Friday, September 18, 2009

How to Be a Better Bully

I know you’ve seen them – office bullies who intimidate and harass their colleagues.

Now, I’m not actually suggesting you practice bullying or become the office bully. Although, if you are so inclined, you may find some of these methods – which I have seen used over the years – useful.

The ‘expert bully’ throws his weight around by claiming to be the preeminent expert. One colleague I worked with used to claim that “It’s against the laws of physics,” whenever he wanted to get his way. He was a senior level technical guy, and he happened to have a PhD in physics. It didn’t matter that we were talking about things that had nothing to do with physics… like a marketing slogan, or the color of the stripe on the new machine.

I mean really – is the space-time continuum going to be disrupted with a new marketing slogan? Will we defy gravity if we paint the stripe blue instead of red? Our conversations usually went something like this:

Me: “We need a new system for small and medium business clients.”

Expert Bully: “It’s against the laws of physics.”

Me: “The market data shows that we have over 5000 customers who would buy it.”

Expert Bully: “That’s not possible – it’s against the laws of physics.”

Me: “Clients are running out of processing power on the systems they have, but they can’t afford the high end system.”

Expert Bully: “The laws of physics say that can’t be true.”

Me: “You do your job and I’ll do mine. Besides, I’m right and you’re wrong.”

Okay – I didn’t say that last part – but I should have. I can’t recall the expert bully ever winning one of these ridiculous arguments, but he sure caused a lot of chaos and extra work.

Now let’s look at the ‘endurance bully’. These guys (okay – they’re not always guys – I’m using the term generically) are in it for the long haul, and can be particularly effective.

Surprisingly, endurance bullies tend to be nice. They are methodical, calm, and never yell. After all, they are running a marathon – they need to conserve their energy. The technique? Endurance bullies ask as many questions as possible that promote their position and discredit yours, and above all – they outlast their opponents.

This can be particularly effective in management personnel discussions when the bully’s candidate is up against yours for a promotion (for example). For everything nice you have to say about your candidate he will have two nice things to say about his candidate and one negative thing about yours.

And an hour later, when the meeting really must end, he will have the last word – always. I swear… endurance bullies have an internal time clock that lets them know exactly when the boss will make that decision.

Now it’s your turn – tell us about your favorite bullying techniques.


Anonymous said...

how bout the "we need more details bully" similar to the endurance bully, the need more details guy will keep asking for more info and more info, essentially wearing you out to the point of not even remembering the intial thing you were trying to accomplish.

Anonymous said...

In my (considerable) experience, incompetence is at the root of most of the above-described (or "political") office bullying.

If these clowns knew what they were doing or had any good ideas, they'd be working instead of spending 7 out of every 8 hours undercutting everybody around them.

Anonymous said...

My personal fave: The bully who changes corporate efforts by removing the name(s) of those who worked on a project from the finished effort (book, product launch, etc.). Mao and Stalin used this method (among others less often experienced in the corporate world): Rewrite history by rendering the past inaccessible. No coauthorship, no acknowledgments, no shared kudos, no face in the group photo---nada, nunca, niente. No exaltation for anyone except the bully, who is then touted as the lead author, designer, producer, poobah, of course. And history doesn't lie---does it?

Firefly said...

Oh yeah, these are good ones -- the "we need more details" bully definitely creates chaos and delays projects. And, I agree, there's no excuse for those "take all the credit bullies."

Anonymous said...

How about the territorial bully? He opposes any changes are perceived to encroach on his territory even though these changes are critical to the future of the organization and have been blessed. This bully will do everything - covert and overt - to undermine change.

Firefly said...

Oh yes -- the territorial bully -- I think he's related to the not-invented-here bully.

Anonymous said...

Misery has company. My bully experience is: The application manager came out of his office frustrated and in an emotional state and saw me in the hallway. He had just erased a database in the test environment that his team had worked on for weeks. I was the new DBA and a woman. Therefore, his approach was to raise his voice, yell and rant at me about why I should have been backing up his test environment.
After what seems like 5 minutes of his yelling and verbal abuse, I said, "I did back up your environment". I recovered what he stupidly almost lost and did not hear a peep out of him again - ever.

Anonymous said...

So the point is... use the look ... it exposes them for the idiots they are and sends them running with their tails between their legs.

Firefly said...

Anonymous -- yeah! that sure is a great way to beat a bully down!

Anonymous said...

A different kind of bully: marches in, quickly derides how the job is being done now (without identify what is bad about it), condemns everyone who used to do the job, launches a revamping of how to do the job, fails to socialize the new process with everyone involved, gets annoyed when it is not immediately adopted by everyone impacted,
eventually claims success (although little has changed).

Anonymous said...

After being bullied and losing my job because of it, I read this book, and I highly recommend it.

Take the Bully by the Horns: Stop Unethical, Uncooperative, or Unpleasant People from Running and Ruining Your Life, by Sam Horn

Read it!!!

Firefly said...

Anonymous -- thanks for suggesting the book. It is highly rated on Amazon.