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Bully in the Workplace: Fear, Loathing, Lawsuits

Posted by on Mar 5, 2014 in Career, Success Strategies | No Comments


In sociology, you learn that all small groups function similarly and that includes the opportunistic behavior of bullying. This learning is one of many reasons I encourage students to get something more than a vocational education, since simply studying finance, engineering or another skill-based major leaves you without the requisite knowledge for understanding behavior at work.

Social sciences should be required for anyone who intends to earn a living.

Bullying is a fact of life, whether you work in a company, volunteer in a cause-based organization or play hopscotch on the schoolyard in third grade. At some point, it’s likely that someone will try to dominate, frighten, and otherwise rob you or someone you know of rights, income or a sense of well-being.

Bullying typically serves the bully’s self-interest, which might be financial gain or simply the antisocial urge to harm another. In school, bullies steal lunch money. In business, bullies go for greater financial gain, privilege or position.

Of course, there is a difference between a schoolyard bully and a workplace bully. Largely the difference is who knows and is complicit in the bullying, who has gain associated with it, and what the harm equates to in real terms. There are special issues of the legality surrounding bullying when they take place within the confines of a corporation. The legalities may involve the responsibilities of corporate officers who knowingly engage in such acts or neglect to take corrective action when they are made known. Intentionally causing emotional harm, self-dealing, conspiracy, slander, and misrepresentation or misappropriation of assets may have significant legal consequences.

When you are bullied, the best course of action is to get sunlight on the bully’s behavior.

The first person to engage in this manner is the bully him or herself. Let them know what you are seeing. Be clear, objective and stick to the facts. Make your best attempt to stop them, by making it clear that it’s in THEIR best interest to stop. It will help to have a record that you can refer to.

Should that not be enough, report the behavior to get more daylight on it. Once again, be objective. At this point, it’s critical to have documentation, not just about the bully’s actions but also the effects on you.

Even when there are supervisors, it’s possible that no one wants to intercede. After all, fear and intimidation are part of the bully’s arsenal, and most people are loathe to stand up to a bully. In schools we see vicious bullying going on with the knowledge of teachers and administrators, much less other students. People choose to ignore the behavior because they feel imperiled or worse, they join with the bully, because it feel empowering to side with someone boldly causing harm to another.

Unfortunately, that leaves you with the final option, which is legal action. Get a knowledgeable attorney who can intercede on your behalf. The goal should be to stop the bullying behavior, and restore your workplace to a safe environment so you can be productive.

Bullying happens. It’s happened to me. And, likely it has or will happen to you.

Keep in mind that your ability to manage yourself, will allow you to lead others to a solution that is not just best for you but for your company as well.

You may be a world-class employee. You may have helped or otherwise supported the person who is now bullying you. Don’t let bullying change your values, your personal brand or your belief in yourself. Be smart. Be objective. Don’t become a smaller, angrier or vengeful version of yourself.

Key Learnings:

  1. Never expect anyone to come to your aid, even when in the past you have come to his or her aid. Never confuse how you act with how anyone else will act.
  2. Don’t mind read.  Simply document actions and observable behaviors.
  3. Advocate objectively for yourself and your organization. Use the appropriate chain of command, as long as you are getting responsive action.
  4. Don’t stand on principle; be practical. Don’t expect anyone to have a sense of right and wrong. Rules, codes of conduct and corporate values are often suspended when fear and money are involved.
  5. Remember this is not about you. Your perspective should be that it is in the best interests of everyone – including shareholders – to stop a bully from diminishing the productivity and value of a business or organization.

Are you being bullied? Or have you left a job because of a bully? Has it negatively affected your work history? Let me know your story, and I will give you some guidance. Email Nance@NanceRosen.com. Subject line: Bully.

Hoarders At Work: Clean or Consequences

Posted by on Feb 20, 2014 in Appearance, Career, Nance Rosen | No Comments


When you have to separate a very talented person from your company, it hurts. As my partner often repeated, “Nice beats genius every time.” Make sure you fit into the culture and connect with people at work in a polite and congenial way. Showing respect for your co-workers is paramount, no matter what else you produce.

Having empathy, sensitivity, and good personal habits are all part of the emotional intelligence that can come with good parenting, life experience or coaching. For many of us, relational skills are not innate or intuitive, but simply learned. The sooner, the better.

There are certain chronic personal problems that cut down even a towering intellect, great talent, or an otherwise hardworking individual.

Hoarding is one of those personal problems that can ruin your career. Unfortunately, this affliction seems to come with a “thick skin,” which may be a euphemism for an antisocial personality disorder. That’s why the hoarder acts like a victim when people are finally fed up, no matter how many times they’ve been told to clean up their act.

We think of hoarding in its extreme as a problem people have in their homes, where they can hide from onlookers. Hoarders often make less of a mess at work, because at the office a cleaning crew comes in and tries to toss away the worst of it. But sometimes, even the cleaning people can’t approach the task of untangling what should be saved and what’s trash. And, they certainly can’t file away piles or make order out of chaos.

You may have seen this at your office: a staff member who has an obvious insensitivity to the rules of shared space, despite repeated attempts to make them aware of how they are affecting those around them. Here’s what we dreaded facing at work, every day.

A small aisle through half open boxes and old lunch sacks led the way toward my co-worker’s desk, where she sat amid a half dozen empty Coke cans and a stained, two day old Starbucks vente cup.  To her left and right, sat small mountains of discarded documents, several pairs of reading glasses, pens, soiled paper towels and crushed flyers. On her credenza, a load of whatnot crammed the small space in front of books leaning at different angles. Color charts splayed open, a clutch of paper cuttings sat precariously atop the cutter, and an exacto knife stuck into a board perched above it all. The floor under her desk was crowded with more used bags, old paper and rotting food, giving her just a few inches of space to move her small chair.

No amount of asking, explaining, or doing got the office tidied, much less clean. A couple of times each week I stayed late, putting things in order. But it didn’t take a half-day before she was sunk in her mess, and we all were surrounded by it.

The best we could do was shut her door, but sometimes clients came in and we were mortified.

Her office mate got sick and stayed sick for months, perhaps from the dust and the dirt. Plus, he was just plain miserable from his increasingly smaller oasis of clean amid her uncontainable mess.

So, after years of trying to manage this, we had to be fair to everyone else in the office. We had to lose a hardworking teammate and a really talented person. No more hints, no more talks, no more cleaning up after her, no more good friend. We simply could not operate around the problems she was causing. In the end, it’s everyone’s loss.

Are you struggling with hoarding or another personal problem that’s cutting away at the goodwill of your co-workers? There are many support groups that offer guidance, often with a sponsor who has made their way through the problem you have. Do something about it, and let your co-workers know what your plan is.

Why Your Boss is a Jerk

Posted by on Feb 13, 2014 in Career, Nance Rosen, Success Strategies | No Comments

Your boss is a jerk, right? It’s pretty likely you’ve told someone this or you’ve at least thought it.In an informal survey of people I’ve met in my seminars, on planes and at dinner parties over the last 20 years: out of four workers I’ve met has repeated the same refrain: “My boss is a jerk.”

Could it be true that 25% of the population is working for a jerk?

The last two times I heard someone say it, I was in my office during job interviews. Typically, after the candidate gets comfortable talking about their aspirations, their achievements and their experience, I ask a pretty predictable question.

Why are you leaving your current job?

Leaning forward in a kind of it’s-just-us-here posture, these two candidates told me about this jerk they each work for. Different interviews, people from two different companies, but apparently they work for twin jerks.

Are you working for a jerk?

The same topic came up with one of my executive coaching clients. He’s working with me on how to improve his communication skills.

He said, “I may be a jerk.” After all, he explained, I am the boss. That means my life is at the mercy of people who work for me. At some level,  I absorb every single mistake that every single person in my entire organization makes. I absorb the financial losses when orders are returned or orders aren’t taken, the stress of losing clients who are underserved, the distress of employees who are angry with one another, the fury of managers who see their subordinates waste a good part of the day gossiping or trolling the web, and the loss of talent because so much of our training and development walks out the door when a slightly better offer turns the head of someone we’ve invested in.

No wonder the guy is a jerk, albeit a good-hearted, well-meaning, hardworking fellow who provides jobs for over a hundred people. His rent alone would make you a jerk, if that’s what you woke up to every morning.

Maybe you don’t work for the CEO. Maybe you work for a junior executive, a department head or someone with “supervisor” in their title. Maybe you’re micromanaged, your best ideas are turned down, and your request for a raise has been denied.

I understand your impulse to name call, but when something happens that seems unfair to you, or even when you are put off, are you really qualified to feel jerked around?

What would change if you could relate to your boss as a person? If you felt empathy for your superior? It occurs to me that in all the trainings I have conducted, I have never been asked to train employees to act or think with empathy for their bosses.

We have to do a better job of educating employees on this, because it would improve so much of what’s wrong in the workplace. We must explain that sometimes you simply need to do what you are asked. That you must remember to follow instructions, if for no other reason than your boss will be a jerk when you don’t. We have to help you understand your boss has pressure that you might not see. That your boss typically has a larger picture of the work, than just what you’re assigned to do. And, we have to help you see, no disrespect intended, that you have perhaps less than all the knowledge, experience, goals, and responsibilities of those above you.

When you lack empathy, your boss will surely seem like a jerk.

Is your boss a jerk? Tell me why and I’ll give you some guidance on how to cope. Email: Nance@NanceRosen.com. Subject line: Jerk.

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