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The Bully in IT

by G. Thomas Herrington


Nearly two-thirds of IT professionals have been bullied during their careers, according to research from trade union Unite. Most IT people that you talk to probably will agree with these statistics.

Few people will argue that bullying adversely impacts the work environment, negatively affecting productivity, morale and everyone involved, whether or not they are targets of the bully.

Sadly, there are not an awful lot of options if you are being bullied. your most obvious choice is to leave the organization. Unfortunately, the reality is that bullying is so prevalent in the work culture that no matter where you go, you will probably run into bullies. Another alternative is for you to confront the bully directly. Or you can escalate the problem to higher management. Unfortunately, the way a bully works, he or she will probably point the finger at you a the problem maker, which will only make working conditions worse.

We have an alternate approach, one that can increase respect and maintain your confidence as you effectively deal with the bully. But to understand this approach, you must first consider why the bullying is so prevalent.

Bullying is usually triggered by the stress of having to make the numbers, fulfill promises, or make deliverable dates. The bully typically sees risk, fearing that dates or margins are not going to be met. This fear drives a desire to control and will be the situation to proper completion. In this situation, the bully is unwilling to be flexible in order to avoid any potential problems.

Sometimes, the bullies may be managers who have lost some of their technical knowledge as they rose within the organization. Rather than delegate, fearing they will lose control, these managers focus on what they know. They find it difficult to trust. To them, trust equals risk.

So from the bully's perspective does escalating or confronting the behavior to make the situation better or worse? No wonder these options often turn out unsatisfactorily, many times creating even more problems.

An alternative is to concentrate on what is important to the bully. Focus on the result and be just as committed to making it happen. Only then, will the bully tend to lessen the bullying behavior. Find out the bully's perception of the situation and show that you are equally engaged on seeing the work or project through. Help the bully achieve success. Doing so will minimize and possibly even eliminate the person's perceived need to bully.

When you acknowledge the bully, do so with the appropriate energy that lets them know yu take the situation and them just as seriously. A response that is too low conveys weakness which only embolden the bully all the more.

Silence is even worse! By not responding, you convey to the bully that a) you either didn't realize there was a problem or b) you don't care. A response with too much energy might lead to a fight. It is not equal yell. It is equal energy. What you want to do is respond at an energy level that is equal to or just below to let the bullies know that what they say really matters and that it has an impact on you.

More often than not, the bully is being bullied as well. The bullying may be self inflicted in the desire to meet expectations, or the bullying could come from upper management or from the actual customer.

Everyone has experienced "Customer No Service." What was your reaction to your "No Service?" Did you raise your voice expressing frustration or demands? Bully. So why id you act that way? Were you looking for the attention you deserved and to be taken seriously? Probably, you calmed down and started to trust, only after someone demonstrated he cared and too you seriously.

Many people, especially, the bullies, get caught up in their 'way.' They forget that it is not teir way that is important. What is important i the result that they are trying to achieve. Often a team discovers that they are pressed for time to make a deliverable. A common approach to work weekends and horrible hours to catch up. Team leads and project managers bully, beg, borrow and steal if they have to. They stress their way, but is working the weekend the goal or is it making the deliverable?

When you focus on the result, margin and deliverable date, you will discover some flexibility in reaching those goals. By focusing with the bully on the common goal, you achieve some flexibility as well. You will at least be heard, and you will achieve respect, even from the bully.

Thomas Herrington is a Senior Partner at the PAR Group, an international training and consulting firm in Atlanta, GA and is the co-author of Cracking the Code to Leadership. Tom may be reached at Tom.herrington@thepargroup.com.

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