Not too long ago I was lunching with a colleague and found ourselves on the topic of being a doormat. Of course, the conversation was about workplace bullies. As we progressed farther into the subject, my colleague pointed out how I would be an excellent speaker on this topic for schools, company staff meetings, and conferences.
I was flattered. I am an excellent public speaker but yet had to laugh at the idea. The thought of professionally speaking about workplace bullies, a topic I’m passionate about, would let the world know my story – making me vulnerable to others. However, as the days have gone by I believe my colleague is correct; it’s time to share my story in hopes of helping someone else.
Have you ever noticed how women are bullied more in the workplace than men? In 2017 the Workplace Bullying Institute reported that males intimidate 70% more compared to the female bully at 30%. Males target females 65% of the time and focus another male 35% of the time. Females target other females 67% of the time and males 33% of the time.
Those statistics are crazy! Whatever happened to TEAM work?!
Never feel like you’re alone. Trust me you’re the target now; however, the bully will move on to someone else once you’re neutralized.
It’s crazy the different stories people share about their experience with bullies. Their experience has taken place either in school, the workplace or even in their own home. I’m not going to dive into bullying at home, that’s a different topic altogether, and I’m not sure you have another two maybe three hours to listen to that speech.
I’ve worked with and had to deal with so many different personalities since being in the workforce. People are not as kind to each other as they should be, why not?
Let me set the stage…
How many people grew up going to Sunday school, attending Vacation Bible School, going through confirmation classes and being confirmed – being a part of a church and church family. I did, primarily when my mom taught Sunday school. As the years went by and my life became busier with other activities, I didn’t attend church as often as I had in the past. Thanks to my upbringing with God, I know He’s there, I believe He’s protecting me, guiding and leading me down the path He wants me to follow.
Let’s move forward from my youth to marriage and family. That seems to be when people become more aware of the importance of not sleeping in on Sunday mornings, maybe even being a part of Wednesday night church activities. Parents want to set a good example for their children, right?! My children truly love going to church, and they miss it when we’re not able to attend. My husband and I found an AMAZING church family who we appreciate and feel blessed to belong.
Now I don’t have the Bible memorized, but I do know right from wrong. I’m always able to find strength, comfort, hope, and joy in His word. According to Luke 6:31 – treat others just as you want them to treat you. Not the exact words but at least you can understand the meaning.
Treat others as you want them to treat you – think about that for a moment. In my life, I value going beyond merely being kind to people, or going out of my way to be kind. I genuinely believe that those who do harm and evil to others will answer to Him, maybe not in this life, but once they leave this world.
Think about the first time you realized you were being bullied at work, that sinking feeling of how you can’t do anything right. The worst part, you don’t know why this is happening or what you’ve done wrong. You ask yourself the question, what if I approach the person to find out what I’ve done to them. Unfortunately, if they’re already bullying you, it’s not you, it’s them, so you’ll probably make the situation worse. Bullies aren’t receptive to admitting how their actions are inappropriate.
Women are typically jealous of each other; we’re a catty group, a product of society. Women face a lot of pressures. We need to have the perfect body, hair that looks just so, makeup that looks like we have a makeup artist living with us and of course the wardrobe. How could we ever live without all of the latest trends along with the must-have accessories?
We’re obsessed with others. When we believe they have more than us – they’re a threat. We tend to discourage each other or not be happy when someone else has success.
None of this should come as a shock to anyone. We’re raised to pay attention to other women in our lives; we’re taught to judge everything about them. We even judge our friends. Despite the idea of sisterhood, we’re more prone to be critical of each other more so than men are. This mentality carries over into the workplace where female on female bullying is on the rise.
Years ago my first real job was with a Fortune 500 company. At the time I didn’t realize how lucky I was – for awhile I was protected from the bullies; I wasn’t even aware. Over time I began to notice other women who were being bullied by their female coworkers. I didn’t understand how this could be happening. That’s just how naive I was to the insecurity and cruel ways of other women.
Let me share two different stories about female to female bullying:
Female #1 – a young lady named Tammy, this isn’t her real name, I can’t remember her real name; however, I do remember what happened to her. She had been hired as a switchboard operator and had worked her way from that position into the human resource department. I remember her as a genuine person, charming, smart, and she was so excited when she received a promotion. For a while, everything went well in her new department until they hired Barb. This person’s name is Barb, not really, but for this story, Barb is a good name for this character. Barb was fresh out of college and out to make a name for herself.
Barb spent a lot of time chatting with coworkers, flirting with the men, making inappropriate comments about her female coworkers, and being in everyone’s business. Barb fits the catty female profile perfectly.
Sadly for Tammy, it didn’t take long before Barb set her sights on getting Tammy fired. Tammy couldn’t do anything right, and it didn’t matter what she said, how many hours she put in, it was never good enough. No one realized how Barb was undermining Tammy. She spent time questioning the quality of Tammy’s work to their supervisor and doing it in a way where she seemed concerned that Tammy was hurting the company. Barb spent time commenting about Tammy’s poor performance and other untrue words about her character into conversations with other members of leadership and coworkers. Once this virus spread, Tammy was trapped. She couldn’t share with anyone, and she couldn’t speak with the human resource manager, she couldn’t even breathe without Barb throwing another log on the fire.
I came across Tammy one day answering calls at the switchboard. Being unaware of what had taken place, I stopped to chat for a moment. While I stood there, Tammy seemed uncomfortable. I asked if everything was alright?
The company we worked for was big brother on steroids times a million. Cameras everywhere, people assigned to listen to phone conversations, security checks through key badges, computer checks – they knew who you were talking to, where you were, and when you blew your nose.
Let’s go back to Tammy and our switchboard conversation. I had asked Tammy if she was ok, and I could tell she wanted to share something with me but wasn’t sure if she should. After several minutes with her looking around, she took a deep breathe then answered quietly, “I’m going to get fired,” she said. “I’ve been told that if I talk about this to anyone, they’ll escort me out immediately.”
“What ?” I answered. I was shocked. Someone who was always at work, serious about her job, and easy to work with, and they’re going to get fired for what?
“It’s Barb. She’s been trying to get me fired since the first day she started. They’re struggling to find anything to justify terminating me so they said I couldn’t handle my current job duties, they don’t need me upstairs anymore, and moved me back to the switchboard with a cut in my salary. The switchboard operator is a lower pay grade.”
She could tell by the look on my face and my silence how stunned I was. She quietly told me what time she would be taking lunch and where I could meet her. She needed someone to talk with about this, and she trusted me.
That day I met Tammy for lunch. It was so sad listening to everything that had taken place. She felt betrayed by a company where she had poured her heart and soul into her work. I was taken back with all of the horrible lies Barb had been telling about her. Tammy felt as if she was alone. A lot of the ladies she worked with had quit speaking to her, and she felt like everyone despised her.
Tammy did leave the company on her terms, and she handled the situation with grace. She was able to secure a good paying job elsewhere, and her nightmare with Barb ended. I ran into Tammy a few times over the next several years. She seemed to be doing well.
Female #2 – a young lady named Deb, which isn’t her real name. Deb was on the fast track. She was highly sought after for high profile projects, being in front of clients, you name it, Deb was the go-to-gal. The best part about Deb, her confidence and poise; she’s a real class act. I had the privilege of working with Deb on numerous projects. We worked well together and had mutual respect.
One day Deb stopped at my cubicle. Everyone else in my department had gone to break. I had stayed behind to work. Deb came to warn me how another female in my department was spreading lies about me along with one of the males in my department. Their character names will be Tina and Kelly.
Deb wanted me to know how Tina and Kelly had been working hard to get me fired. She knew I had no idea how they were doing the same thing to me that Barb had done to Tammy. I was in shock. I always said good morning to everyone in the department. I would find out how their day was going. We rarely worked on projects together, so I wasn’t involved with their assignments, and they weren’t involved with mine.
I didn’t say a lot, just listened to Deb. She shared with me how I’ve made such a good impression with upper management that their plan isn’t working. She said they’re getting frustrated and trying to figure out how to get our direct manager on board.
The last words she said to me was, “just keep being you, doing what you’re doing, and they’ll fail.”
She was correct. Their plan did fail as someone higher up in another department who didn’t care for the scheming pair requested to have me transferred. That was the end of Tina and Kelly’s crazy plan. Thanks to an honest coworker who took action, I walked away unscathed.
My story ended well; however, my coworker Deb’s story took a wrong turn.
Deb became Tina and Kelly’s next target. This time they were able to bring their manager John on board. Once John got involved it was all over for Deb. It became unreal – a real nightmare. Who would have thought that in a professional environment so many ignorant things were happening?! Without warning, corporate HR showed up, put Deb through the wringer with a lot of trumped-up accusations, and escorted her out the door.
There’s a lot to Deb’s story and what she went through at the hands of others. So much lying and pettiness from Tina and Kelly and for what reason; to ruin Deb’s reputation with her employer?!
Now don’t worry about Deb. She’s resilient. Deb’s the real deal when it comes to her skills, talents, and personality – she’s an actual class act! That’s why she was a threat to Tina and Kelly – those who can’t make it any other way but to make someone else look bad.
With all the various pieces of literature about workplace bullying, the theme is always the same – men bullying men or men bullying women; women bullying women or women bullying men – the bully knows if they abuse others, they’ll get ahead.
The target? Someone they’re threatened by, a person who has something they don’t – confidence, talent, and skills. When the target is doing well, the bully becomes exposed for who they are – a phony.
The victim, without doing any wrong, will either end up in the hot seat being threatened with dismissal or decide it’s not worth the hassle and leave the toxic environment on their own. Each time the bully wins their confidence grows, and they move on to the next target.
It was August 2018 when my bully made her move. My bully’s name is Kris, not really but this fictitious name works for my story. Little did I know when Kris had entered my life not quite two years earlier how she would set her sites on making sure I would no longer be a part of a company she had claimed as her own.
The sad part about Kris is she was hired as an assistant to a higher ranking female; however, the first time I met Kris it was apparent she wasn’t interested in being an assistant, she had taken the position to get into the company. It didn’t take Kris long to create a new position and role as a corporate executive. It’s challenging to give Kris kudos for being ambitious; she’s a real bully. Kris dismisses others ideas, points out to people how she’s more qualified and is good at making rude and judgmental remarks about others.
When Kris and her supervisor made their introduction visit to my location, I was taken back at how disrespectful and rude Kris was toward the woman who had hired her. She would blatantly argue with everything her supervisor said, and her body language told it’s own story – eye rolls, shaking her head, the hand wave of dismissal, and so on. When her supervisor wasn’t within earshot, Kris would throw out snide remarks. It was apparent, Kris had an agenda, and it did not include being an assistant.
Kris was successful in creating an executive position for herself and had access to all of upper management daily. Unbeknownst to me, she had been planting seeds of how I wasn’t doing my job and other lies that she claimed to know about me first hand. She made sure to share her professional opinion about me as Kris didn’t see any hope for me and they should cut ties.
The day Kris made a special trip to my location with the premise of completing my yearly evaluation. I thought this was an odd visit as I rarely had contact with her, she was supposed to be on a weekly call with me and a few others I worked with, but most often she had other commitments so at best she joined the conference call once every two or three months. Kris had made herself the go-to resource, but she would never respond when I asked for her advice. I never once received any support from Kris, but yet no one saw this as a problem.
Kris began our meeting by boasting of how she had been firing the employees who she hadn’t hired. She made the bold statement “if I didn’t hire you, then I’m going to fire you.” The look on my face told her I didn’t understand why she would terminate so many people who held the same position as I did at other locations. Kris was feeling invincible and didn’t hesitate to let me know how it’s her way or the highway, and I’m the last one on her list to dismiss. I was stunned.
At the time things were going well at my location, so I wasn’t sure how to take this bold statement Kris made. I was shocked at how someone holding a higher position would speak this way. What happened to professionalism and appropriate conversations?!
That day was a nightmare. Kris spent her time belittling me. I was too shocked to walk away; I feared if I did my job would be gone. She had requested that I schedule three appointments. She expressed her concern with the business-to-business relationships I had developed; she boldly stated that I had tarnished the reputation of the business I was representing.
Kris spent so much time sharing how much she despised me, talking about her spouse narrowing down three different luxury vehicles for her to test drive that afternoon and her upcoming all-inclusive getaway with her sorority sisters that we only had time for one appointment. Now I had to deal with the aftermath of explaining to the other two businesses why we missed scheduled meetings with them.
The one appointment we did keep was a disaster; it was embarrassing. We met with the manager and her assistant, both females. Immediately Kris and the manager began to spar. I felt like I was watching a tennis match. Each woman in power making sure the other was aware of how great she is, and why she is better than the other. Then Kris began talking about the day-to-day operations at my location. She shared a lot of information. A majority was incorrect, and yet I knew to keep my mouth closed. In her eyes, she was building a relationship.
Kris’s audience was surprised too. I could tell by her expression how she couldn’t believe how Kris, who doesn’t work in this market, would reveal information that’ll be used against us. I’m not sure Kris knows how to build relationships – she’s too busy making sure people are aware of her knowledge.
When we left the meeting, the first thing Kris said, “see how easy that was for me to open up and be vulnerable? We were sharing. I hope you took notes and learned from this.”
I didn’t even have a chance to answer as Kris looked at her watch and informed me how she needed to head home. Her husband was waiting for her at the luxury car dealer – she had three new vehicles to drive yet that day. She was too excited about choosing a new car even to realize the chaos she had created.
Kris intended to harm me that day – that was obvious. As the months continued her campaign to oust me went in her favor. Slowly the changes in the market affected my location. I reached out for help and heard nothing in return. For her, a cover-up was easy as no one would doubt what she said.
While I focused on my work, the Queen Bee spent a lot of time and effort to blacken my name. I knew the day was coming when I would move on – no regrets as I loved where I was but was ready to leave.
Even though Kris can mark me off her list, her spiteful tongue has moved on to harm another.
Psalm 138:7: Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.