Verbal Abuse

Question:

How do you handle verbal abuse from an employee?

Signed,

How ???

Answer:

Dear How ???:

It depends on who you are; whether you are a victim, an observer, a supervisor, or in Human Resources? Also it depends on what is the power relationship and on the nature of the verbal abuse. Is the verbal abuse to which you refer a one-time remark or a pattern? Was it name-calling, threats, yelling, screaming, slander, or jokes of a sexual or discriminatory nature? Was it by a boss who is picky-picky about minor things or who might praise sarcastically minor accomplishments and belittle major effort? Did the abuse come because the victim provoked it by irresponsible acts? Let’s say you are a supervisor. Handling verbal abuse you observe by one within your charge might begin with an informal private talk; asking what were you trying to say and is that a good way to get what you want or to say what you dislike? And firmly stating what is and is not appropriate. If an individual you supervise/manage brings a complaint that someone is speaking abusively, one must investigate to get past the he-said, I said accusations. That entails learning the nature of the verbal abuse and prescribing verbal warning and graduated more severe discipline if it continues. Most workplaces have policy of what is and is not acceptable. “Handling verbal abuse” entails careful investigation if one is a supervisor and assertiveness if one if a victim. Victims can rarely persuade a bully to stop, but they should know that stopping verbal abuse won’t stop is they bite their tongue and take it. Each of us has a voice. Unless we are willing to speak to power (a boss) or to a coworker to assumes she/he is more important than others, we will be subject to those who use verbal abuse to control us. Stopping verbal abuse of a coworker can begin with mustering one’s courage to say, “Sam, I am more cooperative when you ask rather than order or shout at me.” Or “Stop belittling what I do. I’m willing to listen to suggestions when you talk calmly.” Or, “We need to take time-out, Jane, to define who does what and to make the rules about how we communicate. I won’t yell and order you and I don’t want you to order me.” Stopping verbal abuse of a boss is not risk-free, but it will continue unless a subordinate secures a clear understanding of what is she/e considers disrespectful and how she/he wants to be given assignments and complaints. Verbal abuse can be more than incivility. Amie Comeau in “Employee Rights Against Verbal Abuse” (May 20, 2010 http://www.ehow.com/about_6533063_employee-rights-against-verbal-abuse.html) puts it succinctly:: “Verbal abuse is considered harassment. Employees have a basic human right to work without discrimination based on age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Hostile work environments include those where an employee is the subject of jokes, belittling comments or threatening reprimands. Federal law requires employers to act in a manner consistent with protecting against liability for prosecution.” Ours site does not give legal advice, but we are clear that employers are responsible to make a reasonable effort to prevent and/or correct communication that discriminates for any of protected groups. Do these few remarks provide guidelines and a course of action to address the problem of verbal abuse that prompted you send your question? Finally, consider that instances of verbal abuse might surface from coworker and boss-bossed unhappy and unproductive work relationships. Building and nurturing a team-minded communication can prevent and cope with verbal abuse. Our Archive has hundreds of Q&As about team building. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS is more than my signature sentence. Its underlying suggestion is that handling such issues, as verbal abuse requires the courage to act in the face of disrespect and to encourage interdependent-mindedness.

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Two Verbal Warnings

Question:

I got a group verbal warning by a supervisor that was authorized by a manager, but the whole group is being disciplined for the same thing by a more senior manager again. We have learnt our lesson by the verbal warning. Is it right to be punished twice?

Signed,

Double Trouble

Answer:

Dear Double Trouble:

A warning is made to prevent repetition of wrong acts. You learned. That’s what matters. Repeating a warning to one’s group re-emphasizes the importance of a warning. Sooooo repetition re-enforces what was to be learned. Right? Now suppose a supervisor apologized to you for making a mistake. You would appreciate that. Right? Further suppose, she/he apologized to the whole group for that mistake. Would you would not think that was unfair? No, you would think that was extra right. You asked the rhetorical question: “Is it right to be punished twice?” Expecting whoever read you question to say YES. You don’t say what was the punishment. Was the repeated verbal warning like spanking with words? Of course I don’t know. What matters is learning how to make corrections that gain the support of the individuals who made the wrong act. Ideally, a warning is an invitation not to place blame and shame, but to enlist responsibility for that wrong act and gain cooperation in problem solving. As one who was warned, you could help your supervisor by responding, “Dan, (or whatever is her/his name) thank you for bringing that to my attention, I’ll fix it and we’ll not be troubled with that again.” Sure to be punished twice seems unfair and it is good you have a sense of fairness, but don’t focus on that. Focus on improved communication and understanding what needs to be done to prevent mistakes and/or intentional lack of needed action that add value to your workplace. Be proactive in that way; doing what makes less work for your supervisor, doing what supports your coworkers, and doing what enhances the quality of goods and service to your customers. Think big. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Does this make sense?

**************************** Additional comment by Tina Lewis Rowe Often Dr. Gorden and I add to the response of the other one, so I’ll do that in this case. You don’t say what the higher level manager is doing as discipline, but it sounds to me as though it is more than a warning–or maybe it is another warning, only more severe.

This sometimes happens when the actions by a lower level manager is viewed by those higher as not being strong enough for the infraction. Or, it may be that the senior manager doesn’t have confidence that your manager was clear about how wrong the employees were and what would happen in the future.

I have experienced the same thing you mention and felt somewhat the same way. I felt that we were being chewed out twice or even three times, instead of letting us move on and get past the problem. But, looking back on it, I think the senior manager just wanted to make sure we knew he was upset and would take strong action next time.

If this second discipline is actually a sanction of some kind and more than a warning, it could be that the senior manager did not agree with your manager, or that organizational rules required a more severe reaction than just a verbal warning.

Also, consider what might be going on behind the scenes between your direct manager and the senior manager. This might have as much to do with their working relationship as it does anything else.

Best wishes as you deal with this. Work to stay

positive and keep working at demonstrating the highest quanity and quality of performance and behavior. TR

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Doctors Are Mean and Rude to Staff

Question:

I work at a mammography facility with mostly female employees. We’re talking 40 or more of us. There are 3 female radiologists there who interpret the mammograms. I’ve worked in another mammo facility with different doctors, so I am experienced with different environments. At this business, things are out of hand.

Two of the three doctors are continually unapproachable and hateful. They’ve gotten behind on their work and seem to be taking it out on all of us. It has become extremely difficult to communicate with them about job-related information. They bad mouth quite a few of the technologists behind their backs and to other technologists, creating an atmosphere of superiority among peers. They are not directly in charge of hiring or firing, but their opinions are strongly respected by administration.

Administration is aware of the situation and has had numerous complaints, but isn’t willing to take the bull by the horns. I’m sick of personally being in tears at work after a thorough butt-chewing by the doctors. Any suggestions?

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Workplace Bullying Affecting Me At Home

Question:

There is so much bullying at my workplace, and it is effecting me so deeply in my heart, that I am feeling myself incapable and worthless for just anything. I am abusing my own family to release the mental pressure. I feel I’ve lost control over my own emotions. What should I do to make things better at work and home?

Signed,

Confused

Answer:

Dear Confused:

This sounds very serious and I hope you will get some help right away, from someone who is local and you can talk to directly.

In whatever country you are living (I don’t think you live in the United States) there is medical and mental assistance when mental pressures get to be too difficult to handle. You may not be able to change things about your workplace if you decide to stay there, but you can change the way you are responding to it. What you can do about the workplace bullying depends upon where you work and what is happening. If it is as bad as you say, your best solution is probably to quit! Surely there are other places you can work.

If you feel you must stay there, talk to your supervisor or manager about it. Or, if that doesn’t help, talk to the people who hired you and explain what is happening. If there is a process in your company or business for making a complaint about work, do it. It’s not fair for you or others to be treated in a demeaning way.

On the other hand, it may be there are things you are doing that are stirring up problems, even if you don’t mean to. Ask your manager about that as well. That doesn’t mean this is your fault, but it may be you can help by improving your overall work or work relationships.

If a law is being broken, go to the police or talk to other government help. Of, if you can afford to do it, talk to a lawyer about your situation. You might also want to talk to a respected friend or someone of your religious faith, to get their advice.

The thing that is most important is that you talk to someone right there, who knows you and your situation more personally. That person will understand the work better than we can, and will also be able to guide you to local assistance.

One thing is sure…the fact that you are unhappy at work, makes it double important that you find happiness at home! You say you are abusing your family, but I hope you do not mean you are physically abusing them! If so, stop it immediately and immediately get assistance to help that situation. Talk to a doctor and get advice about special support for such problems.

You may have only meant that you are verbally abusing them or not treating them in a loving way. The one good thing you may have is your home life, so don’t ruin that by treating your loved ones in the same way you have been treated at work. Talk to them about what is happening at work, and maybe they will have some advice as well. Apologize for what may have happened in the past, and promise them you will not let work affect you at home. It won’t be easy, but if you love your family you know that is what you want to do.

It sounds to me as though this situation is far worse than simply not getting along with others. That means you need to do more than just smile and try to deal with it. Because of that, I think you should get some immediate and local help. But first, seriously consider whether you can leave the job and find something better. When you do, tell your manager why you are leaving, and maybe that will help the next person. Best wishes to you as you work through this challenge. Don’t wait even one more day to get direct assistance!

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What Should I Do If I’ve Offended A Co-Worker?

Question:

We joke around at work about things. I made a remark to a lady about having two boy friends because she said she had two homes. It slipped out and I apologized for it. I think she was hurt.

What should I do now?

Signed,

Apologetic

Answer:

Dear Apologetic:

When there is a lot of joking between coworkers and friends, it’s almost inevitable that something will be said, sometime, that will be considered “over the line” by someone.

What you said does not sound so bad to me! But, if your coworker seemed hurt or offended, it may be the way it was said or the context of it. Let’s face it, some people can say something and it sounds funny, while other people say it and it sounds like an insult! Or, one time we take something as funny and the next time we take it badly.

It’s the weekend now. When you work with this person again, immediately go up to her and say, “Hey, I didn’t sleep all weekend, for worrying about what I said when I was joking around last week. Will you forgive me for that? Please????”

Let her know you sincerely are concerned and I would bet she will say it’s OK, and the two of you can move forward.

If you know her very well…and it would have to be very, very well…you might consider calling her at home over the weekend, and telling her you didn’t want even one day to go by without you talking to her and saying that you’re sorry.

It may be that she has thought about it and realizes you meant nothing bad by your remarks. If you have had a history of getting along well with her, or at least of not saying unpleasant things to her, she will realize that it wouldn’t be like you to make a purposely hurtful remark. You may be blaming yourself more than she is blaming you. So, get it out in the open, apologize, be careful with her in the future on topics like that, and refocus on work. Time nearly always takes care of these issues.

Best wishes to you!

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How To Respond To Rude Business Resources

Question:

How do you respond to rude and bullying professionals outside of your workplace, that you rely on for sensitive financial information?

Signed,

Frustrated But Stuck

Answer:

Dear Frustrated But Stuck:

Thank you for contacting us about your workplace issues. Your question is valid, but does not include some key information. I’ll respond from several perspectives and hope that you can adapt them to your specific needs.

I’m assuming you are asking how to deal with rude people who work in an organization other than yours, rather than that the rude people are in your organization and you want to know how to deal with them away from work. If that isn’t correct, let me know and I’ll respond again!

One aspect of this is whether or not you and your organization are clients of theirs or are they only helping you, without recompense. If they are doing you a free service by providing information, you may need to simply work around their rudeness. But, if they are being paid for their services, you have leverage for insisting they be more courteous.

I realize when you rely on someone for a business situation, you don’t want to create conflct. However, we expect courtesy or at least civility even from total strangers–so it wouldn’t be unusual for you to express your concerns.

Your actions would depend upon the level of rudeness and what you mean by bullying.

*If the person is curt or angry consider asking, with a concerned tone of voice, “Bill, are you OK?” Whatever he says, you can say, “It seemed to me your tone of voice sounded like you were upset about something, and I didn’t think I had done anything. I was a bit taken aback.” If the person is much more than that–speaking to your directly in a rude and unpleasant way–consider a more firm response: “Wait a minute. Stop. I don’t know what happened before we started talking, but I don’t think WE have had any conflict today. What’s going on?”

Or, “My goodness. What prompted THAT response?” Or, “Ow, that hurt! Would you rather I’d call back another time? I sure don’t want to continue like this!”

If this has happened before, so you know there is no mistake, you might confront more sternly, “OK, Jan, let’s start over and do this differently and without the unpleasant tone of voice you just used with me.” Or, “If you don’t want to work with me on this, let me talk to your supervisor.”

I often find, if I don’t know the person to whom I am talking, that it helps to unnerve them a bit. If they are snippy I will sometimes say interrupt or wait until there is a pause and ask, “Can I get the spelling on your full name?” I say it pleasantly, but that nearly always tones things down.

My experience has been that, unless someone owns their own business and doesn’t have a boss, every one reports to someone who wants them to be nice. Thus, you should not feel that tolerating rudeness is just a trial you have to endure. Stop their behavior the second it starts, even if you never have before. You can bet they are more likely to be rude to those who they think will accept their show of ill-temper.

Having said that, I should acknowledge that some people would advocate turning the other cheek and even attempting to be sympathetic with rude people to gain their support. I think of that as rather manipulative, and also dislike it because it means we are treating mean people nicer than we treat nice people. But, you do not have to get into a fight or be equally mean back. Just be appropriately strong and stick to your own professionalism and civility under pressure. If those things don’t work, you may need to talk to your own manager about approaching the situation at a higher level.

Best wishes as you work to deal with these issues.

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Boss Called Me Negative In Open Meeting

Question:

Today in a impromptu meeting with my boss and coworkers, my boss verbally abused me in front of everyone by saying “Leave it to you to be negative.” He said, “I can always count on you to be the most negative person in the room.” He said I had a negative attitude.

I only had a suggestion as to why production was down. I did not raise my voice or show any disrespect to him. I told him that he should not talk to me like that in front of ten other people, but he just talked over me. I was humiliated. I want to go to the mill manager and complain, but don’t want my boss to try to get even with me and make my life miserable. What should I do?

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Said I Was Unethical and A Liar

Question:

A co-worker, on the job for 9 years, (1) called me unethical in front of the rest of the staff and (2) yesterday called me a liar and insisted that I admit it, in front of the staff and our supervisor.

I have been on this job for 14 months.

I’m going to talk with the supervisor about this co-worker’s increasingly out of control behavior toward me. I want it stopped. Any advice at all?

Signed,

Called An Unethical Liar

Answer:

Dear Called An Unethical Liar:

From what you describe, it sounds like at one time a co-worker called you unethical and at another time a liar, both times in front the staff. You don’t say over what action or speech on your part provoked this; nor do you say how you responded to these accusations or what your supervisor did.

Your supervisor needs to investigate the accusations and to implement or establish policy or to make clear what are unspoken rules about how co-worker accusations should be handled. From this distance, it seems to me that the supervisor, possibly with the additional presence of a representative from Human Resources, needs to interview the co-worker who accused you of being unethical and a liar. Also to interview you and others who were involved. This need not become a long process, but the facts should be learned as soon as and as accurately as possible. Following that, the supervisor should clarify when, where and how such accusations should be voiced. Unless, others on the staff are involved in the incident, it is best that such accusations be made in private and be resolved between the accuser and accused. However in your case, since these remarks have been voiced in the presence of staff, once the supervisor has investigated and determined how it should be resolved, she/he should brief the staff what is his/her decision. Also he/she should request that the matter not be continued in gossip.

This conflict brings to the surface the issue of how such matters should be voiced and resolved. And the supervisor would be wise to set aside time for your workgroup to talk over dos and don’ts of their communication that can make for an effective working relationship. Conflict is to be expected. Conflict surfaces different perspectives. Conflict raises ethical issues. These all are fodder for discussion.

Remember this is not over even after the supervisor rules either for you or against you. Why? If wrong, apologize. Apologize if you were even in part wrong. Then you can carry a grudge both against the co-worker and the supervisor, or you can earn your way back to being a respected responsible employee. If you are judged not unethical and not a liar, you can boast, or you can offer to find ways to prevent such accusations. From here, I suspect that you and this co-worker need to spend some time, possibly in the presence of a third party coach or facilitator, to hammer out what you need from each other and who does and does not do what; to clarify your job description and to commit yourselves to cooperation.

It seems to me that your workgroup could benefit from teambuilding. See our archive for that topic. Finally, how you respond to these accusations will determine if you can work through differences and whether it festers until another blow up makes you wish that you worked somewhere else.

What do you think my signature motto means as applied to your situation? Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

Follow Up: I had a meeting with the supervisor in which I attempted to discuss this person’s behavior. She turned the meeting on its end, and gave me a litany of complaints from my coworkers towards me. The jist of this (aside from some very petty complaints) was that I was not shouldering my share of the work nor doing as much as my colleagues and they felt they were having to do my work. This followed with a discussion about wanting us to work together and to build a team, work things out on our own. We outlined things that I could change on a daily basis that would improve my efficiency and then I will be given a written formal “coaching” form to improve my time management skills within a 60-day time frame. Based on the handbook, it appears that this is the first step towards what they call a “decision making leave” which is essentially quit or we will fire you.

The other person’s behavior was not addressed in the meeting, nor apparently will it be.

Unbelievable.

Dear Unbelievable: Soooo what will you do from here? Now where you stand with the supervisor has surfaced, and apparently, whether petty or not, other complaints have been voiced against you. And a plan for improvement has been outlined for or with you. You do not say what you presented about the co-worker’s lying and unethical accusation or if your supervisor sided with that co-worker’s behavior. Nor do you say if you stated to her that you do not want to be publicly attacked that way. Were you assertive? Did you have clearly in mind and on paper what happened and ask for how such incivility should be corrected and prevented? Was the accusation baseless? As you imply was it “petty”? If not, might it happen again because you and that co-worker have overlapping job descriptions and interaction?

You are now faced with whether the job you are in and company in which you are employed are worth the effort to work within the guidelines set forth. The outline for improvement implies closer interaction with your supervisor, that usually means an opportunity to demonstrate your abilities and to develop a close working relationship. In short, she will be invested in you. You can hold a grudge seeing her as incompetent and “unbelievable” and that attitude will show. And she might be. But whether she is or not, you must learn to work through the anger you feel and do your best to think like a boss. What would you have done if you were in your supervisor’s shoes? Thinking about that is learning what is involved in the job of supervising and working with a supervisor, good or bad. You are getting a ringside seat to study the job of supervision. Report back again, if you like. Do tell us what you are learning from this unhappy experience. It will test if you can maintain a positive attitude when things don’t go your way. Right?

Follow Up 2 A detailed response to each above paragraph came. Dear Unbelievable Again: Thank you for sharing the details of your job and conflict. I will not post this latest material you sent us for fear if I did and it is seen it might make your work there more difficult.

Is there anything else I might say about how you could make your situation less stressful? Probably not. Other than what you already know: That you do not have to be beaten down. You can walk away from a screaming co-worker. Or you can confront her firmly, saying, “Stop!. If you want to criticize me, step aside and we can set aside a time to talk out what bothers you and I will do my best to be cooperative and correct my mistakes if I made an error.” You can accommodate and work around the petty criticisms. You can, as I said before, see if by working within the outline for the next several weeks/months with your supervisor a solid respect of her or she for you develops. You can get a hold on your fear and anxiety about living up to the expectations of your co-workers and boss. How? By coming to a reasonable confidence that you are doing all that should be reasonably expected and no more. Let them complain. Speak up for yourself. Do what you can to make others work easier and effective, but don’t become a basket case victim.

You can do your best not to become obsessed with how your supervisor sides with this ranting co-worker than rather reigned her in. You can explore other opportunities for use of your professional skills and certification. Surely your present employer is not the only place you can be hired nor are all other employing agencies filled with employees like your out of control co-worker.

You can find emotional healing and strength to deal with the stresses others put on you by nurturing yourself–good food, pampering, exercise, avocational pleasures, outside friends and love. Work is hard enough without the stresses you now feel. Some stresses you must learn to ignore. Some to confront. Some to tell you to vote with your feet. Soooo for today and this coming holiday might you put this all out of your mind and live and laugh? I hope so.

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Hateful Co-worker

Question:

I have been working for this company for 4 yrs. and have recently been promoted to a full time sub-foreman position for evening maintenance. I work with an older gentleman who is sub-foreman for the production department. On more than one occasion he has blown up at me when things don’t go his way and is very abusive verbally. I have talked to my supervisor about it without getting any results. I understand he has 20+ years experience at what he is doing and try to give him the respect he deserves but it doesn’t seem to matter.

My boss says I am doing very good with my new job and my new responsibilities. I try to be cooperative and professional in my dealings with the other sub-foreman, but to no avail. I have talked to other people including his supervisor about his attitude and they say that nothing can be done. This is not the first time, nor am I the only person he does this to. Do you think I should stand up to him? I don’t want to feel like I am lowering myself to his level,or get a reputation for being hotheaded and uncooperative.

We have a H.R. department but I hesitate to report him for fear of causing myself unnecessary grief. I like my new job and all my crew and my supervisor and I don’t want to go backwards in my career. I am 44 yrs. old and have worked hard to get where I am at today.Any suggestions will be greatly apprecciated!!

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Can I Complain About Verbal Abuse?

Question:

I have co-workers who have been harrassing me and on occasion cursing me for the past few months, but cannot prove it to my supervisor. What can I do?

Signed,

Verbally Abused

Answer:

Dear Verbally Abused:

You can certainly make a complaint within your organization, about inappropriate remarks or harssing behavior, by co-workers. The nature of the actions and remarks, circumstances involved, nature of the organization and the size of the company will make a difference in how the complaint is handled. If you want to make a complaint within your company, write a letter to your supervisor and either send it, or hand carry it to him or her. In the letter state what has been said and done, when it happened and the circumstances. If there were witnesses, list them. Then, state how each situation made you feel while you were trying to work, and ask for the supervisor’s help in making such actions stop.

He or she doesn’t have to be present when the events happened, for an investigation to be done. Even if the people involved deny it, their history may be enough for the supervisor to at least warn them about the matter.

Before you do that, do an evaluation of what is happening and why, and if there is anything you can do on your own to make a change. Consider if the remarks occur as the result of a specific type of event or an action on your part. If one particular kind of situation tends to lead to it, perhaps you can ask the supervisor to be present and observe. Or, you can determine if there is triggering cause. Maybe you can play a role in a group meeting in which stress and anger are handled better overall.

Consider the nature of the remarks or actions–are they focused on your work product, the way the co-workers think you have treated them, something about your behavior, your gender, your race or some other personal issue?

If there is clearly a focus on any of the protected status issues–ethnicity, age, gender, religion, etc., you might have a basis for a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Another factor would be what is happening along with it. If there are physical actions or threats, you may have a criminal complaint–or at the least would have more to bring to the attention of your supervisor.

Also consider what your reaction and responses have been to the people making remarks to you. Have you ever tried to find out what is behind the hostility? I know that’s not easy to do but it’s better than coming right back at them, or acting as though it doesn’t bother you at all.

I can’t recommend a response that would be sure-fire effective for you, because your work situation would make a big difference in that. But perhaps someone you trust who works with you could advise you about the best way to handle it. If you can identify someone who is viewed with respect by those who are bothering you, that person might be willing to not only advise you, but also stand with you in trying to get the situation to stop. You could also use that person and others, as examples of how they are able to work effectively without being subjected to such remarks. I do feel your supervisor should be more strongly told that you are asking for his or her help. And if that doesn’t happen, I think you should go over his head to find someone else in the company who does care. Businesses are very aware of their liability if the work environment leads to illegal harassment or physical violence. At some level, someone will want to find out more and do something about it.

These are tough situations to handle on your own, which is why you will need to support of someone, at some level. You may find you simply don’t want to work in a place that allows such behavior. But you may also find you can do something to stop the bullies, or to change the habits everyone has gotten into. Best wishes as you work to meet this challenge. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what results.

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