How To Fight Back Against Power Harassment

When it gets tough, your options seem to shrink

Recently, a friend of mine started a new job. As to be expected, they were initially assigned all the tasks that no one else wanted to do. Considering these tasks part of the training process, they did the work with a smile. Though they came home exhausted each night, they felt they were getting a better understanding of the job and its requirements.

Now, three months later, my friend has settled into their position and their smile has turned to a lump of stress that they can’t get rid of no matter what they do. The work is fine. It’s the people that are the problem. A pair of her coworkers (can’t exactly call them colleagues) have decided that she is a threat to their control of the work environment and set out to destroy her reputation through false accusations and nefarious behavior.

Relying on a friend to listen without judgment or proffering their own opinions will help you to get your problems out of your head and into the open.

We have all been in toxic situations and oftentimes there is no help available from the outside to deal with these bullies. The solutions need to come from inside of ourselves and the support of our friends. Having someone to talk with about the situation can help.

Finding an empathetic ear will allow you to voice your perception of what’s happening and the solutions you find viable. Relying on a friend to listen without judgment or proffering their own opinions will help you to get it out of your head and into the open. This will help you to analyze the situation more clearly and raise points you may not have thought about previously. Tell your friend what your expectations are for the conversation so they know how to listen, the types of questions to ask and how to interpret your body language.

As you get it all out in the open, you have some decisions to make, should you pursue some kind of retribution for the bully’s behavior, change your working style to smooth the situation, start looking for a new position, or just keep going forward accepting this harassment. Each of these has repercussions.

Taking your issues to your boss or further up the corporate ladder could provide you peace of mind that you are reporting a disturbance in the workplace and may get you some help in the form of counselling or a transfer. The bully could get reprimanded or dismissed and all will be right at work again. Or...The company could choose to do nothing, even worse they could leak the fact that you launched a claim to the perpetrator. That would make matters much worse. Here in Japan it is often the one that stands up seeking justice that is seen as the problem. So it is vital that you consider your options carefully before starting an internal probe.

Oftentimes what is perceived as conflict in the workplace can be attributed to working style differences. These can be defined using a behavioral model like DISC. Explaining the intricacies of DISC is beyond the scope of this article, but you can find a detailed description of it and how to use DISC to understand your work environment here.

Basically DISC relates to four primary working style preferences, Ds, Is, Ss and Cs. Ds are dominant. They are take charge people who expect to see progress and have little time for reasons or excuses. The senior managers in a company are usually high Ds. Is are Influencers, they like people and enjoy conversations. If you are a high I, you will be quick to volunteer to help but may forget what you’ve signed yourself up for later. High Is are often sales people. Ss are steady. They find serenity in helping others and being a part of the team. Ss rarely push back, instead they choose to go along with the flow. You’ll find Ss in administrative and support roles. Cs are conscious. They prefer facts and data to people. Tell a C what you want done and by when, then leave them to their devices to figure it out. Cs like rules and are skilled at using systems. You will find Cs in detail oriented work like accounting and writing code.

If you are an I and your colleague is a C. They will have difficulty understanding your friendly and carefree style. Likewise, you may find them unwilling to listen to your ideas and opinions as those are speculations and not based on hard data.

Similarly, if you are a high D and you work with a high Ss, you may be frustrated that they seem to never make decisions or that they are unwilling to take a lead role in any project. While your colleague may see you as mean and overly direct, expecting the impossible.

These differences in working style can lead to caverns of misunderstanding. So what can you do? Adapt. Adapt to your role and the responsibilities of your position. If you are offering an opinion to a high C, for example, include some hard data to support your suggestion. The high D boss could make expectations clear to the I and S so that they know what is expected.

Before choosing an option that allows you to stay at the company, consider if it is really a problem with just one person or a toxic company culture.

Using excuses like “it’s not my style” when faced with conflict management or new assignments, is not acceptable in the professional world where you are paid to get things done. You need to learn to style switch to accommodate the needs of others just as you expect them to change to make collaboration smoother. As an entrepreneur, this style switching is even more necessary to create good relationships with the clients you have but also to take advantage of new opportunities that come your way.

Your other solution is to leave the company. This is where having savings and a good network come in handy. The benefit of having money is that it provides you with solutions. If you are struggling to make ends meet and this job is all you have, then you are in a vulnerable situation and the bullies can smell that. To avoid this situation, start putting aside an emergency fund, if you haven’t done that already. Keeping your network warm with regular contact and doing favors will provide you with an asset you can utilize in looking for a new position down the road. Another option for exiting the situation could be a transfer. Before taking this option, consider if it is really a problem with just one person or a toxic company culture. Will your complaint stain your reputation? These are things you will need to think about carefully before choosing the internal options.

Toxic environments do not bring out the best in you. They usually result in diminished results and feelings of inadequacy. Contrarily, positive environments will help you to achieve more than you ever thought possible. Work environments at the extremes of the spectrum are few and far between. You usually get as much out of the culture as you put in. 

Finally, before you choose any of these options, it is a good idea to take a look in the mirror and consider if the problem is you. If you have experienced the same harassment in many roles, then it is possible that you are misinterpreting the situation. Consider your role in the problem and if there is anything you could have done to mitigate the predicament. Is there some way you could come to an amicable understanding with the other person? As mentioned above, a high I may think their boss is a bully, while a high D boss is just after results. An increased understanding of your coworkers, the way they work and the situation may help to alleviate the problems.

Bullying and power harassment are unfortunately prevalent in many work environments. They don’t reveal themselves in the interview and it is only after you settle into a job that the real culture is exposed. Take some time to understand your colleagues and what makes them tick. Despite finding a new position, keep your options open by maintaining a strong connection to the people in your network, and keep your bank account stocked. Then look for what you can do to contribute to a positive atmosphere. In the end, if the job doesn’t work out, re-enter the job market. After all, it’s a job, not your life.

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