crawl under the table and hide until he gets tired.

B. Don't flinch, cry or step back but stand your ground and calmly suggest he or she speak in a softer, more understandable tone of voice.

C. Get up in his or her face and scream right back. Two can play this game.

Answer: B, says Dean McFarlin, a management and leadership professor at the University of Dayton. It's not easy, but the surest way to let a bully know you've had enough is to stand up to him or her in a professional, nonviolent and nonconfrontational way.


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