Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 6;   February 10, 2010: Confronting the Workplace Bully: II

Confronting the Workplace Bully: II

by

Last updated: March 19, 2019

When bullied, one option is to fight back, but many don't, because they fear the consequences. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (Democrat of Wisconsin)

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (Democrat of Wisconsin), Senator from January 3, 1947, through May 2, 1957. He was a renowned bully who had made a career of accusing notables and government employees of associations with the Communist Party. Following his re-election in 1952, he was made Chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, which was thought to be a less-visible position where he would be relatively unable to continue his more outrageous bullying patterns. But this committee included a subcommittee, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which he bent to his will. Beginning in April, 1954, in 36 day of hearings televised by all three networks, he accused hundreds of people of treason and subversion, destroying countless careers and sometimes lives. But in one famous exchange with Attorney Joseph N. Welch, he met his match. On the thirtieth day of the hearings, on June 9, following a truly outrageous provocation by Sen. McCarthy, Mr. Welch confronted the bully with calm restraint. The hearings went on for six more days, but they were finished. The Senator's career unraveled rapidly thereafter. He was censured by the Senate on December 2, and his career was ruined. Listen to the exchange between McCarthy and Welch. Photo courtesy United States Senate.

Workplace bullies select targets carefully, focusing on those who can't or won't fight back, because bullies fear counterattacks. If you've been targeted, the bully probably believes you won't fight back, and, paradoxically, that's the key to successful confrontation. Here is Part II of our series on confronting the workplace bully, including six tips for managing an effective confrontation. See "Confronting the Workplace Bully: I," Point Lookout for February 3, 2010, for more.

Have a clear objective
You probably can't "fix" or instruct or improve the bully, because you haven't been asked to. But you can force the bully to find another target, or at least, cease targeting you. That is a clear, achievable objective.
It can't be achieved in one dramatic incident. Prepare for a campaign — a series of small face-offs.
Rely on strategic surprise
As you begin formulating a campaign, you'll feel an urge to counterattack immediately in small ways. Resist the urge. Bullies sense these changes. If you counterattack before you're really ready, the bully can prepare for whatever you finally decide to do.
Strategic surprise is a significant advantage. Maintain the posture of a helpless target until you can suddenly apply overwhelming force. See "Biological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying," Point Lookout for March 31, 2010, for more.
Most workplace bullying is psychological, not physical
While physical bullying does occur, most workplace bullying is psychological, consisting of rumors, lies, shunning, innuendo, exclusion, humiliation, shouting, insults, and more. Avoid physical confrontation, because criminal charges are likely.
Tactics for effective counterattacks depend on the tactics of the bully. Choose an approach at which you're more skilled — or can become more skilled — than the bully is.
In private, initiate; in public, respond
In each As you begin formulating a
campaign of counterattack,
you'll feel an urge to counter-
attack immediately in small
ways. Resist the urge.
confrontation incident, choose between initiating and responding. In private, initiating the confrontation is a powerful display of confidence and courage. Without witnesses, you have more tactical freedom. In public, wait to be attacked, and respond powerfully.
If you counterattack in public without provocation, you might seem yourself to be a bully. Provocation by the bully is essential to success in public counterattacks.
Choose a favorable setting
Choose the setting for counterattacks carefully. The most favorable setting is either private or one in which most onlookers are hostile to the bully.
Don't expect open demonstrations of support, because bullies make such demonstrations risky for your supporters. All you need is a few witnesses who are willing to say that the bully provoked you, and that you acted reasonably.
In attack, be cool
Screaming, tears, and other expressions of emotion reduce your chances of success. A cool, deliberative posture says, "I enjoy making trouble for you, because you've made so much trouble for me." It shows that you can carry out your plan for as long as necessary.
The goal of counterattack is to demonstrate that bullying you will be an expensive, painful affair. Coolness emphasizes and supports that message.

All these ideas work better if you believe in yourself. That is the place to begin. You can do it. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: The Politics of Lessons Learned  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just . Order Now!

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More articles on Workplace Bullying:

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A mixed stand of aspen and pine in the Okanagan region of British Columbia and Washington stateHow Workplace Bullies Use OODA: I
Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time rely on more than mere intimidation to escape prosecution. They proactively shape their environments to make them safe for bullying. The OODA model gives us insights into how they accomplish this.
An FBI SWAT team assists local law enforcement in New Orleans in August 2005The Paradox of Structure and Workplace Bullying
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See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An abandoned railwayComing August 21: Perfectionism and Avoidance
Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky. Available here and by RSS on August 21.
A dog playing catch with a discAnd on August 28: Playing at Work
Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.

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