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Workplace Bullying (7) - Damage to professional brand

Professional brand and personal brand are difficult to separate.   Social networking has been a significant contributor to that.   Together, they create the image that people have of you, and both need to be carefully nurtured.

A strong professional brand brings you opportunities, promotions and a positive work environment.  Depending on what you do, the type of words people use about you, should be aligned with your career strategy.   So if you are an HR Practioner, words like trustworthy, keeps confidences, calm, great listener are good to hear.

When a workplace bully attacks your professional brand, you need to take quick and positive action.   Sadly, most people do not query the validity of the source.  Even if they don't repeat the negative message, it raises question marks and bias when interacting with you.   In addition, confirmation bias kicks in, and all your behaviours might be checked against a biased, inaccurate view.   Very scary!

Attacking the bully in return rarely works.   While bullies might have all sorts of problems themselves, and the bullying may stem from fear or jealousy, they frequently have a strong support system which they have spent a long time developing.  It could be based on fear, but it still exists and is difficult to undermine, without damaging the victim further.

That is why quick and positive action is the suggestion.   Let's say the bully, who might be your boss, constantly publicly yells at you for non delivery against unrealistic deadlines.   If you try to respond, the yelling gets louder and less logical.   Its very intimidating, and nobody steps in to back you up.   I have found that the best way to deal with this kind of bully is to remain silent and maintain eye contact. Do not smile.     Once they have finished, if you get the chance to speak, simply say something along the lines of  "I am sorry you feel that way about my work.   I did find the deadline difficult to meet, and would appreciate your advice on what I could have done differently, as I have put in over 20 hours of overtime this week and still was unable to complete it."

This now leaves the bully able to tell you that you are incompetent etc, as anybody else would have been able to complete the task in the given time frame.    You have already asked for assistance so, once again, acknowledge that you did not complete on time, and request that you get more help and advice on the next task, so that you can see where you are going wrong, as you believe that you are capable of growth and improvement.

It is a calm, serious approach that sometimes disarms a bully.   Nervous smiles, fearful apologies without a suggested way forward, no immediate response, shouting or crying add flaming arrows to the bully's arsenal, and gives him/her the impetus to continue.

Protecting your professional brand in these kind of situations is based on behaving professionally, so if you react emotionally, it strengthens the bully's position.   This is not easy, as being bullied damages self confidence and self esteem as well as the cool headed thinking required to respond calmly.  Taking a deep breath then speaking slowly, in as low a pitch as possible, helps with sounding in control.

When it is a peer level person, it should be easier to handle, as there is no structural power, but that is not really the case, particularly in a competitive environment.   It is useful to document the bullying behaviour, and the perceived impact, as it helps when presenting the problem to either HR or your line manager.    It can be extremely difficult to prove malicious intent, but it is important to ensure that you convey your concern that you believe your professional image is being tarnished.   Part of this process is also to confirm that your line management have a positive view of you.

So once again, it is critical to manage how you present yourself when discussing the matter.   Work through your conversation with a trusted colleague, mentor or friend, to try and bed down the facts.   Emotions are difficult to control, and you might find yourself crying, or find it difficult to express yourself clearly, so practising can really help, even if its just in front of a mirror.   Remember that you are in damage control mode, and also that your management might not see the bully the same way you do.    You need to be constructive and be prepared to offer suggestions as to a way forward.

While there are people who do not care what people think of them, when you are in business a professional brand that is aligned with your ambitions is essential and needs to be looked after.

Links & References

Accsys Website

“You are the chief marketing officer for the brand called you, but what others say about your brand is more impactful than what you say about yourself.”

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