Iris’s manager knows everything. He bullies Iris and her co-workers by being right and righteous; he’s sarcastic and demeaning. He destroys teamwork by his constant criticism. There’s never a word of praise, only correction and put-downs delivered in a haughty voice. Every sentence starts with an unspoken, “Well, stupid, you should know …” or an exasperated, “I’m so frustrated; you’re so incompetent.” He acts superior while he runs down each employee to the other managers or bigger bosses. He lists their faults and every mistake they’ve ever made. There’s never a word of praise for their many accomplishments. He seems to enjoy making each critical, hostile remark. He says that it’s for their own good; it’ll help them become perfect.
Iris feels chastised, like she’s a child being corrected by a harsh parent. She’s worked at the company for 15 years; her boss for 5.
What do you think should she do about his bullying?
Iris’s manager’s style of leadership is like the statement attributed to Captain Bligh of the Bounty, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” His verbal abuse creates a hostile workplace and it destroys her confidence and self-esteem. She wonders if there’s a kernel of truth in what he says. She’s also afraid of protest because he is her boss and she should respect his position, confrontation is distasteful and she might lose her job.
Iris is in a tough spot. Her boss is a well-known type. First, he’s a know-it-all who enjoys putting down people. Second, he’s also the town gossip, dishing the dirt on everybody. Bullies like him rarely change because of pressure from below. After all, he does know best.
Doesn’t he sound like some parents we all know who think that the best way to help their children is to pound them relentlessly and embarrass them in public? Deep down, these merciless parents do feel self-satisfied and righteous. Know-it-all bullies and town-gossips sometimes change when there’s strong, consistent pressure from above. The pressure must be coupled with, “Change or you’re gone.” But Iris’s manager has made himself seem indispensible to the bigger bosses, so Iris will have some difficult choices:
- Be as straightforward as she can with the bigger boss, knowing that her manager will find out and try to get her fired.
- Go to the bigger boss with most of the team, in hopes that the weight of numbers will sway the bigger boss.
- Find a bigger boss that she thinks will act wisely and keep her from getting terminated.
- Transfer to another department or look for another job – which is hard since Iris’s been there 15 years.
- Take it as best she can until she retires.
Iris should realize that her manager will take whatever she does as mutiny and will try to strike back. I’ve rarely seen know-it-alls and town-gossips change. Iris’s in a tough fight.
Coaching and the book, “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” helped Iris see her boss as a bully. She realized how skilled she was at work and that she could get other jobs. She refused to waste 8 hours a day for the rest of her life in workplace-hell. Her determination and courage soared.
She used the five-step process and decided to go to the big boss. But the big boss only gave Iris a lecture on how valuable Iris’s manager was. The big boss wouldn’t even let Iris make her case.
Two bullying bosses were two too many for Iris. She resigned. She was surprised when she rapidly received a number of better job offers.
Iris said that the big inspiration for her came when she had a name for what was happening – “bullying.” That freed her from her self-imposed restraints. She said that she felt the weight of the world lifted from her shoulders. She now feels free and alive like she hasn’t for years.
I think that self-esteem begins with actions. Strategic action (whether it works out the way we hope or not) increases confidence and self-esteem. Iris got herself out of a situation that she couldn't change.
She was successful. Notice I say that without any knowledge of the future – whether her new job will be better in the long run. Success is measured by the right actions you take, not by how wonderful it works out each time. In the long run, as you keep taking the right actions every day, you'll get more of the results you want. And your personal and work space will have fewer bullies to bother you or waste your time.