You’ve got the hard skills, which partially represent the equation for a thriving career. What do you do, however, when dealing with people who are difficult, unmotivated, or who act like bullies?
Science is the part of a career that STEM professionals live for! We love spreadsheets, data, coding (some of us anyway), the analysis and the problem-solving. We speak our own language of numbers and acronyms.
And we also love the things in life that are certain. For the most part, numbers are certain, math is certain, science is (assumed to be) certain. Plans, instructions, and checklists also make us feel certainty. After all, if we perform according to protocol, nothing should go wrong, correct?
Hence, we marvel in the sciences and the problem-solving tactics during college. That’s why we go to college for heaven’s sake. We want to study that which can produce a concrete answer. Answers are black or white, right or wrong, good or bad.
Unfortunately, there is quite a problem with this kind of one-sided training. The problem is that there is a critical disconnect: dealing with people.
The training you receive in college, i.e., the hard skills, serve very practical purposes:
– They allow you to obtain a professional job.
– They allow you to perform the scientific part of your job. And if you don’t know how to complete a technical challenge at work, you have the brain to figure it out.
– Your technical skills form a foundation upon which you continue to build. You may choose to reinforce those hard skills, or add newfound skills, such as communications, leadership, or sales.
This is fine and dandy.
However, who taught you how to deal with human nature at work? For example, what is the right way to handle a toxic work environment? What is the best response when management bombards you with unreasonable requests? How do you address a difficult, needy customer that signed a big fat contract which is funding your work?
This, my friends, is where the disconnect lies. Your scientific training will not equip you to manage the largest uncertainty in the workplace: people.
College prepared you for a portion of your everlasting professional challenge. The other challenge involves the art of dealing with people.
The Science of a Career: Hard Skills
The Art of a Career: Human Nature
The Science and Art to a Successful Career
You may have been blindsided in the workplace by human behaviors. Likely, you were not taught that career success depends on the art of dealing with people.
So, what is the best tactic when coworkers or bosses are stubborn, unreasonable, or uncooperative?
I will provide the short version of a complex answer: strengthen your internal foundation. The stronger your mental wellness and your internal perception of self, the more skilled you become at managing others. This includes elevating your self-worth, your self-acceptance, your self-confidence. It also includes the willingness to be vulnerable, to set boundaries and to be authentic.
The art of dealing with people can seem tricky, frustrating and overbearing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Ask me how you can start to dominate your interpersonal skills and make your career thrive!
There is a fierce office work debate as mask-wearing declines and Americans are itching to enjoy the summer life. Employers must come to terms with either work from home, in-office, or a hybrid.
In One Corner
On one side of the office work debate, companies want workers in the office for myriad reasons, including:
people are social creatures, and they need social interaction
workers are not disciplined enough to get work done amidst the distractions of home life
employees generally need structure, direction, and supervision
the ability to engage with others about ridiculous or mundane aspects of work is good thing
there is no spontaneous beer evening or a table football tournament
it helps in production of endorphins and this helps creativity, innovation and productivity
And it seems one of the strongest arguments for bringing people into the office, according to recent articles, is: it promotes impromptu conversations that lead to innovation.
In the Other Corner
Let us assess the other side of the office work debate. Arguments against hard-line policies of brick-and-mortar environments include:
introverts work best in a quiet zone without distractions
open office plans are a hindrance to work and demean the human spirit
employees have more control over their time
in-office policy is mostly about power control and old-fashioned social proof
the freedom of not being confined to cube farms allows for creativity and originality
COVID has shown that some employees can be just as, if not more productive from home
helps retain women in the workforce
And perhaps the strongest argument for allowing employees to work from home: because they can.
Despite the corner you gravitate towards, I encourage you to read Post #49 for strategies that will help your career flourish.
The Human Corner
For one minute, let’s forget about productivity, power and profits.
And let’s ask ourselves, in the midst of WFH contemplation, what about human dignity?
First, how about companies stop forcing humans to over-congregate, whether in open spaces or in cube farms? Second, what if companies were to stop demanding how, where and when ‘workers’ should be productive. Picture a ban on this one-size-fits-all philosophy. A philosophy implemented, most likely, because it’s easy and cheap.
Instead, picture an environment wherein companies value employees as humans. In other words, ‘workers’ are not thought of as machines that need to be ‘fixed’ or as cattle that need to be herded. In fact, they are not even thought of as ‘workers.’
Imagine a world in which each employee possesses inherent value and human needs. Also imagine a way each employee can fulfill those needs in conjunction with providing work value. Those needs could include quiet time, privacy, or access to daylight. For others, those needs could mean eating when they need to eat or being sick when they need to be sick.
Perhaps the most important human need is the freedom to practice agency over our own human lives.
Are your employees treated as humans first or money-makers first?
In Part I, we explored various definitions of and reasons why bullying happens at work. In Part II, you are presented with options along with reminders tips if you are being bullied at work.
Bullied At Work: Your Options
Here are some options you can consider if you are bullied at work. There is no one-solution fits all. Clearly, your decision to deal with bullying depends on your physical and mental health, as well as your level of self-confidence.
While you cannot control another person’s behaviors, you can control the manner in which you respond. Here are some considerations as you decide how to move forward:
Challenge your bully – it may be uncomfortable, especially if you like to avoid conflict, but it is a chance to let the bully know you are on to him (or her). It is also a chance, given you are alone in a conference room, to ask them what they hope to accomplish by bullying you. Make them articulate the answer.
Documentation – it can be tricky to gather hard evidence if you are bullied at work. On the surface, emails and verbal comments may seem innocuous to outsiders. My suggestions if you want to start a paper trail: 1) summarize each individual meeting, conversation or interaction with the perpetrator, 2) send these summaries to all who were present, 3) request any objections to your summary be emailed back to you, 4) repeat until everyone has concurred. This could be timely but worthy if you are trying to gather evidence.
Direct management – do you trust your immediate manager enough to voice your concerns? If so, voice them cautiously. From the manager’s perspective, you may come across as whiney or entitled. The last thing a manager wants is to diffuse a personality conflict among employees. Therefore, your direct management may do what it takes to make this go away; be prepared to not like the response.
Indirect management – do you dare go above your immediate manager and voice your concerns to upper management? If your direct supervision is part of the problem … then, perhaps the answer is yes. Again, do so cautiously. Chances are that upper management does not want to hear about personality problems with subordinates. In their minds, they don’t get paid to perform conflict resolution. Prepare yourself for undesirable outcomes.
Colleagues, friends, family – perhaps venting is okay once or twice, but put yourself in their shoes. When you consistently vent that you are bullied at work, yet you do not help the issue, you will turn people off. They will stop listening or avoid you. Take precaution if opening up to colleagues! You never know who they rub elbows with when you are not around, and your complaints could backfire.
Bring a business case to HR – if you think HR is the route for you, listen up. Document and calculate dollars lost due to the bullying. For example, how much time are you not working during the day due to the bullying? How much time is the bully not working due to the bullying? Tally your sick days and doctor visits. Which projects or assignments have been late due to your distress? Chances are, walking into an HR office with a list of complaints won’t get their attention. However, providing a list of estimated dollars lost makes for a stronger case.
*As an aside, I happen to think it is ludicrous for any HR office to turn a blind eye to bullying complaints. It is tragic if they show no empathy for your human feelings; dollars lost should be a trivial matter.
Legal counsel – if this is the route for you, then prepare to pay. You will pay with your time and your money. I caution you to not get attached to a positive outcome. Lawyers are not magicians. Sometimes, all the money in the world cannot buy the outcome you’d like.
Therapy – per psychologytoday.com, the definition of therapy is: Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy or usually just “therapy,” is a form of treatment aimed at relieving emotional distress and mental health problems. Provided by any of a variety of trained professionals—psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or licensed counselors—it involves examining and gaining insight into life choices and difficulties faced by individuals, couples, or families.
Quit – and hope your next work environment is friendly.
Life Coach – what I teach as a life coach is a critical meta skill that can be applied to any area of your life. It is the skill of recognizing and reframing your thoughts/beliefs to a manageable state for a healthy, coherent life. In other words, I teach you the art of adapting your brain’s beliefs to life circumstances, which liberates you from futile attempts to seek out the ‘right’ situations.
We go to work because it provides a living: salary, benefits, retirement, promotions, etc. However, if these are the end goals of your career, you may be missing the whole point. While these features are wonderful, they are merely byproducts, or results, of your career. They are not the purpose of your work.
The purpose of your career is:
Service: contribution toward something greater than you as an individual … for the sake of serving
Development: evolve your skills and progress your character by defeating obstacles and challenges
Legacy: manipulate your authentic skills to impact a job/company and leave it in a better position than when you started
Having stated this, everyone’s challenge is to fulfill this career purpose despite circumstances, despite negativity, despite bullies.
There is something magical about showing up, serving, performing your best, and rising above the attacks. But, this requires stamina, courage and high self-confidence.
If you are bullied at work and it’s overwhelming and you fear for your well being, take action to stop the bleeding. Careers are fluid and unpredictable, your health is priceless.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, more than 60 million working people in the United States are affected by bullying.
About 70 percent of bullies are male, and about 30 percent are female. Both male and female bullies are more likely to target women. Sixty-one percent of bullying comes from bosses or supervisors. Thirty-three percent comes from co-workers (see healthline.com article).
Bullying is different from harassment, because harassment implies an offense that occurred against a protected class of people. There are no laws against workplace bullying in the United States.
Workplace bullying can be tricky to define, as it spans many overt and indescribable activities. It is also subjective, which makes bullying more difficult to prove.
According to healthline.com, workplace bullying shows itself in different ways:
Verbal – This could include mockery, humiliation, jokes, gossip, or other spoken abuse.
Intimidating – This might include threats, social exclusion in the workplace, spying, or other invasions of privacy.
Related to work performance – Examples include wrongful blame, work sabotage or interference, or stealing or taking credit for ideas.
Retaliatory – In some cases, talking about the bullying can lead to accusations of lying, further exclusion, refused promotions, or other retaliation.
Institutional – Institutional bullying happens when a workplace accepts, allows, and even encourages bullying to take place. This bullying might include unrealistic production goals, forced overtime, or singling out those who can’t keep up.
Follow-up examples include:
targeted practical jokes
being purposely misled about work duties, like incorrect deadlines or unclear directions
continued denial of requests for time off without an appropriate or valid reason
threats, humiliation, and other verbal abuse
excessive performance monitoring
overly harsh or unjust criticism
My favorite workplace bullying definition is quoted in this monster.com article: “Workplace bullying is psychological violence.”
How do Bullies Get Away With It?
Per this article from themuse.com, bullies are often high performers. They might be a top salesperson who brings in huge deals worth millions. Whatever it is, they’re bringing value to the company, which means the company has an incentive to keep them onboard (and happy).
Some bullies also work to ingratiate themselves to their superiors (and perhaps their peers, too). Doing so as they abuse one or more of the folks they oversee or work with. Put all that together, and instead of being held accountable for their bullying behavior, they might be getting rewarded with praise, raises, or promotions. And you might be all the more intimidated by the prospect of casting a shadow on such a star.
The reality is that most bullying situations (77% according to WBI’s survey) end in the target leaving their job, whether because they got fed up and quit or they ended up getting fired.
What bullies have in common, whether on the playground or in the workplace, is insecurity. All forms of bullying originate from internal insecurities. When bullies refuse to accept or fix their insecurities, they are driven to overcompensate by treating others terribly.
Because, after all, if you look bad at work, it makes those around you look good.
Workplace bullying is real, it’s prevalent (whether COVID or not), and it can have deleterious effects on the target. Part II explores what your options may look like if you are the unfair target of workplace bullying.