Standing up for yourself and confronting a workplace bully is not exactly build into all our inherent comfort zones. It takes a lot of courage to confront a problem versus passively avoiding it, in hopes it will just disappear. The problem with that is the passive approach is that the problems won’t necessarily go away—but what will slowly erode (even more) is your confidence and even how others view you at work.
What are we talking about here? Workplace bullies. Workplace bullies can take many forms. No, we’re not talking fist fights on an elementary school playground. Workplace bullies could mean that man who constantly interrupts you in meetings (you know the one—you can never get a full sentence out before he stops you); we’re talking about ignoring you and dismissing your opinions or concerns (ever feel like some men are pretending you don’t even exist?); or maybe it’s asking you to take the notes—every time—because you may be the only woman in the room.
Of course, these issues can happen to both men and women. But women in particular tend to have an especially difficult time with confidence.
Why is it so hard to stand up for yourself?
For one: it’s uncomfortable! It’s nothing you do every day, right? It’s a skill. You’ve gotten pretty darn good at the hundred other things you do daily in your life, whether it’s presenting, making a sales pitch, fundraising, running numbers on that latest proposal. You’ve perfected those skills over time because that’s what you do.
But (hopefully) it’s not every day that you have to stand up for yourself. Doing something you’re not used to doing tends to make you comfortable—it’s a natural reaction. It doesn’t matter whether it’s presenting on stage, going to a job interview or heck, doing that headstand in yoga. Now, combine the discomfort of something unusual with the fact that you’re confronting a human being who isn’t treating you with respect—well, that’s more than enough to make you squirm.
Strategies for overcoming your workplace bully
- Call them out. It doesn’t have to be public. You can pull them aside and confront them one to one. For example, if you’re experiencing issues in a meeting, you may want to corner your Bully during a break or just after the meeting. He’ll likely appreciate that you didn’t do it publicly—and you’re letting him know that you’re not finding it acceptable. Again, you don’t need to be crass about it, but you can ask, “Why didn’t you let me get a word in during the meeting? Every time I tried to make a point, you cut me off.” This is a respectful and pointed way at bringing attention to the issue. If he’s doing it on purpose, he’ll see that you won’t stand for it (a Bully’s nightmare!) If he’s not aware, your conversation will hopefully make him more self-aware.
- Find some allies. It could be your manager, a friend, another male co-worker. Confide in someone you trust and have them stick up for you—in meetings, in the hallway, etc. You know what they say: safety in numbers. You don’t have to do this all on your own.
- Document everything. If it’s a persistent problem, make sure you get something in writing. Take notes of when it happens, and any follow ups you may have with that person.
- Support other women. Help other women be heard. Repeat what they say in meetings. Call on them to speak if they look like they have something to say. Give them space to be heard and to have a seat at the table.
What issues have you experienced in the workplace, and how have overcome them?