What do flight attendants, Starbucks baristas, Disneyland characters and professional drivers have in common? They all have jobs that expose them to nasty people, or as Robert Sutton, author of, The No A**hole Rule, explains, "They just have to take it from demeaning people."
While you might not be assaulted by six year olds brandishing plastic swords or inebriated business travelers in first class, as a professional driver you are often subjected to nasty people on a daily basis.
From the guy at the loading dock to the clerk at the fuel desk, not everyone greets you with a warm smile and a pleasant greeting. Add the drivers of four-wheelers, law enforcement and dispatchers to the mix and your day might not be as pleasant as you would have hoped.
According to Sutton, 25 percent of people who are victims of bullies leave their jobs, compared to a typical rate of five percent. The harm suffered by employees subjected to bullying can be devastating. It saps the strength of the victim and causes him or her to look for alternative employment.
The damage extends to by-standers as well. Co-workers, family members and friends suffer from the abuse experienced by the employee. Sutton cited one study that showed an increase in stress by 73 percent for witnesses to bullying in the workplace.
How do you identify a workplace bully? Sutton recommends that you refrain from labeling someone as a certified "a**hole" unless the person displays a consistent pattern, as we all have had episodes of being a jerk from time to time.
However, if the person targets people who are less powerful than themselves and the victim feels belittled by the jerk, then he or she is a certified bully. You can call them backstabbers, maniacs or tyrants, but they have one thing in common; they are trying to build themselves up by tearing you down.
Sutton cites some actions bullies take in disrespecting others:
- Personal insults
- Invading one's personal territory
- Uninvited person contact
- Threats or intimidation (verbal and nonverbal)
- Sarcastic jokes or teasing
- Flaming emails
- Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
- Public shaming
- Rude interruptions
- Two faced attacks
- Dirty looks
- Treating people as if they are invisible
Now that you've identified people around you who treat you as less than a professional, what do you do about it? How do others cope with jerks in their work environment?
If you can't eliminate these people, you will have to learn to change the way you think about them. First, as my mother always, said, "consider the source." Is that person who just flipped you off really important enough for you to respond to with your own gesture? Probably not. They're not worth your time or effort, or your energy, so just let it go.
Secondly, don't blame yourself. Workplace jerks don't really know you as an individual, and really, it's not about you, it's all about them. So, don't allow them to personalize the terror they inflict on you. They are indifferent to your feelings and your integrity. Don't take it personally and don't think you are less of a person because they are targeting you as the punching bag for today.
Sutton suggests that we learn to detach ourselves from bullies, as if possible, try to put yourself in their shoes. For example, at Disney the cast members are taught to empathize with the unhappy visitors and show concern in order to make the visit a positive one. After all, thousands of families visit the park each year and the ones in front of you will be gone before you know it.
One other important thing to consider is whether or not you are a bully. Perhaps your attitude is what attracts the rude comments or demeaning remarks. There are ways to identify whether or not you are a tyrant yourself. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you feel surrounded by incompetent jerks?
- Were you nice until you started working in this environment?
- Do you trust the people around you and do they trust you?
- Do you see your coworkers as competitors?
- Do you feel that in order to climb the ladder you have to push others down along the way?
- Do you enjoy watching others suffer?
- Are you jealous of your colleagues?
These are all characteristics of bullies, and if you answered yes to many or all of these, you are the problem, according to Robert Sutton.
The old saying, "It takes one to know one," is applicable here. So, start finding ways to deal with the people you work with each day and eliminate as many bullies as possible, maybe even starting with yourself!