Question: I work for a small business and the manager is a total jerk, a bully in full form. His management approach is pressure cooker. It’s not uncommon to see him blow up at an employee, berating them for a minor problem. He relishes firing people in front of other workers. He assigns impossible tasks with unreachable deadlines and explodes when things aren’t up to his expectations. What do I do?
Response: My sense of it is that the culture of an organization is established by one or two key opinion leaders. It may be a small group, where the leadership dynamics have descended into a desperate competition of egos and will to succeed.
The first step is to understand the dynamics of what is really happening. To do this, a person has to be able to step back and evaluate what’s going on and why. This is often much harder than it seems. Next, you are going to have to identify who are the opinion leaders. Where is the power, and who is pushing the “mean” button. Where is the pressure coming from, and why?
Then, you’ve got to have a turtle shell. The flow of bad Karma has to just bounce off that shell. You’ve got to maintain your identiy, ego, self-worth, and self-identity in the onslaught of all the garbage thrown at you. That requires you to stand up for yourself. If someone gives you an unreasonable request, you have to respond that it is unreasonable. If someone acts in an inappropriate fashion, you cannot allow yourself to be bullied. If someone raises their voice and yells at you, you have to look them in the eye and calmly ask them to lower their voice, you are capable of hearing them at normal levels. If they make accusations, use invectives, or other forms of bullying, you must have the strength to calmly state that such behavior is innappropriate. If they persist, you must remind them that such behavior constitutes a hostile work environment, and that they will be far more effective if they can calm down and discuss things rationally. Finally, yelling and threatening someone in an aggressive fashion constitutes assault under the law.
Importantly, you should document all behavior which is “over the line.” You may wish to surrepticiously record inappropriate behavior (be sure to check your state law on this before doing it.) In any case, keep a detailed log. Document thoroughly. Date, time, where, who said what. Remember that you always have a nuclear option, and the more outrageous the behavior, the greater your power becomes.
Finally, be sure to consider your legal options. Workplace harassment is a growing area of litigation. Consulting an attorney at some point may be a very helpful step, and in any case will provide some options and a second opinion.
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