Having to talk yourself down, and off the ledge should be a mandatory class in every high school’s curriculum. All of us will at some point be pushed beyond our breaking points. Whether we chose flight or fight, the consequences can be downright felonious.

Despite all the teenage angst we all endure, many of us are not sufficiently thick-skinned to shrug off abuse in the workplace. By and large, a new job starts with a honeymoon period. Everything is new and shiny (even if you work with an old goat). The scratches might be there, but the overall joy of learning the new environment obscures the damage lurking beneath the surface.

The toxic nature of a workplace manifests itself over time. It might be an envious, incompetent, insecure, immature, or sadistic co-worker, a group, or worse, a manager. And it might appear spontaneously, or creep up on you. But at some point, you will realize, that all that glitters is not gold.

The First Step is Recognition

As with most behavioral challenges, the key to either coping or resolving such is to first, recognize and name the problem(s). Many of us notice symptoms and signs, but fail to determine the root cause(s). Perhaps a manager constantly snipes at you.

You catch the negativity and the particular words, but you might consciously ignore such. Subconsciously though, we start to doubt our worth and echo that unjust criticism. Bullies in particular leverage the inherent insecurity most of us have, allowing them to trample us.

But being able to name the type of bullying neutralizes it. With a name, one can model the behavior and predict the actions as well as formulate responses. Like the tale of Rumplestilskin, uttering the name strips bullies of much of their power.

Watching a congressional inquiry recently, it was obvious that the congressman had not done his homework while he harangued a dutiful general about the pending year’s military budget. All the General had to do was respond with Okay, I don’t know that particular case, explain it to me and why there is an issue. The pandering congressman was at a loss for words.

Types of Bullying

Determining what is going on can be difficult at first. Some recommend that, if we can remain detached, we take an inventory of the actions and avoid our reactions from clouding our analysis. We can run through a list of possible models to see which best fits the behavior we are encountering. In quick summary, ask if it is:

  • Micro-managing
  • Inability to manage anger
  • Favoritism
  • Outright incompetence
  • Lack of vision
  • Lack of concern about detail
  • Insecurity, the need to humiliate others to bolster a fragile ego, or unable to praise and recognize the work of others
  • Hypocrisy
  • Inability to connect with others emotionally
  • Thieving, stealing the credit of others
  • Poor communication skills
  • Lack of self-reflection, inability to own up to shortcomings
  • Failure to recognize boundaries, inappropriate or mocking behavior
  • Deceptiveness, or being untrustworthy
  • Ignorance, veiled behind arrogance.
Source: themuse.com

For many of the above, if we can take the upper road and see ourselves forgiving the behavior, we can detach ourselves. This removes seeing ourselves in the equation and more so, as the target or victim. Instead, we can be clinical and observe the antagonist in an academic way. We need to believe in ourselves if only for our own mental health.

Once we reach this clinical plane, then we can start to dig into the motivations:

  • Might it be the person/people who fear exposure?
  • Are they insecure in their abilities?
  • Do they delight in the pain of others?
  • Are they out of their league and unable to find the right way to behave and motivate others?

Armed With Insights, Move Forward

Being able to predict the behavior of others gives us time to prepare. We might lack tools, power, or allies, but there are still ways we can remain civil and retain some power for ourselves. With each flaw there are solutions:

  • Micro-management – be prepared with status reports, demand detailed job specifications, and then push back that they are insufficient
  • Poor communication – offer to put words in their mouths
  • Thieving ideas – create a substandard product and suggest management improves such
  • Untrustworthy – do not offer any insights, circumvent management so that they are exposed
  • Favoritism – be silent, let the favorite flounder for solutions.

Lensa notes that when your boss makes you feel incompetent, after diagnosing such there are a couple of professional strategies we can take:

  • Reaching out for help – if there is an HR department, then involve them.
  • Confront management in a professional way

But core to it all is that we remain the better person even if we cannot bring about change. That might be by focusing on the positives, or handing in our notice.

We are not slaves. Though a job might be comfortable in other aspects, perhaps it is an easy commute, or the colleagues are great, there will come a point, on balance where you have to vote with your feet. And, if there is any comfort to be had, take a look at what motivated others to hand in their notices.

Be the Better Person

The key to it all is not to fly off the handle. Reacting in the worse course of action. Being violent or storming out, feeds the bullies. And, it can generate evidence to support action against us. Let’s not enable such, allow such to occupy our thoughts, nor impact our productivity.

If our managers cannot manage, then we need to lead and show their management that we are taking care of the business. If it is their company, then leave with the clients.

Recently, in many parts of the world teachers who have been underpaid for years have reached their breaking point. Despite legislation in some places locking them out of striking, many are still picketing.

Management said such was unlawful and they would be fired. So they asked if you fire us, who do you think will replace us? Who is willing to work for a less-than-willing wage? Nobody. We at least want to teach and we are willing to take home less money as we see this as a vocation.

But we’re telling you now, that we are suffering so badly that even we cannot afford to continue. It will be interesting to see the outcome. Bullying those in such an untenable situation will force them to leave. But they, at least, will have left retaining the moral high ground.

Those who replace capable people who quit because of management will find post-it messages warning them, like protagonists in a horror show, that the beast remains and to get out while they still can.