Lately, we’ve seen a rash of stories about the problem of bullying in nonprofit organizations.
Yes, these organizations meant to make the world a better place can be the place where people are made to feel awful. We’re not at all exempt. Sometimes, I think we might be more at risk.
During a Twitter conversation on the topic, I started counting the times I’d been bullied. It wasn’t something I had ever counted. The more I thought, the more I came up with. Not so good!
Worst, of course, is bullying by someone who has power over you – your boss. Depending on the distance on the organizational chart between you and the bully, it can feel near impossible to deal with the behavior.
I have also found that those of us with less aggressive personalities – especially introverts – can make for easier targets. We shy from a fight instead of welcoming it. The act of fighting hurts us – why would we want to dive in?
So often, we just take it, put our head down and carry on. We absorb all the anger and abusive behavior and try not to let it get to us. Not the best solution, obviously.
Here are some tips – from my experience and from a variety of articles – on what you can do.
This can be hard. But those with management authority also have responsibility. And we need to hold them to it.
Leave the situation – or the position
This sounds like a rash one. And of course, you’re probably not eager to job hunt right now. But even if the bullying has just happened, you can leave the situation. You don’t need to be an audience. You don’t need to stand there and just take it.
I had to do this. I couldn’t even name the behavior at the time. It was a passive-aggressive type of bullying that was hard to put my finger on. But I did know that my emotional health was quickly deteriorating. I’ll be honest, of all the times I’ve experienced bullying, this is the one that still gives me nightmares.
Leaving was the best thing I could have done.
Turn the tables on the bully
Bullies usually count on their target being cowed. They’re usually not ready for a calm response – or a direct one. Is the boss complaining about your work in front of colleagues – or worse, board members?
Refute the claims. “No, that’s not actually what happened. Here’s what did happen.”
Now the bully has two choices – get more aggressive (bringing their own temperament into question) or back off (often with one last shot). But you stood your ground and can feel proud of that. And any other people around you will admire it, too.
There’s a good reason for email when you deal with a bully. A written record can come in handy if you can go above the bully’s head. Or if you want a record to protect your own reputation.
Bullying – as opposed to harassment – isn’t usually illegal. But there comes a point where you want that record. To show to future employer. To bring to your board if necessary.
Once my organization had a finance director who refused to share budgets with the development staff. Have you ever tried to write a good grant application with no budget? We documented everything – and put it plainly – “We cannot do our work without this information, and the behavior we’re dealing with is not acceptable.”
This is also important when you come across a frenemy bully. Nice to your face; ready to take you down behind your back. Bring the goods.
Fight the bully with understanding
I’m not suggesting you consistently forgive and forget. Like me, chances are you’re not a saint. But sometimes, understanding what may be behind the behavior helps you handle it. Understanding isn’t condoning. But it can make you feel more in control.
“Ah, it’s not me. The organization’s latest financials aren’t looking good. And he’s the one on the line for that with the board and the public. So I’m just the unlucky person he’s dumping it all on. There’s nothing I did wrong here.”
Look for help
If you’re being bullied, there’s a good chance others have either experienced or witnessed the behavior. Ask for help.
If you have a supervisor between you and the bully, take the problem to them. I did this early in my career. The boss thought he was being funny when he called me a whore.
I didn’t find it funny at all. So though I was very new, I took it to the person I was working with. He had no problem marching into the boss’s office and telling him to cut it out.
There should be no room for bullying in our sector
But it’s still going to happen. Because human nature, I guess.
But you are not helpless. And you are not alone.