Bullies, Narcissists, and Sabotage

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Humanity can be a strong force for value and productivity in business. Leaders who embrace humanity can build highly effective, loyal teams that can work really effectively to drive forward business progress.

But humanity of course, can present itself in negative ways as well.

And unfortunately the workplace is scattered with negative people — managers and peers who are bullies, and random, insecure, but diabolical individuals who set out to sabotage you.

In my own life and career, I have had a lot of practice enduring and dealing with bullies, and figuring out how to thrive in unwelcoming work environments by taking the high road.

I developed some ways of thinking about this and some very effective counter-approaches to not only defend against these behaviors, but to make forward progress in spite of them.

Bullies, Saboteurs and Narcissists (oh my!)

There are three types of negative people you need to watch out for and have a plan to defend, protect and overcome.

Basic Bullies: People with power who are unkind, dismissive, diminishing to your face.

Saboteurs: Those who seek power by undermining you and discrediting you behind your back.

Narcissists: Those who must abuse others to fuel their psychologically damaged ego.

Bullies: It’s never about you

The most important thing to remember, a lesson I learned at a very early age from my mother, is that bullying is never about you, it’s always about them. Bullies have a need to diminish others.

To effectively deal with a bully, you need to do 3 things.

1. Remember it is never about you
2. Practice not having an emotional reaction – make yourself no fun to bully
3. Remove yourself from the room/situation

It’s so important in the heat of the moment, when you are feeling hurt and angry, to practice not having an emotional reaction. Try really hard to recognize it a “bullying” not “truth,” and let it go by. Don’t let it hurt you.
This is not easy, but it is the foundation for dealing with bullies.

You need TO make yourself no fun to bully — By not giving a bully a reaction, you become no fun. Don’t give them a target. They will move on.

If for example your boss is berating you for something in a very mean and dismissive way, and you feel hurt, go through these 3 steps.

1. This isn’t about me
2. Say, very briefly, “I understand you are not happy with this work” (non emotional)
3. Say, “Let me go away now and rework it” (get out of there!)

A bully is always in search of a target. There can be no bullying without a target.

Saboteurs: Eliminate their secrecy

The reason sabotage only happens behind the scenes is because that’s the only way it works.

If someone is spreading rumors, saying bad things about you that aren’t true, or sharing data that is unfounded to make you look bad, you can begin to worry that others might start listening to them.

But these unfounded attacks do not hold up to scrutiny.

So if you suddenly shine the spotlight on what saboteurs are saying, they lose their power. Saboteurs need to work in the shadows.

If for example you start to hear that someone is saying that your business results are questionable and that your team is unmotivated, go to the person and say, “I’ve heard that you have some issues about the performance and motivation of my team. I’m going to schedule a meeting with you and our boss so that I can make sure that we all understand the important information that you have, so that I can address it. Please be prepared to share your facts with us. Is Tuesday OK?

When you even just threaten to get the false information out into the open, they will get nervous.

When you confront a person like this they will almost always back down because they simply can’t support what they are saying. They will move back into the shadows where they feel comfortable and realize that you are someone who will always shine a spotlight on what they are doing, so they will back off.

When you get the false information out into the open it can’t hurt you. It can only hurt you in the shadows.

Narcissists: Protect Yourself

Narcissists are a different matter entirely. They have a pathological problem that makes them need to hurt others.

They themselves have an enormous gap in self confidence and it causes them great pain.

Unlike people who are not narcissists, a narcissist only has one way of dealing with the fear and pain — they must hurt someone else.

Narcissists always need others to pump them up and make them feel good and important. But when that wanes, watch out.

A narcissist whose ego is feeling deflated will respond with an irrational sudden burst of anger that leaves everyone around them injured and wondering “Where did that come from?”

Where it comes from is the natural reaction of a narcissist who has had a lull in admiration, and needs to boost their confidence. It’s their only move.
Only by putting someone else down, can they build themselves up. It’s kind of like a being bully, but magnified greatly, and with no room for negotiation or remorse.

If you are dealing with a narcissist, just know that there is no way to win. They will never change or improve.

You only have two moves:

1. Protect yourself: Stay if you must, but prioritize protecting yourself. Have a specific plan.
2. Get away

Be aware, and have a plan

At one time or another we all end up facing this kind of person. If you are dealing with someone in any of these categories who is undermining you and putting you down, you must have a proactive plan to preserve your sanity and confidence.
And you must have a plan to counter the attacks in a productive way to protect your career.

Make sure you are planning your interactions with this person with great intention. Don’t leave it to chance and see what happens next time. Be ready.

And as always, it helps to have mentors and sponsors in the mix so you have both emotional and practical support.

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About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook


I’m really excited to share all the important ideas and tools I put in my book MOVE to help you get your team (at any level in any kind of organization) to execute your strategy more decisively.

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What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

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