March 17, 2007

Beware the workplace bully

'Many of us have been in the situation where we've been brimming with great ideas but are constantly thwarted by a boss who ignores us, is threatened by us, or uses our ideas without giving us credit.

This can be extremely frustrating - and worse - it could make us lose confidence and feel ineffective. But how do we get our bright ideas past a 'bad' boss? Management consultant and author of Workplace Bullying Andrea Needham, says what to do depends on what type of bad boss you have.

Needham says there are three types of bad bosses:
The workplace bully. The incompetent boss. The boss who is driven by his or her ego.

The most common type of bad boss in New Zealand is the incompetent boss, Needham says. This is the person who has been promoted beyond his or her capability (often referred to as the Peter Principle). "More than 50 per cent of bad managers are not bullies - they're sad, scared people," she says. "This boss is terrified of the employee."

He or she doesn't want someone else to shine and when approached with an idea is likely to pretend to be interested but then do nothing about it. He may say: 'That's a great idea,' but the body language will say something else. This boss has probably been promoted through the old boy's network. It's someone who didn't make waves and new ideas are about making waves."He sends mixed messages. If you push him, he will retreat and treat you as if you don't know anything. There's no substance to this manager and he or she is very difficult to deal with," she says.

A boss with plenty of substance, but who is also difficult to deal with is the workplace bully. Needham explains that the workplace bully is a narcissistic psychopath who will encourage you to bring your ideas forward, but will never give you credit for them. "This boss will definitely encourage you to come up with ideas, and will bring them to life, and that's fine if you're prepared to get no credit for them," Needham says.

The bully also puts you down behind your back to try to discredit you - so no one would imagine that you would come up with any good ideas at all. "The bully is easier to recognise than the others. He will use your idea, take it forward and take responsibility for it. He's not afraid and if confronted will give you a half-dressed excuse."

But how to deal with these bosses - how do you get your ideas implemented and credited to you? Needham has one word: Network. "Networking is the key. This is establishing your own credibility and knowledge base. Get to know people in the organisation, trust your own instincts and present a nice, friendly way of doing things."

When the workplace bully puts you down behind your back, networking can be critical. "Build networks otherwise you're another face in the crowd. It helps you ensure you have credibility, no matter what your boss says about you. Your networks will start arguing for your ideas to go forward."

Needham says that when dealing with the incompetent boss it's a good idea to get other employees or bosses in the organisation to advocate on your behalf. "This is not about kissing up to people. It's about building good, solid realationships."

She recommends if, for example, you have a friend in a different department, you can ask him to fly your idea with his boss. This could eradicate the problem of your boss. "It's sensible to create strong networks in and outside of your organisation. If you feel you need to change jobs, you can use your outside sources to find out about a job you're applying for."

Having a good network is like having an extended family in a business sense, Needham says."Use them like they use you. Be interested in others. People with corresponding and opposite strengths can help you."

The third type of bad boss that Needham mentions is the one with the ego."This boss's ego is so big, he or she doesn't believe the minions will come up with anything interesting." This boss thinks he or she is superior to everyone else, but is often "not overly smart." The superiortity is usually self appointed. Sometimes it's good breeding that gives him or her that attitude, sometimes it's an highly-rated education.

"He thinks he's truly above the rest of us. His elitism is ingrained and he's both pompous and arrogant. He often has friends in high places and is most often condescending and patronising with his employees."

Needham says there's no real way past this boss. "Be prepared for a dull life. In this job you're simply funding your weekend. If you do what this boss wants, you'll get bones every now and then - he expects you to 'be good'." She says the only interest in staying with this boss is to observe human behaviour. If you want your ideas to fly, you have to find another job. Needham acknowledges that working for a bad boss can be debilitating for an employee. "You need to be self-aware and know your strengths. Market those strengths through networking. You're not skiting about yourself - if you don't believe in yourself and your strengths, no one else will."

An Auckland policy analysist (who doesn't want to be named) says he has experienced many bad bosses and divides those he's experienced into four.

* The egotistical, political, selfish ones: Pitch your ideas in terms of the benefits and kudos to the manager as much as in terms of the benefits to the organisation - accepting that they would later pass those ideas off as their own.

* The overworked manager (not necessarily a bad boss): Prepare yourself well and be primed to deliver the idea concisely and be out of the office in five minutes.

* The nasty, bullying ones: Set the scene by prefacing any meeting with a concise email outlining the core of the idea and covering all bases, and suggesting that you will talk later. Then prepare yourself to answer any awkward questions.

* The bosses that are not too smart: State the idea in the simplest possible terms.

"It's a great pity, but the truth is that often good people have to leave jobs that otherwise they would enjoy, simply because of poor management," he says, adding that people often don't think hard enough when making managerial appointments these days.'

By Val Leveson, from:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice - brings up the ...if only feeling... I'm sure that that networking is crucial. Universities are great places and I know that in my uni there are some great people and I should have been far more strategic...

Now that wpb is becoming more acknowledged it should become easier for academics to spot when they are being bullied and take appropriate action....

too late maybe for some of us... but we can pass on the baton to those of you who come after us so that you have more knowledge and skills than we/I had...

... I suffered within a culture of bullying for years because I didn't really understand what was happening to me...

If you are feeling totally in despair, emotionally exhausted go to your doctor and ask for time off for stress related illness.

This is NOT a sign of weakiness - it is you valuing yourself and saying I am not prepared to put up with this shit...

...then take lots of physical exercise...go to cultural events... things that you haven't had time to up your strength... and then return to work glowing with health and ready to start again... fight on...and on...and on...

In solidarity with everyone who reads this blog and who has experienced WORK PLACE BULLYING...

Aphra Behn