Women on Women Bullying in the Workplace: I was a victim

Recently, a fellow blogger (the fabulous Beth Rago of Parenting Without a Parachute) posted a link on FB to an article by Barbara Greenberg in the Huffington Post about women on women bullying.  Greenberg describes being treated very coldly by another female co-worker, who would do such things as say hi to everyone but Greenberg and even excluded her from the lunch table!

This reminded me of someone I used to work with - a woman - who treated me in much the same way.  I just thought she had a terrible personality.  It never occurred to me that I was being bullied.

But, bullying wasn't part of the conversation in our culture at that time. And now, looking back, I'm pretty sure I was a victim!  This co-worker would refuse to answer my questions and dismiss me from her office, refuse to acknowledge me with even a 'hi' in the hallway and told me on my first day on the job that I probably wasn't going to learn much at this place.  Yeah, a welcome wagon, she was not.

Now, as I recall this, I can't help but wonder 'What the hell was her problem?'  Greenberg offers some possible reasons for women on women bullying, including stress, perfectionist ideals, competition.  In my case, it could have been a reaction to her own dissatisfaction with her job and workplace.  Or, it could have just been me.  Or, it could have been all of the above.  I'll never know.

Whatever the reason, it's no way to act in a professional environment.

But, the experience did teach me a few things about dealing with bullies in the workplace - male or female -
1/ When in doubt, kill the bully with kindness - even if you are rebuffed in the chilliest of ways, never give anyone - especially the bully - the opportunity to point to any unprofessional behavior on your part.
2/ Steer clear of the bully as best you can and just do your job - and do it well, as best you can.  Never give anyone - especially the bully - the opportunity to point to any lack of effort on your part.
3/ Sidle up to a cheerleader.  The best career advice - and life advice - I ever received was to surround yourself with people who are rooting for you, who want to see you do well.  Find a mentor, a cheerleader.  In the workplace, as in high school, cheerleaders can provide much needed support while climbing the pyramid.

And, in Stop and Blog the Roses spirit, today, I am grateful for the cheerleaders in my career and in my life who have saved me -

from doing something stupid in response to a bully
and a seat at the lunch table.

~~~~~~~
Thank you for reading Roses! Follow me on Twitter @FernRonay and on Facebook here.
And, if you're in the market for a birthday gift for yourself or someone else, why not give the gift of gratitude? Roses, the book, is now available on Amazon here.

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  • Jennifer,
    I am ashamed to say at one time, I was a workplace bully. Driven by insecurity and fear, I surrounded myself with other negative people and I let myself get sucked in by the drama. This was totally out of my true character and I allowed myself to be harsh to co-workers and stir up drama that was completely unnecessary. I would like to apologize to you and the other women I hurt during that time. I personally went through a great awakening when I broke free from my group of negative friends and never looked back. During an intense personal time in my life, I realized you never know what is going on in the life of a person. How they could be hurting... I felt extremely guilty for the way I acted and sent a message to one of the women I know I hurt the most. I humbly apologized for being rude.

    People act this way out of fear and insecurity. I know I did. And when these actions are fueled by surrounding yourself with other negative people, it is so easy to spiral into a rotten individual. Thank you for writing this piece and being a strong and lovely person, Jennifer. I work every day to make up for the ignorant way I acted long ago.
    A Happy Monday to YOU! :)

  • In reply to Beth Rago:

    Beth! What courage it takes to admit having been a bully at one time! And even more courage to have changed your ways. It's not easy to escape negative people once you've been sucked in, especially at work where we spend so much of our time.

    You are so right - you never know what is going on in the life of a person. I am working on a book right now where one of the characters is inspired by this woman I describe above and in the end, we learn why she acts the way she does. It doesn't excuse it but it exemplifies my favorite quote - Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

    Thank you so much and happy Monday to you too :)

  • In reply to FernRonay:

    Yes, hanging around negative people is such a detriment to your life. It was amazing how I changed when I stopped placing myself in a toxic environment and changed my mindset about life. I feel it is very important to admit when you are wrong and apologize if you screw up. One of my mantras is "Be kind to everyone, no matter what."

    I am so excited to hear about your book and I can't wait to read it!!
    :)

  • How about the boss who is the bully? Walking up and down the aisle where all the cubes are and completley ignoring you. At this point it is very funny. I just laugh out loud when he says good morning and good bye to everyone but me. I am not going to lose any sleep over him not talking to me!

  • In reply to erver:

    Luckily, my bully wasn't my boss but I have had bully bosses and it is a tough situation. Hopefully, he doesn't hold you back. Glad you can laugh about it. Sometimes, it's all you can do!
    Thanks so much for commenting!

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    Being kind to a bully and ignoring those actions are fine unless it's affecting your job. If you are not informed of meetings, not given information you need to do your job, being pushed to do more faster and faster....that's not where kindness or a smile will be an answer. Surrounding yourself with cheerleaders is a fine notion unless they are afraid to get involved because of their own careers. I was bullied out a my career and I am ashamed to say I stood on the sidelines while I watched two other women go through the same thing.

  • In reply to MarShelle Jacobs:

    That's what worked for me but everyone and every situation is different. If it's affecting your performance and advancement, how do you handle it? Confront? HR? Seek a new job (for a new environment and new people)? Curious to know. Thanks for commenting!

  • Great piece! I, too, cannot wait to read your book. I do not ever remember experiencing anything like this, though I did once work for a woman who was a complete back stabber and when I left that company I made sure to include her behavior in my exit interview. I was always nice and professional with her, but If I had it to do over again, I would have confronted her with something like, "I do not like or appreciate the way you blamed me for things while I was on maternity leave...especially knowing that I was only a phone call away if you needed something, and that I covered my absence with all the work that you requested be done." -or something along those lines. I think if I would have stood up to her (or let her know I was aware of her office gossip), she might have stopped--not just doing it to me, but to others in the future, too.

  • In reply to jtithof:

    Thanks, Jackie! So happy to see your name pop up here!
    Yeah, every situation is different. Sometimes I have revenge fantasies where I fix her :) but that's just for fun! No real regrets. I think I handled it the best way for me :)

  • I am the queen of kill them with kindness. It however led to me losing my job as I smiled my smile on the way out the door. In the end I felt absolute relief when I lost a lucrative salary in exchange for peace. This article had me nodding my head in agreement. I was the new girl in a town of old hats. My bully was a ring leader who used a high moral ground to assert right and wrong with her rules being the only rules. If she made a mistake it was swept under the rug if you made a mistake it was part of a salem witch trial. Isolation was the key. She overstepped with me when she used my childs health as fuel for her fight. I was out one day every 12 weeks for my child to undergo surgery. I returned to work and finished each year with vacation on the books. She made mention that it's not fair for me to sullen just because my child had a health problem. I placed my job ahead of my family in fear of losing something tangible. In the end I endured 3 years of hot and cold. Isolation for weeks and inclusion for weeks. It played a mental toll I simply didn't need on top of the roller coaster I was living. I have since started my own home business working virtually with others. I am terrified to ever place myself or my family in the position I spent far to long in. After she convinced my employer she could manage my job and hers, saving them money in the end, she lasted 3 more months and resigned her position. Thank you for posting this. I honestly felt alone in my experience.

    Catie

  • In reply to LCC-Catie D:

    Thank you, Catie! I'm so sorry for what you went through. How awful! I hope your child is OK. It really is all that matters.
    But glad you know you're not alone now too. And, glad you've found a better work situation.

  • Great piece, Jennifer. You should send it to the Workplace Bullying Institute. They do research on workplace bullying, and it is an astonishingly large problem, particularly with women bullying women. Way to go bringing some light on this issue! Carrie

  • In reply to Carrie Goldman:

    Thank you, Carrie! Thanks for the info. Will do!

  • If it causes problems with your boss, it's time to confront the bully. A few years ago I worked with a woman who I believe was a true sociopath. She was superficially friendly but would stab you in the back. She was in her 50s (as I was) and particularly had it in for the pretty young women in the office, sometimes reducing them to tears. A situation arose that could have been resolved in five minutes had she come over and talked to me, but she went behind my back and complained to my boss about me. I explained the facts to my boss, then confronted the snake privately and told her that I did not appreciate her getting me into trouble and that I was perfectly capable of doing that without any help from her, which elicited a nervous laugh. After that, however, she was careful around me and did not cause me any further problems with the boss. I later learned that some of our clients had been unhappy with her because she messed up a major project. She left suddenly; I thought she had been fired but she actually found a better job somewhere else! So good riddance, she was somebody else's problem!

  • In reply to QCgrrl:

    Thanks for commenting! Every situation and every person (and bully) are different. This sounds like a situation that required confronting. Good for you!

  • A workplace bully changed my life. After 10 months, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I became spastic and developed a speech impediment due to a conversion disorder from the Post Trauma Stress. For the next 7 years was in both civil and workers comp litigation. My civil case was dismissed. I was awarded $150K workers comp...not what my career was worth but better than most injured targets. I am now disabled with no hush clause!

    HOWEVER! By working worth the Workplace Bullying Institute, I lobbied as a citizen to get a bill passed throught the Illinois Senate that would allow a damaged target to sue the bully(ies). That bill is now STUCK in the House Rules Committee because the legislators are afraid of the Chamber of Commerce and the "educational establishment." Both are afraid of lawsuits so they continue to let the evil doers run roughshod over the targets. I was a high-producing worker and had never been fired after 20 years of a very successful career. That's typical of targets who are usually a threat to the perpetrators.

    Discrimination is illegal; non-discriminatory harassment is LEGAL throughout the US, but not in many other "civilized" nations. There ought to be a law. Until there is, the bullies win and we all lose. Bullies are too expensive to keep.

    Carrie Clark,
    Illinois Healthy Workplace Advocates

  • In reply to Carrie Clark:

    Carrie, I am so sorry to hear what you have been through.
    I agree - bullies are too expensive to keep. They prevent a productive work situation/environment, which hurts work product/client satisfaction, which hurts bottom line. They are also expensive as you describe above. I will definitely look the Workplace Bullying Institute. Thank you again for sharing your story!

  • In 2008 I was accused of sleeping with a client contact, by women who did not like me and were managing operations at the client site. I was told that I should leave the client site, hop on the next plane to Chicago because I apparently slept with this client. Not only was it shocking but it could have had the client contact fired. The next week all was supposedly forgiven and the female VP said everything was a "blank slate" but I knew better. It was going to get worse, and it did.

    I fought back when my health couldn't do it for me: I hired a trainer and got my health back. I ended up doing my first triathlon. I lost a ton of weight. The women who put me through hell and back - the ringleader hired a trainer and lost 40 pounds just months later. I could not believe what had happened; I ended up taking the fall in the end but I am now making more money than the old boss, the one that wanted me on that plane, will ever see in her career.

    Unfortunately, the Workplace Bullying Institute can't do much right now about situations like these. I've looked into it. It's a tough economy.

    Catty women just look like catty women. What goes around comes around. Sadly.

  • In reply to STS Chicago:

    What an awful experience.
    It sounds like you came out of it and shining, no less :)
    Sorry you had to go through it though!

  • In reply to FernRonay:

    Sorry for the delay. Yep it all gave me a whole new perspective, helped me to decide that my health would no longer be compromised because of work life and balance between personal life and work was crucial. Thank you for letting me share!

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