Defense Against The Dark Arts: How to Fight Back Without Losing Your Mind

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OverviewGeneral StrategiesSpecific Tactics ★ Tools Against Bullying

Same Team! SAME TEAM!

These tools will help you, but you will notice sometimes that these really really piss a bully off. Be warned - some battles aren’t worth fighting. Your energy and talents may be better suited elsewhere. Of course, that’s not to say you shouldn’t stand up for yourself.

For those of you who have read the previous articles in this series and still doubt me, then how is it possible that I know what I do, with no formal business or managerial training? And how am I able to describe these situations and scenarios so accurately? You can only learn these things by being taught or going through them yourself.

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine

People aren’t naturally like this. There’s this really interesting scene at the end of Little Miss Sunshine about learning hard lessons in life and one of the characters references Marcel Proust’s writing. Basically, the paradox discussed in Little Miss Sunshine is that being blissfully happy precludes personal development, so you either have to choose to love the struggle or be happy and content with where you are. * But you can’t have both. *

Or so Proust critics say anyways. I have my doubts about these conclusions. Why should we not be happy while we seek personal development? Why is life such that pain is the best teacher? Is this true? I hope not, since the scars often hurt more than the pain itself.

Coincidentally, I happen to be writing a Marcel Proust size work with this series of articles.

Bazinga Ball Pit

It’s really only through experiencing this pain that I’ve learned about this stuff. While it hurts, it has made me stronger. I truly hope everyone reading this understands why you don’t put people through these situations. And I’m assuming that many of the people taking part in this either don’t understand what they are doing, what it’s like to be there, or how it affects someone, ultimately.

“Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

What Makes It Hard to Fight Back?

To your manager, it’s going to seem like you’re whining, unless you have a solid case with well documented examples of clearly negative behavior. If you go to them too many times, you’re going to burn through your “favors” and exhaust your “asks” with them.

Even then, your manager is going to prefer that you resolve issues with teammates on your own, without requiring intervention. A manager doesn’t want to get between two teammates to resolve personal relationship problems, unless it is clearly necessary. And because of the nature of passive agressive behavior, it’s hard to demonstrate this clearly. Ultimately, they will do it because a manager wants to stand up for their employees and wants to provide the best work environment they can. But if your argument doesn’t stick, you might find yourself worse off.

Ultimately, I don’t want to feel like I am at odds with the people I work with.

Tools to Fight Back

Here it is, the most important part of this series.

★ Needz Moar Light!

When everyone knows what’s up, manipulations fall apart. These people operate in darkness. People aren’t stupid and they don’t just fall for anything. So, usually, the more details you bring to light, the less capable a bully or sociopath is able to manipulate.

The More You Know

Obviously, this doesn’t work for everything, as there are many situations that people would like to keep private and for good reason. However, these bullies are going to use that as an excuse. They’re going to prefer to hide their plans, hide their intentions and cover their tracks. They are going to be duplicitous and various people will develop different ideas of what is truly going on. You need to minimize this.

How do you do this? Effective communication. CC the relevant people on appropraite email threads. Make sure credit for tasks is publicly given to the right people. Reward people in front of others, so everyone knows how people have contributed to the teams efforts.

To Change A Lightbulb

There’s no need to be sneaky about it. Avoid making criticizing this person behind their back, but don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you trust. No one likes someone who talks behind someone’s back and you’ll basically be doing the same thing as them. Remember, it’s not fair to deplore someone without giving them a chance to correct their behavior. Effective communication doesn’t mean tattling to your manager everytime this person does something. You just need to be more aware and make sure everyone’s on the same page.

★ Bring the Situation to Your Manager and Team’s Attention

Tread carefully when doing this: it may not yet be appropriate. The fact that it’s harder to bring in our manager is one ongoing problem that you may face: your manager is really counting on you to work with the team and for you to mostly take care of any relationship issues that arise. You really need a strong case to bring something to the manager’s attention. And if it is your manager, you’re probably !@#$’ed. GLHF.

★ How Should We Use the Socratic Method?

The Socratic Method is perhaps your most valuable tool, besides conversation. Be careful, the Socratic Method isn’t appropriate everywhere – the military is a good example of a place where questioning everything is a bad thing.

What is the Socratic Method? It’s a method of rhetoric where you ask questions that elucidate your opponents beliefs and likely next actions. You can use this to pigeon hole them, if you can just see a few steps ahead. If you can ask questions that introduce the conditions you need to win a debate or force your opponent to take a certain argument, then you win.

Socratic Method 1

It was popularized by Socrates in Plato’s Republic and you see this especially in Chapter One, in the debate against Thrasymachus. Thrasymachus asserts that strength is justice, which really kicks off the whole book. Socrate’s uses his annoyingly effective methods of reasoning and rhetoric to make an argument someone thought was worth writing a book about. Socrates is killed several years later. Probably because he just won’t stop asking questions.

By the way, you should read Plato’s Republic if you haven’t. This book should be required reading in middle school. It’s not that important – it’s just the foundation of all Western philosophy. You can either struggle understanding the Western world around you – or you can read the book.

Against workplace bullying, the Socratic Method works best when when used subtly. It will at least allow you to better read this person. You can’t just go directly questioning everything. You need to be indirect about it and ask questions, the answers of which may belie their intentions – in front of everyone or in private.

However, the goal is not necessarily to bust this guy out in front of everyone, unless the situation gets to that point. The goal is actually to learn more about what this person is thinking about doing and by asking the right questions, you can block them from ever making shitty moves in the first place. Or you might lead them into contradicting themselves.

It’s kinda like jeopardy. A philosophical form of rhetorical jeopardy …

Celebrity Jeopardy

I really just wanted to use this image lulz

Questions with Yes/No answers aren’t really useful here, though they can be. Ask questions which require a somewhat detailed response and see how your opponent responds. Does their answer mesh with what you suspect to be true? Did they try to hide their answer or change the subject by wrestling control of the conversation from you?

★ Make a Mental Note of It. Or Actually Make Notes.

Observe Manipulative Behavior Discerningly. Don’t Act Quite Yet.

Remember, it’s important not to get swept up in the moment. You could be mistaken. You also need to demonstrate understanding and compassion yourself. Also, it is in your own incentive not to respond so quickly: doing so could backfire or could prevent the person from exhibiting more of their negative behavior.

Also, this is incredibly important for someone conducting job interviews. You want to see how this person behaves on their own: they’re going to have control on the job, aren’t they? Therefore, provide some direction and see where they go with it. I’ve always noticed that interviewers do this. At least, the better ones do. Do you want to work for someone that doesn’t provide you some autonomy? Do you want to work for someone who isn’t a good judge of character? Starting to get off topic there, but those are good points to reflect on a bit.

It’s important that when you begin noticing problems with someone, start making notes! You’re going to forget the exact details of these situations very quickly and so will everyone else. The full context of the situation might not make sense without written record of it.

Just don't leave paggro notes

Just don’t leave a passive aggresive note.

If you feel a negative relationship is going to develop at work, these notes are going to be invaluable. Later on, you may find yourself distraught by things going on and having these notes can really keep you grounded. Maybe you’re mistaken and you look back and things really aren’t so bad. Or maybe you need a list of a dozen examples of negative behavior for when you bring it to you manager’s attention.

At one job, the first conversation I had with a person alerted me to the fact that I would have problems with this person. I maybe should have reached out to others at that job about it earlier, because I think he was manipulating them too. But I took notes on the things that happened and I still have them. Within a week or so, I was able to determine that, yes, this person was definitely going to give me problems and that I should interact with him very carefully. It was also this guy’s first week: we were hired on the same day. It was also a particularly competitive job, since it was like the coolest company I ever worked for.

Ugh .. doncha hate that? Same Team?!

★ Share Your Tools For Success

In every industry, there are things that can be done better. Better ways to do the same work. After you work a particular role for a while, you may naturally learn these or you pick them up from the people around you. Don’t horde these shortcuts and tools for yourself. Give back to the people around you. If you take the time out of your day to do so, you’ll find that they’ll remember that.

You don’t want to sound condescending when you do it though. I may be guilty of this, but it’s not my intention. I would hope if there’s a faster way of doing something that someone would show me as well.

★ Use the Mirror Effect to Show Him/Her How Their Actions Affect Others

This one is very effective when you’re dealing with a misunderstanding between coworkers. However, when you’re dealing with someone who staunchly wants to push you around and they’re aware of that, the “mirror effect” doesn’t really work as well.

What is the Mirror Effect? Oddly enough, it’s from the 48 Laws of Power. This one is actually good! It took me forever to get it – and I mean YEARS. I sorta understood, but not really. Can I say category theory one more time?

The Mirror Effect is basically mimicking someone’s behavior & words in way such that you’re basically holding up a mirror to them. For people unaware of how their actions are affecting others, it can serve as a great tool that shows them how they are treating others.

Mirror Effect

There’s a few problems with the Mirror Effect. First off, someone like me is going to have a hard time examining situations from multiple perspectives, which is required. If someone doesn’t “get it,” it’s completely wasted.

Another problem with the Mirror Effect is that using it requires you to mimick someone’s behavior. Doing so can actually cause more problems or misunderstandings. It has to be used in the right way to be effective. Used in the wrong way and you may provide this person with more fodder to be used against you.

You may want to use the Mirror Effect by interacting with another coworker in front of the person you have the problem with. You can display an equivalent behavior in front of the bully and see how they react and what they think. However, beware – no two situations are ever truely identical. Most don’t even come close. And reading people’s reactions from the Mirror Effect is subject to confirmation bias.

★ Ignore the Haters. Don’t Play Their Game. Shine On, My Friends!

It’s very important to resist the urge to resort to the same petty tricks they’re using. This can create more toxicity in the workplace. Don’t do it. Also, you’ll find that this is part of their game: they draw you out into making mistakes, so they can make a fool of you. Don’t give them the ammunition they need because you’ll find they’ll turn it right back against you.

Make sure that you don’t get drawn into their games and forget to do what the !@#$ you’re paid to do. This is why this !@#$ pisses me off. I’m getting paid to !@#$’ing work, not play little highschool games with grown men. I’m paid to work and I want to do good things. If I’m working for someone, I want to serve them well. If not, it’ll be time for me to move on to my next job and I won’t have much experience to add to my resume. As someone who doesn’t have a college degree, experience is vital to me!

Shine On

If that light were missing, what would you see?

Also, be aware, that sometimes business is dirty. It’s a game where the people who aren’t “necessary” often find themselves cut out. Sometimes this is just how the chips fall. I would say “Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” but sometimes those players really are assholes. So don’t burn your bridges just because you are mistreated, which is different than being systematically harrassed by someone.

★ Play Dumb to Allow Your Opponent to Make Dumb Mistakes

If this person feels they’re safe to get away with something, they’ll continue stacking their chips in line with their strategy and tactics. By all means – let them continue with their petty tactics by playing dumb, where appropriate. Brush them off lightly for now. This may give you even more evidence to use against them later.

So then, why were you going to do X, Y, and Z? I’m tired of shoveling your shit, Rizzo.

Be careful not to let them get away with too much, though. If you let them make too many dirty plays, you may find yourself surrounded.

However, you may not want to call them out on something. Let them continue making this mistake. Let them make one hundred mistakes. Then, later, you can reveal what truly happened. And now you have one hundred reasons. *This isn’t really a good strategy though – in fact it’s terrible *. But, you’ll find that people who mistreat a lot of people in their life have made these immoral mistakes thousands of times. You’re not the only one who’s been burned.

★ Experience is Your Friend. Draw on Others’ Experiences, too.

When starting a new job, it’s important to get a lay of the land. Talk with others to learn more about the politics and the recent history. Otherwise, you may find yourself making inapproprate comments for the challanges the team is facing.

But, of course, there are better reasons to get to know the people around you.

Two Ships Passing in the Night

★ Grow Your Relationships

Again, another reason to make lots of friends at a new job. You’re going to need those connections and though you shouldn’t be selfishly motivated to form relationships, you do have several incentives to do so.

No one wants to work in a sweatshop, where everyone’s got their heads down eight straight hours a day. Don’t get me wrong, good employees like to work hard, but they want to have fun doing it. This is why it’s dangerous to become so busy at work that you can’t establish connections with other people.

Someone who is well connected in a business is going to be harder to remove: they’re going to have more people standing up for them. Someone who pays attention to the needs of others and listens is going to be much harder to isolate. Someone like this may be important to have around, even if they are not the best at their job. People like this grease the wheels. They make work fun and add to your culture.

Bonsai Tree by Takanori Aiba

Bonsai Tree by Takanori Aiba

Also, information is vital. Knowledge is power. And staying connected with those around you gives you more visibility and makes things more transparent! IMO, transparency is a virtue in business. However, I’m not exactly working at Lockheed.

Again – Managers: *Visibility, Visibility, *VISIBILITY! ** Do not allow one person to construct your perspective of your office’s environment and culture!

★ Don’t Burn Your Bridges

If you find that this person is manipulating people against you, remember that these people probably don’t realize the full context of what they’re doing. Also, you’re going to need all the connections you have later on in life. You really don’t want to burn bridges. Don’t let a bully burn them either.

★ Have Fun, Make People Laugh

Make sure you’re contributing to a positive work environment. Maybe you’re not exactly a stand up comic, but there’s still plenty you can do to make people laugh. Find out what TV show’s people watch and what video games they play.

Devil is a Part Timer

The Devil is a Part Timer

Video games are great because it gives people in the office who might not otherwise connect a chance to compete with their team mates in activities outside of work. Games & sports also offer a great way to see how people approach challenges and offers a great way to see how your team interacts. You can structure your activities around getting people to collaborate in new ways or pairing new people up. It will drive dialogue and make your team healthier.

Also, a person causing toxicity to show up in the workplace may also drive negative interactions in other places. So if you can spot team problems in other activities, you might diagnose them earlier.

If you find that someone is being cut off from activities outside of work, this could be considered fraternization, especially if it involves a manager and consistent, small set of subordinates. While usually activities that involve fraternization appear harmless – and may be harmless – they can be especially detrimental if someone is using them in the right way! If it is in fact fraternization, this is very wrong!

If it happens to be that someone is cut off from stuff going on outside of the office, this still kinda sucks. Be the person that reaches out.

★ Talk to the Bully

A lot of these situations are basically misunderstandings, which can be defused fairly simply through communication. Don’t allow a negative situation to grow worse. Find out what’s causing these situations to grow, so you can diffuse them quickly. Otherwise, tensions mount and you got a shitstorm brewin’.

“You got a shitstorm brewin’”

No one should be unhappy at work. Work should be something you love. You should invest your life doing things you love that give back to other people, whether it’s people served through the business or simply your family.

★ Ignore the Bully

Workplace bullies can be exceedingly manipulative, abrasive and toxic. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter what you do, they have made up in their minds that they are going to take anything you give them and turn it to poop. At this point, you may need to separate yourself from them. But be careful: isolation is dangerous and may be exactly what this person wants!

You may want to avoid 1 On 1 Communication with this Person … sometimes. Like I said above, you’re going to want to reach out to this person first – start by saying things 1 on 1, but don’t make accusations. Allow them to become aware of what is going on, so that they can react to it appropriately without feeling like they are being chastised, especially in public, in front of others.

There’s a certain kind of 1 on 1 interaction you want to avoid with this person. You don’t want to feel like this person threatens you in private or uses private communications to manipulate and steal credit for your work. So definitely avoid that, if it’s happening.

★ Defy Labels and Define Yourself

This is something I do in my personal life. I don’t like to be labelled as “liberal” or “conservative” because once you are, you acquire all the rest of the baggage that comes along with those labels. So be wary when someone makes statements in front of others, the implications of which may cause the people around you to attach a label! Be neutral.

Kounterfit Klothing

“Define Yourself” - Kounterfit Klothing

I don’t mean to down on jamskaters in this series. There are some really great, inspiration skaters out there. There’s a few of them pictured above. They’re incredibly innovative people on the cusp of a sport totally new – something most people don’t get. Most people will never truly experience the edge of innovation on something new and completely wide open, but that’s Jamskating.

Most of the negativity I experienced in jamskating took place in 2005 and ended in 2009. The jamskating culture has been constantly improving in the past few years. So, I’m sorry to have brought it up again.

★ Beware of Retribution

Using some of these tools and diffusing some of the bullies manipulations will piss that person off, especially if everyone suddenly gets it. If a bully is outed in their manipulations, you can bet on it. Sometimes this is necessary – but it’s better to not bring attention to someone’s mistakes publicly! So beware of attracting attention, but don’t allow your fear to enable this person to get away with toying with people.

★ Stand Up for Others

If you’ve been in this position before, then you’ll recognize how bad it makes you feel. So stand up for others if you feel that they’re being unfairly treated. Learn to see situations from multiple perspectives and recognize when someone is being unfairly treated. And do something about it when it happens. People are more likely to stand up for you if you do and you’ll set a good example for others.

V for Vendetta

I hope some of the skills I’ve developed in response to these behaviors have helped you

Identifying Someone Bullying Others At Work

Also, many of these tactics aren’t inherently bad in and of themselves. It really depends on the intention and the scenario in which they are used. It’s crucial to recognize the motivations behind the behavior. Is this person underperforming and seeking to distract from that by puttting a spotlight on someone else?

If it’s moreso a personality issue and they’re not strategically messing with other people, that’s easier to deal with. Still a big deal if they’re negative and bringing other people down, but I think it’s easier to deal with than someone who is strategically employing passive agressive behavior. At least you know it’s not someone doing this to seek promotion or for job security.

Or it could just be *someone who’s right supramarginal gyrus * is just two sizes too small