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Watching Mitt's monopolization of the debate last night, I couldn't shake the feeling of deja vu. That faux smile. That fast-talking "even-though-I have-nothing-to-say-I'll-make-sure-you-don't-get-a-word-in-edgewise" patter. That sense of smarmy, entitled domination. That feeling of being bullied.

It's pretty common in the corporate workplace. Dysfunctional people running amok; others deferring to them, whether out of shock, awe, or self-presevation instincts. I worked for a guy like that for a while. In addition to being a large and imposing figure, he had a similarly outsized temper, and loved using it in meetings. His entire team lived in perpetual fear of his outbursts, which typically occurred in the midst of team meetings.

There, he'd pick one or two of us and really unload: criticizing our work in scathing and profane terms, then criticizing us further if we cowered under his barrage of stinging insults. The only upside to this terror was that the team members bonded with one another... against a common enemy.

One-on-one,even after the public verbal beat-down, he'd be perfectly nice to the victim of his wrath. If they didn't know him better, they'd think he was just having a bad day, and now he was back to normal. But "normal" for a person like this means that they always, always have to have the upper hand. Getting you to trust them again is just part of their bulying schtick.

The "backstory" on these people is usually the same. There's something difficult or tragic in their life, whether at home or at work. Privately, they'll just tell you that they're under a lot of pressure. Heaven help us if we're drawn into their story of woe and lamentation and we let our guard down to feel sympathy for the bully. They love it when we make ourselves vulnerable to their next tyrannical attack.

Not all bullying as overt. Some of the most effective bullies are seen as "nice people" by their peers and manager, while they wage a subtle campaign of terrorizing those they long to "control". But most corporate bullies, like Mitt, have a "tell". They're not quite clever enough to pull off the perfect bullying crime.

The corporate workplace is an ideal habitat for a bully to exert the control they lack elsewhere. In many cases, they're even admired in the corporate world as a "take charge" kind of person, even a real leader. It doesn't take long to see that the bravado has nothing to do with competency, but everything to do with pathological tendencies.

These bullies thrive in corporate America because they inspire fear not only in the folks who have the misfortune of reporting to them: they also inspire fear in their boss. As a result, the bully can storm, unfettered, through the organization, wreaking havoc. Nobody has the nerve to confront them or to fire them.

The people who work for the bully live in a perpetual state of siege, looking over their shoulder all day, lying awake all night wondering what's next, or how they'll endure another day, week, or month of the abuse. Some of them eventually quit, and corporations lose many excellent people when they let the bullies continue terrorizing people. Some stand up to the bully, which usually doesn't end well. Bullies usually win out, even if they spawn a toxic death spiral in their workplace.

So, Mitt, you may have achieved your idea of a debate "success" last night, but I have the feeling I'm not the only person who saw in you every bully they ever faced, from the school playground to the upper echelons of corporate America. We know your type, Mitt, and we're not buying your shtick.

Originally posted to cassandracarolina's fossil record on Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 06:39 AM PDT.

Also republished by Retail and Workplace Pragmatists - Members and Editors.


Have you been bullied in the workplace?

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