Friday, April 1, 2011

Do NOT wave the red flag!

Picture of charging bull by Bart Hiddink
Look out - or someone's gonna get hurt!
I've been fortunate to work with some incredible - and incredibly talented - people. I've been inspired by them and challenged by them. I've learned a lot from peers, colleagues and bosses.

One of my first bosses was truly impassioned about his work. He cared deeply about working for CIDA - and that zeal was contagious. It ensured that, whatever project or task we were working on, we never lost sight of why we were doing it. He also (bless his heart) trusted me and gave me a great deal of leeway. He listened to everyone.

That combined atmosphere of passionate vision and trust built one of the best teamwork environments I've experienced. At the time, it was something I took for granted, but I don't anymore.

Sadly, I've also encountered some workplace bullies along the way. They drive me crazy, but I have no idea how to deal with them.

I'm not talking about the out-and-out abusive bully or harasser. I'm talking about those slippery passive-aggressive eels. Everything they say is defensible. If you transcribed it, everything they've said would sound reasonable. (If only you could record the tone of voice, the sarcasm or snippyness.) They don't listen; they're never wrong; the only way a disagreement ends is when you stop arguing and give up.

What puzzles me is that these people are often also very charismatic. Smart - brilliant, even - witty, well spoken. They are people that I find myself wanting to suck up to, to befriend and impress. It drives. Me. Nuts. (Sorry about the staccato punctuation, Jeff, but it really does work in this context.)

It brings out my own passive-aggressive tendencies! Never a good thing.

I dug up an article I remember Donna Karlin, my former shadow coach, posting. She covers some of the hallmarks of a bully and suggests,

If you challenge them again but this time have an audience or allies, they will be disempowered and their bullying house of cards will all come toppling down...

If you're being bullied in the workplace, speak to staff relations. Leadership. Anyone you can who will support you and not try to sweep this under the rug.
Good advice, but personally, I've never been able to confront any of the people I've perceived as bullies. I've just avoided them. (Hence the title of this post.) About all I can boast is that I've become much swifter at recognizing them and not wasting time either arguing with them or trying to win them over.
What about you? How have you dealt with this, either in the workplace or in your personal life? Any tips to share?

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