I had the pleasure of meeting leaders in the anti-bullying movement this year, and instead of just walking away from a client that I really loved and was passionate about their mission, I decided to stay and this time take a stand against a verbally abusive bully.
And yes, I put myself in jeopardy with this client. But I was managing a team and this bully was affecting them, making them scared to speak up in meetings and the ideas stopped coming. If we were going to keep serving the customers in the best possible way, we had to remove this behavior.
Verbal Abuse Starts Small
Just like any abusive situation, it starts so small that it is barely noticable, and we like to think our minds are overreacting, but really it’s our intuition talking. Don’t ignore that subtle passive comment. It will only be followed by that demeaning remark disguised as a joke later. Hiding needed materials and processes so they can maintain control and meddle, positioning themselves as valuable.
Bullies and verbal abusers know how to barely stay within the boundaries of what is acceptable and what could be considered harassment. And they’re conscious of what they can get away with so that they keep repeating the behavior.
And it is such a silent killer until it blows up.
Now I love to show a little snarkiness and sarcasm, but when I became a leader, I forfeited my sarcastic jokes because I didn’t want my team to feel like I was being passive to them.
Before I always told myself to let the comments roll off my back. Let it go. Ignore it. We’re often taught that as kids, walk away, ignore it. But anyone who has ever been struck, pushed and shoved, or taunted so bad that there was a breaking point, ignoring the harassment wasn’t an option.
These bullies want you to hold it in so you can only blow up later, then YOU look like the crazy one, and they aren’t revealed as the instigator that they are.
So I stopped holding it all in, when I hear it, I’m not shy to call it out with a calm and firm voice.
I rarely lose my temper and get reactive, mostly because as a writer I channel most of my heavy emotions into characters. But not being firm upfront in the beginning ended up as me being labeled as “emotional” and my concerns were dismissed.
Should I tough it out?
The pay is great. I need my benefits. It’s a big company.
But is it worth suffering from the verbal abuse and bullying? Is it worth some insecure, threatened, miserable monster chipping away at your self-respect each day, just because they are miserable in their own lives?
Before you answer, do some research on people who worked previously with this manager or colleague and find out where they are now. Are they exceptionally successful? Exceptional meaning that they are high performers who have built some mental toughness that has earned them recognition and high achievements?
In media, there are jobs where people yell because of the high stress environment, but after working in production on these shoots, I was able to handle pressure better. I knew it was better to stay calm and not panic, allowing me to better problem solve and juggle many moving pieces.
And the same has been said about working with Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk, that they are verbally abusive and known to yell and curse at employees.
So ask yourself, will I be successful afterwards? Is this preparing me for something better?
That high level success from verbal abuse is rare. The leaders are exceptional people, like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, and the people who can mentally tough it out are rare too.
Verbal abuse is not something I’m searching for when I’m seeking a mentor or client because I know that it will affect my ability to learn.
So if the people that previously worked for the abusive employer haven’t gone onto successful jobs, then leave. Whether you graciously give your two weeks notice or walk out Jerry Maguire style, don’t let the verbally abusive people talk you into staying with empty promises like pay raises and promotions; that’s the same as having that bad relationship where they beg you to come back, promising you it will be better the next time.
You will not gain anything from that environment, and if you think that your employer will sabotage your career by leaving, they can’t do so much damage that will keep you from recovering. Remember that you can always bounce back from it and find something better.
A verbally abusive person has superpowers called gossip and manipulation. They tend to create stories around the people that they’re gossiping about: they’re crazy, they’re full of drama, they have issues, so their targets lose any credibility.
There are two ways to manage gossip from your verbal abuser:
Don’t participate. No matter how tempted you are to build alliances through sharing a common enemy, don’t engage in negative gossip. If you are managing a team, do not speak poorly of the person doing the verbal abuse in front of your team. Let the abuser fall on their own. Their time is spent gossiping and pinning people against each other and not improving their performance, and their lack of performance and preparation always shows in the long run.
Control the information going out. Everything you speak and present is going to be known to your abusers and don’t count on other people to keep secrets for you or cover for you. Asking them to keep secret certain information is only a recipe for disaster later because the team will be more divided and not to mention, you’re putting someone else in an awkward position.
Why won’t anyone stop this? For such a long time, I wished that I had someone who would have helped me stop this behavior, but each time I was only left out numbered.
Human Resources are not on your side, they are there to protect the company, not the workers. And if the abuser gets away with bad behavior over and over again, then most likely they have a protector in the company. Remember, manipulation is their strength and they used their influence over a decision maker.
I automatically assume that no one would come and help me.
And no one ever did.
All I got were empty phrases like, “we’re looking into this matter.”
But no results.
It’s no one’s job to help me. Living as a single mother taught me to fend for myself in this way.
All I have as my weapons of choice are strength, skills and leadership.
Positivity wins. Always. And each time I have an altercation with this bully, I think of my team. I think of us gathering together and toasting our success. I think of their hugs, telling me how much they learned and how excited they are for the future and their big dreams to come.
So I like to do a positivity exercise of writing out the outcome I want that benefits the whole team and the results we want TOGETHER.
Then I keep reading it. In my mind. Outloud. I have the vision in mind because I have to remember what I’m fighting for, what I’m working for; all those long hours away from my loved ones, all those hours should be working to make the lives of the people I serve one degree better. Get your mind thinking of positive wins instead of being vengeful towards someone who will later sink the company will be a source of strength. Going back to my written vision has helped me find better solutions since my mind isn’t clouded with negative thoughts.
Put your people first, and help them win. A bully will only put themselves first, never others. And this self-absorbed attention will be discovered.
I work my own business, and I have the freedom to choose the clients I want to work with. So after each project is over, I can stay or leave.
And just like that abusive partner, if the company keeps making the empty promises, keeps covering up the bad behavior and lies, then do all you can to equip your team with what they need to be successful, and as people start to leave the company, and they will, you know that you did all you could to serve people.