Surprising reasons bosses keep office bullies around
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We all know — and loathe — them.

The office bully. The sneaky colleague. The one who pushes you around or behaves in an underhanded way. We tell ourselves that eventually that bully will be brought down to size. And yet, he gets promoted. She gets a plum assignment. How can it be? Why do workplace bullies keep getting ahead? And is there a better way to deal with unpleasant people at the office?

Several LinkedIn Influencers weighed in on the subject this week. Here’s what two of them had to say.

Vanessa Edmonds, President at RIM Solutions

Gardeners constantly seek plants, such as ivy, that can tolerate flooding, drought and other intolerable conditions. That way, a gardener can get a healthy crop, even when other plants die off, wrote Edmonds in her post Why Bosses are Siding with Office Bullies. The problem: as these hardy plants multiply, they block the sun and healthy, more delicate blooms like violets are choked off and die.

“Similar to hardy plants, office bullies (IE: mean girls, brown nosers, misogynist boys clubs and other varieties of trouble makers) may be winning [the boss’s] favour at the expense of positive, solid contributors,” Edmonds wrote, citing a study in the Journal of Managerial Psychology. The journal “found that workplace bullies regularly receive positive evaluations from supervisors and achieve high levels of career success. Researchers concluded that their social ability and political savvy enable them to exercise abuse — strategically — while being well-liked among those in higher ranks.”

It’s not that bosses purposely promote people they know are bullies. Rather, they might not be aware. “If you are a boss and really want to understand your appetite for bullies,” she wrote, there are four things to ask about yourself — if you answer yes, you might be a bully-enabler. Among them:

You hate complainers. Workplace complainers are in your face, asking you to make a judgment call when it’s one person’s word against another. They are incapable or unwilling to resolve conflict on their own,” she wrote. “Bullies, on the other hand, don’t inconvenience you at all. They mistreat others behind-the-scenes and their social and political savvy allows them to remain calm, cool and most importantly — surprised when you confront them about the claims against them.”

You love loyalists. Like hardy plants, bullies are dependable when all others abandon you. They are crafty and know that each time they push out an ‘incompetent complainer’ they are further carving out a spot out for themselves within the ranks of the indispensable… and they are right,” Edmonds wrote. “They stand tall, by your side… and don’t generally demand a lot in return. Because of this you eagerly reward them with promotions and raises. Maybe you’ve heard them speak disrespectfully to co-workers a time or two, but you talk yourself into believing that the object of their verbal slap-down deserved it and they are acting on your best behalf, or it is merely and isolated event.”

Even a boss who knows he or she favours bullies might not suddenly dismiss them or deal with them.

“Just like gardeners who choose hardy plants that will ensure a healthy crop when faced with inclement weather, bosses sometimes make eyes-wide-open decisions to keep office bullies instead of the victims of their abuse,” Edmonds explained. “After all, the bully has probably proven that they are best positioned to ensure the viability of the organisation, at least in the short term.”

Long term, it could be a different story. “Bullies care most about advancement, not you. They are merely manipulating you to get ahead,” Edmonds wrote. “If they have the opportunity to become bigger than you, they will. And then you, rather unfortunately, may become the object of their bullying. Like out-of-control foliage, there won’t be much you can do to stop them because it is you that advocated for them all along.”

Sonia McDonald, managing director and founder at LeadershipHQ

“There will often be that one person in a working environment that no amount of coaching or compassion will breach. These narcissistic jerks cause disruption, anxiety, pressure and even hostile work environments no matter what others may do to try and alleviate their control issues,” wrote McDonald in her post The Jerk! “If you have someone in your work arena that fits this description, don’t panic. There are steps you can take to ensure a smoother, though not ideal, working relationship.”

Among the steps McDonald suggests:

Be aware of your confidence. One tactic workplace jerks take on to forward their own narcissism is to bully other employees into discrediting their own work. You are the expert in the field and recognise your work has great value and substance, so when the workplace jerk starts knocking it down, realise you have more fruitful avenues for peer review. Seek out those around you who you trust and garner their opinion,” she wrote.

“Keep communications open. It is often uncomfortable to discuss just about anything with a demanding jerk in the workplace, but shutting down lines of communication is not the answer,” wrote McDonald. “When having to collaborate with such as personality, speak clearly and concisely about your topic. Be aware that a narcissist needs to feel in control, and that they may well try to drive the communication into a light that makes them look better. This is done by introducing red herrings into the conversation — don’t fall prey to dead end roads. Stick to the point at hand and move along.

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