The simple answer is “yes.” And the sample of behaviors above is just the start. There are more behaviors and more nuances and if you have been abused or in an abusive relationship of any kind, then you need to own that it feels familiar and you need to protect yourself and I know saying that doesn’t make it easy. This isn’t just about walking out the door and leaving that one relationship behind. This is about going through the chain of command. This is about sitting back and letting the higher ups do their job and possibly even being told that the person you are talking about is a hard-ass but a good employee. However, if it feels wrong, if what they are saying is manipulative and they are micromanaging to a point that you can’t possibly win, you might need to stick up for yourself and make a change either in the workplace or job wise.
The first thing you need to do is start keeping a journal of when and what was asked of you because an abusive manager or higher up will do everything they can to keep you off balance. Once you do that, you can then pull out your notes and say in a respectful way, “Okay, I just want to make sure I understand. On February 19 at 9:38 I wrote down that you wanted me to do abc but now you want me to do xyz. I just want to clarify and make sure I get it right.” This does 2 things, it gives you written documentation and it lets that person know that while they micromanage, you are capable of being organized. It calls them out in a respectful way. It lets them know, you are listening and writing things down. Here is where it really helps though. A good employee who is a hardass will appreciate your measures. They might show more trust in you knowing you are on top of things. An abusive leader will feel threatened. They might show you who is boss or remind you of their status. If they are on the narcissistic side they might tell you they never said that. They will become more hypercritical and micromanage even harder to gain control. They will begin to see you as even more of a threat. In my case, as a Union Rep, and even though this encounter had nothing to do with the Union, I was told I could not represent my co-workers in a Union Meeting because I could not be unbiased. Not something that person had the right to say to me but even more showed me immediately where her mind went. She was threatened that she asked a question and I answered honestly. I had to chuckle. First of all for those of you not in a union, I would attend for a disciplinary dispute, not even close to the conversations we were having AND my job is to uphold the contract. Period. It has nothing to do with bias. But it was the first tell tale sign that something was amiss. This was not just someone who was over-organized and wanted things done her way. (which by the way, I could’ve worked with that) This was someone who was now threatened and didn’t really want an open, honest discussion when she asked for it because she wasn’t prepared to listen and accept what was being said.
If you are being constantly nitpicked at or you are the bystander and watching that person belittle, reprimand or diminish someone’s value and it makes you feel empathy for that person, or you start to feel bad because that person is constantly a target with no real reason for them to be a target, then you are a witness to abuse and it can affect you negatively as well. I found myself in the position of being an upstander. I would either privately let the person know that they did indeed tell the other employee to do it in the way she was called out for (in front of everyone) and because I kept a journal I was able to tell her when she said it. I started out respectful and private but then I later would say in front of people, “Wait a minute, just so we’re ALL CLEAR, because I also want to do the right thing, last Thursday you told her to do this and now you are telling her to do that and she is confused. I am confused as well and so maybe we need to have a quick meeting on this so we are all on the same page. What then happened was it empowered other employees to say, ” yes, please, let’s do that because I heard you say the other as well and now I’m confused.”
Workplace abuse is tricky but if you feel like you can do no right, you are constantly walking on egg shells and second guessing your job. If you have been successful with other managers in the workplace then your company may have a bully on their hands.
Bullying in the workplace is all about having power control as well. If someone has to tell you their name in on the door or announce that they are the boss, then it is just a title. A good leader, does not have to stomp their feet and say those things. A good leader is not afraid to embrace an employees good traits. They often hire people who are better than them and are not threatened by it. They use that to their benefit of the company or organization they are in charge of. They don’t need to be in the middle of every thing. They only ask to be kept up to date so they can stay on top of things. They take pride in their employees accomplishments. There is collaboration and trust. Work presents itself as a team atmosphere. That doesn’t mean in certain companies there is still not competition but remember, Olympic athletes are a team and compete against each other all the time and they embrace the talents of those athletes on their team.
Just remember, when you decide to let someone know how you feel, there is a chain of command and you need to allow them to do their job as well. You should be validated. They should investigate it and then educate. The company should be taking care of the bully by helping them or getting rid of them, they should be touching base with the target and by standers and making sure you or they are educated in policy and how to deal with your feelings of being in an abusive work relationship and then most importantly is you need to move forward and show your company that you are valuable and capable.