Bullies are everywhere in the workplace, schools, or homes. Relatives, friends, siblings, and spouses could be bullies too. In the marketplace, they are at different levels; coworkers, bosses, and peers. In their toil to harm you, there are the neophytes, amateurs, and pros.
To handle bullies, one needs to define it first, become aware and adept in identifying if he is being bullied, and then use a strategy to combat the infiltrated venom.
Bullying is simply a person trying or intrinsically hurting you, physically, psychologically, or both. Bullying is an intentional act – a malicious one- to make you feel bad through intimidation, belittling, and humiliation. The reward for him/her is that (s)he feels good when (s)he sees the pain, discomfort, or loss you are enduring. At school, he enjoys seeing you embarrassed by your weakness – not being able to attack or stand up to him physically. The same dynamics in the workplace; the physical violence is substituted with the psychological one. The bully wants to undermine your ideas or efforts in a meeting, especially if (s)he is in a higher position than you but fear your technical prowess, knowing that you would be bound by the office politics and repercussions of standing up to your superiors.
How to spot them?
Not every act of bullying is blatant. Kids and their parents at schools or playgrounds can identify the bully quickly. In the workplace, signals are more subtle. In general, bullies crave power and superiority. Whenever you see a person tries to dominate the scene and highjack the attention from not only people who are organizationally lower than him but also from his peers or seniors, chances are you are in front of a star bully.
Signals of bullying in the workplace
1. Pay attention to those who cannot maintain eye contact with you, especially when you make a presentation or talk in meetings.
2. Pay attention to the persons who willingly look distracted when you talk, present, or discuss. They want to convey a message of belittling you, letting you know indirectly that there is no interest in what you have to offer.
3. Pay attention to that person who always interjects and interrupts you in the middle of a sentence. Or that who asks you to comment on a point you and the rest of the meeting attendees have already finished discussing and moved a long way from.
4. Pay attention to anyone who repeatedly and unjustifiably shows the audience how your suggestions or recommendations are invalid or impractical, or how your "findings" were known facts before you raise them.
5. When you share a joke or humorous occasion, pay attention to anyone who repeatedly does not even smile. The bully will make sure that the gesture of ignoring you is well transmitted.
6. When you enter a room with the audience seated around the table or reach a meeting room before everybody, pay attention to he/she who repeatedly does not acknowledge your presence and trying to give you minimal, if any, courtesy and protocol greetings.
7. When you talk, and the audience is listening attentively to you, pay attention to the person who repeatedly tries to discontinue the attention given to you by pulling one or more attendees to a side talk.
8. Pay attention to any person who blatantly labels you, discourages you, wrongs you, and unreservedly says to you in public: you are wrong.
9. Pay attention to the person who repeatedly calls people out, by their names, in meetings or gatherings, and asks them questions to test their preparedness, knowledge, or experience.
Why do they do it?
I do not know if that will console you, but make no mistake, every bully has a problem, a deeply psychological one. The aura of strength and power is a mask. Every bully suffers from an inferior self-image. They hurt people because they have been stepped over or have seen in their families, their beloved ones stepped over all the time – through abuse, harassment, or domestic violence. Bullies are frightened and fragile people; they think they need to attack people first to preempt people stepping on them. And make no mistake, do not believe they will be happy after shooting you; they will have a momentary enjoyment, but soon will revert to their fear and a distorted self-image. Bullies are lonely people; they look so jaded to make friends and alliances in workplaces, but you can see that only a few enjoy their presence.
Can they be stopped?
In general, if you are bullied in the workplace, do not count on your boss or HR to solve the matter for you. In the marketplace, it has been reported in many books that executives do not do anything to bullies in the senior and executive ranks.
Life is too short; you cannot cure the root causes even if the bullies are in your relatives or friendship circles.
Shelves are lined with books that suggest strategies to stop the bullying, such as sarcasm, calling the bullies out. Check out Dr. Lynne Curry work on "Beating the workplace bully," the work of Gary Namie on "bullyproof yourself at work," and Bully in Sight: How to Predict, Resist, Challenge and Combat Workplace Bullying
I'm afraid I must disagree with these strategies. Unpleasant experiences and literature of stoicism remind us that losing calmness will never yield winning with a bully. Anger, frustration, and argument will make the bully triumphant. I believe the best anti-bullying strategy in the workplace is empathy and kindness.
Bullies need constant validation that they are superior, more knowledgeable, more experienced, more foresighted, and mightier than you. Acknowledge, with brevity, their comments and criticism with kindness in a calm way. Do not lose your cool. If you happened to succumb to their pressure and lost your cool in one or many occasions with them, it is still a correctable situation. The bad news is that they will never stop trying, and the good news is that you can always transform yourself from being short-tempered to a calm person. If you follow the empathy strategy religiously, some bullies will get it; they will say, "this guy cannot be bullied or bothered," and hopefully, they will leave you alone. Check out Robert Greene's work on empathy.
Choosing an empathy strategy does not mean one becomes passive, submissive, and turning the other cheek. Bullying in workplaces can mostly be quelled by being mindful of the ethical, professional, and technical standards with empathy and kindness.
It is incumbent to distinguish between the acts of aggression. Not every act of aggression is bullying, as defined above. There are acts of aggression in which empathy, kindness, and being the "superior person" will not work.
There are morally depraved people in workplaces; they inflict their aggressions against whoever they label as outsiders. These aggressions are mostly motivated by sexism, racism, and sexual harassment. One needs another strategy to deal with such aggressions if departing that environment is not feasible.
It is also pertinent to identify and correctly determine the types of aggression against you to assess if they are systematic or sporadic. Suppose an organization's executive management sees the aggressions or bullying and does not work to change it. In that case, there is a systematic problem – management is content with the culture of aggressions.
In conclusion, professionalism, respect, and empathy should always be the first strategy to combat bullying.