Handling a Bully on Your Project


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Recently, I was faced with a cyberbully who berated and bullied me online, constantly telling me that I didn’t know what I was talking about nor did anything I have to say have value. It was ugly and very, very sad.

This is something that many of us can face in our daily lives and it’s never an easy thing to manage.

In the PMO and PM space, we face this a lot at work. Whether it’s the super educated person that tells you the way you are doing your project is wrong (but has no real experience to back it up – just a lot of “should” from the textbook) or the person that’s constantly interrupting your project meetings to derail progress, bullying is real and it’s sad.

While many of us feel powerless to stop the bullying, it’s important to remember that you are NOT powerless and oftentimes mind over bully can be the best trick. Here are some things to remember and techniques to try to make it easier to handle this when it’s happening with a coworker.

  1. It’s not you, it’s them. Don’t ever forget that their behavior is on them, not you. It’s very likely you aren’t the only person that is being bullied and it speaks to their flawed character, not your value.
  2. You can’t control their behavior, but you can control yours. If you don’t have to engage, don’t. If you do need to engage as a part of your job, don’t respond to the behavior, just stay focused on the outcomes you need to accomplish. Bullies are generally trying to distract you or turn the focus onto them. Instead of allowing them to distract you, stay clear and focused on what you need to get from the interaction or meeting then move on.
  3. Your worth is not in what they think, but what you do. They will try to belittle you and make you feel small. Your worth is tied to your family, your friends, the IMPACT you make in the world. Those are the things that really matter. What they think of you does not.
  4. Don’t take it personally. Only you can control how you feel. Remember that. They cannot control your feelings. Know that they are the one that has the issue and look for ways to pity them instead of fighting them.
  5. Have fun with it. Continue to be pleasant and thank them for their continued engagement. Look for ways that you can keep a smile on your face and get through the day or meeting with them. Know that by doing so, you win. That can be quite annoying to the bully that they aren’t getting the reaction they wanted. The obnoxious behavior becomes the focus instead of your reaction. Eventually, when they don’t get the reaction they wanted, they will start to simply feel like a fool for their behavior.
  6. Do not be afraid to get HR involved. You can always ask for advice without feeling like a tattletale. HR is there for you for these kinds of situations and may even have some techniques you can employ. You can ask them to help you with ways to handle combative behavior at work. In the process, you have put the bully on their radar.
  7. Support each other. If you have someone bullying you, make sure you don’t spend any time alone with them. Invite other people to meetings or have conversations in public places. This will help them temper their behavior or create witnesses to the drama they are trying to create which will increase the exposure of their behavior and support you with #6.
  8. Don’t obsess. The more time you spend thinking about and fretting over their behavior, the more they win. Don’t let them occupy any more of your mental space than is necessary to manage them effectively, then let it go.
  9. Look internally. Are there ways that you “push” or “challenge” people that might be more than they can handle? Often when we are building a PMO, furthering change in an organization or managing a project, we can get very passionate about the IMPACT we want to create. That can make us impatient and say things that can unintentionally hurt others. Don’t forget that not everyone knows what you know, not everyone can move at the pace you can move, and not everyone will “get it.” Make sure you support, develop, cultivate, and encourage people to explore and see new ways of doing things or how they can add value.

Cyberbullying and bullying in the workplace is not going to go away anytime soon. Sadly, some people are jerks. Just remember the bully doesn’t define you and YOU ARE VALUABLE. You don’t need their approval nor the noise they want to create in your life. You matter.

Now, go make an IMPACT!

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7 replies
    • Laura Barnard
      Laura Barnard says:

      Hi, Amina! Yeah, unfortunately, we all have to deal with jerks and bullies at some point. I hope these tips help you find creative ways to make sure it doesn’t get you down! Keep driving IMPACT!

  1. ann
    ann says:

    Agree with Amina. Noticed that the bullies are insecure souls who mask a strong front to protect their job and get what they want. Bullies worsen when they are your direct boss.

    • Laura Barnard
      Laura Barnard says:

      Ugh, that’s the worst! I’ve had a bully as a boss, more than once! We never know what is going on behind a person’s eyes, but it might help to know that sometimes there is real pain there and they are just struggling to articulate it. Don’t let it get you down. Keep on driving IMPACT!

  2. Dr Paul D Giammalvo
    Dr Paul D Giammalvo says:

    Laura, you need to be very careful to differentiate “bullying” from people willing to tell you the honest, brutal truth.

    You go to your doctor, who tells you “lose 20 lbs, stop smoking and get more exercise” so is he/she bullying you?

    Or what about the police officer who stops you and says you have a light out and you were going a couple of mph over the speed limit but he/she lets you off with a warning. Bullying?

    Many Gen X and Millenials confuse constructive criticism with “bullying” just because they are being told something they know to be true but don’t want to admit it.

    Think about it…

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Handling a Bully on Your Project.  Inspired by a cyber-bully, this post brought actionable steps to help you handle project bullies and help you remember you are not powerless against them. […]

  2. […] Handling a Bully on Your Project.  Inspired by a cyber-bully, this post brought actionable steps to help you handle project bullies and help you remember you are not powerless against them. […]

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