Re: I Can Really Pick 'Em, Can't I?

Subject: Re: I Can Really Pick 'Em, Can't I?
From: Beth Agnew <beth -dot- agnew -at- senecac -dot- on -dot- ca>
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 23:55:19 -0500

This is a tough one, Cathy, and more power to you for staying levelheaded and professional through all this. First, I would suggest you draw a boundary with this guy and let him know that shouting in your face is not acceptable. Actually, it's NEVER acceptable, unless you're a Marine recruit and he the drill sergeant. Be pleasant, and smile, and state calmly to this guy "Please step back, you are too close." Repeat that phrase to him until he does step back. Hold your ground, and make him move back by verbally repeating "Please step back, you are too close." Wait, and do not continue the conversation, until he complies. Next, tell him "It is not acceptable for you to yell at me or swear at me. Please stop immediately." You might have to repeat that one until he gets the message, too. Any time he forgets, remind him again with whichever of those phrases fits what he's doing. If he tries to keep on with his tirade and he has not yet stepped back, say "Nothing can be discussed until you step back (..stop shouting, ...stop swearing)."

It is important that you do not walk away in disgust. That's his payoff, and he wins. If it is absolutely necessary to move away from him, make a quarter turn and walk toward and past him (without touching him), rather than turning and walking away (retreating). Otherwise, stand your ground until he backs off. You are calm, pleasant, and firm. You can even smile sweetly.

He does not have the right, no matter what his position in the company, to belittle you or verbally abuse you. Don't let him get into a long rant while you stand there listening to it. Cut it off immediately by telling him "It is not acceptable for you to speak to me in that manner. Please stop immediately." If he is shouting, you drop the volume of your own voice slightly and say "It is not acceptable for you to shout at me. Please speak in a normal tone of voice." You are not refusing to comply with what he's asking you to do, you are simply establishing the conditions wherein he can speak to you and give you instructions.

Most bullies get away with this because no one knows how to stand up to them. It's not necessary to have a confrontation, or put yourself in jeopardy, you're just drawing a solid boundary as far as the behavior you will accept from him. You don't need to escalate the conversation, or out-shout him, just calmly repeat the boundary phrases, telling him what is not acceptable and what you want him to do instead. Note that you are not saying "*I* don't like this...", or "*You *can't ...", you are stating a neutral position. Without the personalities involved, there is less likelihood of it turning into an emotional battle. Essentially, you're stating policy (or what should be policy) for behavior in the workplace. His behavior is simply not acceptable.

It is likely your calm and controlled delivery of these boundaries will prompt him to have a tantrum. He has learned in the past that his fits allow him to have his way. Once he realizes that you are not going to be intimidated, he won't like it. How he reacts is not really your concern. You're not emotionally wound up in it (even though you might feel you are), you are just stating the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and expecting him to respect them. You are detaching from his reactions, and setting an example with your own calm manner.

Should he be foolish enough to touch you, file a police report immediately. If he is browbeating a colleague within your hearing, and you don't like it, you can step up to them and say "It is not acceptable for you to speak to her in that manner. Please stop immediately." Until someone draws the line with this guy, he will keep terrorizing the shop, and that is exactly what it is -- terrorism.

It is telling that the other department is seen as a "rival". This indicates a corporate culture that is unhealthy to say the least. As others have suggested, make sure you keep some notes about what has been going on, and that the other manager knows you are following your boss' instructions. At least you will feel better and more in control if you can set the parameters for how this guy speaks to you. You may not be able to stop him berating people entirely, but you can stop accepting it from him. Good luck with finding a new opportunity soon!

Cathy MacDonald wrote:

I don't know how long I can stand the boss's demotivating, demoralizing badgering.
Beth Agnew
Professor, Technical Communication
Seneca College of Applied Arts & Technology
Toronto, ON 416.491.5050 x3133


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I Can Really Pick 'Em, Can't I?: From: Cathy MacDonald

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