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Admin Pro Forum

When is it too soon—or too late—to thwart bullying?

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Question: "I've told myself that if my boss takes a very bullying tone to me again, I'll speak up about it. But in the heat of the moment, I tend to weaken and not defend myself from it. If I confront him directly, should I come back to his office sometime after it's over and we've both settled down, or deal with the issue right away and risk an escalating argument? Should I report his actions to someone immediately after it happens, or should I wait till I cool down so I get a better perspective and have notes? It's not so much a question of if I try to put an end to what I think is bullying; it's when." - Anonymous Admin

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan June 4, 2018 at 8:41 am

I, too, had a bully boss. I enlisted the help of our EAP (Employee Assistance Program) to find a counselor for 5 free visits. The counselor gave me great advise – call them on it immediately. He would stand at my cubicle (with others sitting right around me) and would bully me. She said “he is picking the location”. So as hard as it was, I started calling him on it in front of people. It stopped for a while, then I’d have to do it again. Our company has an anti-bullying policy and any manager who was aware “must” report it, which none did, so I keep at it. I eventually went to HR and it has stopped completely (and I no longer report to him). As others said, document, document, document.

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Jess June 1, 2018 at 10:06 am

Document, Document, Document. I have been in this situation and ended up quitting and getting a new job because it just didn’t get better. I couldn’t take it anymore. I tried the Teflon thing and that didn’t work. I tried assuming it was a bad day and that didn’t work. I tried making her see reason and that didn’t work. In the end I just gave up. During my exit interview I could have thrown her under the bus and I probably should have but I didn’t because I didn’t keep good documentation and I really wished I had. I shouldn’t have had to quit my good paying job because someone was treating me so poorly.

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Laura May 31, 2018 at 6:05 pm

Have you tried repeating back to him what he just said to you? Like starting with “to be clear, this is what you said”? Sometimes it works. Also bullying is a learned behavior and if everyone let’s him continue it won’t stop. I agree with Diana that sometimes it is the situation and you just happen to be the closest person to him at that time. Is he personally attacking your work or is he intimidating and demanding? I had someone tell me a long time ago to think of my clothing as Teflon and that nothing negative can get thru to me. It wasn’t about me but the people who reported in weren’t reliable. I just started taking all indication of blame from me and put it on them. I stopped saying “I don’t know” and started saying “Joe didn’t tell me”. It took awhile but he finally saw that there were a lot of things I had no control over and refused to be blamed for that situation.

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Melissa May 31, 2018 at 4:39 pm

My first advice would be to document, document, document every time, the date, time, location and reason and what you did about it.

Second, depending on who else may be around, I would call him on it in the moment. While you don’t necessarily want to make the situation worse in front of fellow workmates, delaying it often means not acting on it.

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Susan May 31, 2018 at 4:19 pm

I’m sorry you are having this problem as I am sure that it is both uncomfortable and very frustrating. I think it is a good idea to wait until things simmer down because not much good gets accomplished when tempers or emotions flare. I would also suggest that you have clear documentation showing that this is an ongoing issue, not a one-off on a bad day. (Not that a bad day is an excuse for bullying behavior, but you want to show that this is a pattern and needs to stop once and for all.) Although it is uncomfortable to approach someone directly about their behavior, that is the best solution for now. I would only recommend going to someone else if you feel you are in danger due to someone’s behavior or if your attempts to solve the problem be speaking to the individual have not worked. When you do talk with your boss, don’t forget to frame statements using “I” rather than “you,” so that you are not putting anyone on the defensive. “I feel xyz when I hear you say abc.” Good luck!

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Nicole May 31, 2018 at 4:14 pm

I would address the situation right then and there, however if you feel it will escalate his negative behavior then yes wait until he is calm and your head is clear. I noticed you’re using the word bully so I’m assuming he’s projected this behavior many times? If confronting him doesn’t change the situation, or if you are scared, or believe you are working in a hostile environment then I think you should speak to HR. Decide before you go to HR if you want to file a formal complaint though, most of the time nothing will be investigated or done if you don’t formally come forward. Good luck, I hope speaking to him one on one works well for you both.

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Diana May 31, 2018 at 4:12 pm

As I am the Assistant to the CEO, there is no one to report to. In three weeks I will have been there longer than any of his last 10 Assistants (3.5 years). The reason they left is exactly that – his bullying tone. He is an entrepreneur who has never worked for anyone, so has never had much in the way of management training. ANYWAY, at first I was almost in tears and talked with HR, etc. I found out that they were aware, as he tended to take that tone with everyone. So I listened and decided that he was not bullying ME, he was bullying THE SITUATION and making it sound personal to me. So what I tried doing was to just sit and look at him for a full minute. At first he would repeat things like “Well, don’t you think so?” but soon realized that I was absorbing his tone as well as his words. Believe it or not, after only 2 years, he would turn himself around and calm down quickly. Obviously not a quick fix, but I now LOVE my job. I don’t know if that would work with your boss, but just making mine hear what he was saying eventually made him learn to say it better.

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Robyn May 31, 2018 at 4:08 pm

I agree with Mark’s statement. Especially emailing the notes to your personal email at home. Always stand up for yourself in professional manner and don’t let anyone intimidate you.

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Mark May 31, 2018 at 10:58 am

I would talk to him later, maybe the next day, after everyone has calmed. But take detailed notes immediately after it happens, including quotes. I am a VERY strong believer that each person should be given the chance to modify their behavior before they are reported to someone else. I actually think it’s not fair to go over someone’s head or go straight to HR without confronting the person themselves. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least you’ll be giving him that opportunity. If it happens again after you’ve had a calm conversation with him, or if that conversation turns ugly, then that is the time to go to someone else. But again, quotes help a great deal. (And don’t keep these notes just at work. E-mail them to your personal e-mail in case, in a worst-case scenario, you need documentation for a DOL or EEOC complaint. (Our insurance company says suits regarding retaliation by supervisors in response to complaints is one of their fastest-growing claim areas.)

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Mark May 31, 2018 at 11:00 am

I wish I could edit that; just noticed an errant parenthesis.

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