Dear Wounded: I work with a guy who has a very short fuse. Short of getting a new job, is there anything that I can do to minimize the odds he'll blow up in my face?
Answer: During college I spent a summer working in the geriatric unit of a state psychiatric hospital. One day a patient came up to me yelling and agitated. Before I knew what was happening, he punched me right in the jaw. I was nicknamed punching bag for the rest of the summer by the staff.
I was only punched once that summer, because from then on I was much more aware of trouble's warning signs. I also learned tricks for spotting and extricating myself from dangerous situations. I've listed below a series of potentially dangerous situations and strategies on how to respond. For more, check out "Angry Men" by Lynne McClure (Impact, 2004).
How do you deal with someone shouting in your face? It's tough to stay calm when someone is yelling in your face. One colleague had a great strategy to calm someone down; as soon as they started yelling he starts whispering. Turning and walking away is also a reasonable response to a bully. Find your own techniques for maintaining control and not allowing yourself to get sucked in to someone else's hostility.
Is it just best to agree with them and to try to move on? Often the path of least resistance is to just agree with someone who is hostile, violent or just a jerk. McClure says that some bullies can be testing you and that you'll only be able to deal with them if you stick by your guns and don't let them push you around. This is not a strategy for the faint of heart, so proceed down this path with caution.
What if they continue to harass you? Bullies hate a fair fight. That's why they tend to hassle specific people, usually when they are by themselves. It's important not to allow yourself to be isolated. Talk to HR, your boss, your union, EAP and to co-workers. There is often strength in numbers.
Is there any way to end the bullying? Some people have successfully stood up to a bully and put the crummy treatment behind them. More often it's important to build a case and collect all the evidence you can against the bully. Nasty e-mails, abusive notes and conversations overheard by co-workers can all help to document the problems created by the bully. Don't get mad, get evidence.
What if it gets unbearable? Unfortunately, as long as your organization doesn't deal with bullying behavior, the only way to solve the problem may be for you to leave. That's why it's so important to hold management accountable for maintaining a safe workplace and not just let bullies steamroll over everyone else.
Follow these tips and the only thing that should get punched at work will be the time clock.
We'd like to hear your strategy for dealing with a bully. I'll give an autographed copy of "Working Wounded: Advice that adds insight to injury" (Warner, 2000) to the best submission. Send your entry, name & address via: http://workingwounded.com or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries must be received by Wednesday (January 19).
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