‘Bullying’ awareness is shifting from the schoolyard playground  to the office.

Workplace bullying is particularly bad for women.  The surprising thing isn’t that women are often the target of workplace bullying but that, to a remarkable degree, female bosses are likely to be the bullies themselves (especially toward other women).

Women, reports Dr. Gary Namie, Director of the Workplace Trauma and  Bullying Institute, are at least as likely as men to be the aggressors, and they are more likely to be targets.

“Women tend to use relational aggression,” says one researcher. “It’s verbal psychological emotional bullying – it’s covert, it’s harder to pin down and to prove”. Indeed, many bullies pretend to be their victim’s friend while gossiping about her behind her back. Unfortunately, the all-unknowing victim gives her tormentor the ammunition.

The mystifying thing about this pattern is that it does not appear to undercut productivity. Workers may loathe a bullying boss and hate going to work each morning, but they still perform. Researchers find little relationship between people’s attitudes toward their jobs and their productivity, as measured by the output and even the quality of their work. Even in the most hostile work environment, conscientious people keep doing the work they are paid for.

They may keep doing their jobs (maybe even performing at higher levels of productivity), but they’re ripped up inside.  Incurring daily insults to their self-esteem. Psychologically suffering.

Freeing yourself from the bully’s hold can be tough. Their actions trigger defensive actions learned in childhood—like submission or explosive rage.  “Once these defensive positions lock in,” says Dr. Mark Levey who consults on the subject to corporations, ”it’s like people are transported to a different reality and can no longer see what’s actually happening to them and cannot adapt.”

So how do you negotiate out of this painful bind?

1.  Identify the Behavior:   Not all bullies are in your face.  Some act out their aggression as control freaks, often ‘pretending’ to be your friend while restricting resources and staffing to assure your failure or limiting your ability to network within the company.

2.        Confront the Behavior: A typical tactic of women bullies is to bad-mouth you (to your subordinates as well as higher-ups).  If you hear reports of such talk, confront the accuser (in a professional way, ideally with a written record of their actions).

When you’re facing a micro-manager bully, say something like “if I’m doing something fundamentally wrong, please tell me but the current relationship isn’t working.”

3.              Document! Keep a written record of unacceptable actions.  Nothing is as persuasive as specific chapter-and-verse!

4.              Control Your Destiny: Where’s your leverage?  What do you have or do that she vitally needs.  Key relationships?  The respectful ear of important customers? Unique knowledge about a vital business development project?   Whatever ‘magic dust’ you bring to the table, make it clear to her that if the bullying actions you’ve documented continue, those assets are unlikely to continue to be available.


  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by sarahmassey, Neil Shister. Neil Shister said: Blog post: Negotiating with a Bullying Boss- Especially When She's a Woman! #negotating #women [...]

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