There’s a bully in our neighborhood and an encounter with a bully is unnerving and potentially devastating.

I was getting ready one morning and Louie came running into my room, almost mouthing words, mixed with a little whining as if to frantically say, “Oh my gosh, mom, you have to come here. You have to help me because this could be really bad!”

He ran over to the window, looked out to the back yard, then looked back at me, then looked out the window again and then looked back at me, with a worried expression on his face and a lot of whining. I wondered what on earth would I see out there.

And there he was…the bully! Not just any bully— but the neighborhood’s feral cat! It sauntered across the yard, causing fear and angst in Louie until it was finally out of sight. Clearly its tactics worked because of Louie’s reactions.

That wasn’t the only time Louie encountered his feline bully. On our walks, there’s a narrow part of our path that we cross every day. One day as we came upon that spot, the bully was sunning himself and had no intentions of moving…even if approached by a hound dog with a big mouth and his human, that cat was not moving. We actually turned and walked the other way; it wasn’t worth the fight.

Now I know my dog lover friends are laughing because they’ve seen this with their own dogs. And we’ve seen the funny videos of this behavior on YouTube. We also know the severity of bullying for young people and we hear more each day about the corporate bully.

Workplace bullying can include verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical mistreatment and humiliation. This type of hostility is particularly difficult because workplace bullies often operate within the organization’s “rules” and are many times someone in authority. However, we can also be bullied by our peers, and occasionally even by a subordinate. Bullying can be covert or overt. It may be missed by superiors or known by many throughout the organization. Negative effects are not limited to the directed individuals, and may lead to a decline in morale and an increase in a culture of distrust.

If you as a leader know there is a bully in your midst, do you resolve the issue immediately? What if no one actually complains directly about the bully but you are discerning the rumblings and have watched enough of the body language to raise questions? Do you go to others to ask them about the person? Do you go directly to the bully to confront them knowing you may suffer the repercussions if you express concern versus coming with actual proof you’ve witnessed yourself?

These are complex questions without simple answers but the issue must be addressed…and the sooner the better.

Gossip, malicious backbiting and passive aggressive behaviors can topple a team quickly. Rebuilding could take years, if ever. Most businesses cannot afford that type of implosion. The leader of the organization sets the tone for a culture of trust and it begins with their taking the following actions:

  1. Gossip must be stopped immediately and there should be zero tolerance for it in the workplace.
  2. Coworkers should be trained how to confront issues with one another in a healthy, positive manner.
  3. As a woman in the corporate world since 1980, I have seen my share of female bullies and the unnecessary damage caused by their actions. My friend, Laurie Althaus, says it best: “They [women] attempt to mix the masculine competitive energy and individualism (which has its purpose) into the batter with the feminine strengths of cooperation, wisdom and groupism. The two do not mix well without lots of discernment and assurance that personal values are adhered to.”

While I can’t do much about the neighborhood bully, as Louie’s leader I can assure him that the cat will in no way interfere with his freedom to be the lovable hound dog that he is. He’s learning not to react as we walk past the bully. Everyone loves to see him every day and what a sad place our neighborhood would be if he were too scared to go on his fun walks.  The same goes for your workplace! Immediately take action against bullying!

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