This post is intended for readers who don't (yet) own their own company, but if you DO own your own company you might want to read it for insights into your own behavior.

According to several news stories, President Trump called his then-newly-appointed Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in the oval office and told him to kill a fly that was buzzing around the room. The psychology of that request isn't complex: having Priebus do a menial task was a way for Trump to establish dominance. Classic bullying.

I don't know how Priebus reacted to the request but the only correct response to that kind of bullying is saying something like "Dude, kill your own fly."

That's because when your boss first attempts to bully you, you only have two choices:

Refuse to take the abuse. In this case, there are two possible outcomes: 1) you'll be fired immediately or 2) the bully will realize that you won't be bullied and stop trying to bully you. Whichever happens you emerge with your dignity intact.

Take the abuse. In this case, you've lost the bully's respect and you'll be constantly abused thenceforth. And you'll be probably jettisoned eventually anyway, as was Priebus, but only after several months of continuing, demeaning abuse.

The lesson here is that you MUST stand up to the bully from the very start. If you do, there's a good chance you'll come out better for it. Here are two examples from my own personal experience.

When I was first hired as a technical writer, my new boss asked me to type up a memo he'd written. Even though I was just out of college and in my first job, I had the good sense to refuse, since I had been hired as a writer not a typist. He was furious, but he never treated me poorly again, although he made everyone else on the writing team miserable.

Later, when I was in corporate marketing, I worked for a boss who was an egregious bully. At every staff meeting, he picked out one of his direct reports and spent an hour publicly berating that employee.  Finally, one of his direct reports screamed at him and threw a pencil at his head. From that moment on, she was never the target of his bullying, while everyone else continued to cower. Far from taking revenge, the boss became her ally and helped launched her career to the next level. Everyone else basically got screwed in the next reorganization.

Now, I wish I could say that, in the first situation, I was reacting out of wisdom beyond my years and, in the second situation, I was drawing wise conclusions from close observation of human behavior.

But neither of those statements are true.

In the first situation, I stood up to my first boss out of arrogance/ignorance, and I just lucked out that it was the right thing to do. In the second situation, I had no idea what had just happened or why bully-boy was treating pencil-girl so much better than the rest of the staff.

It wasn't until several years later that I learned--from Tony Robbins in fact--what had gone on in both those situations.

According to Robbins (as well as I can remember), bullies (like everyone else) are motivated by a need to connect with other people; they're just going about it a very weird and limited way.  When a bully attempts to bully, he's secretly hoping that the other person will stand up to his bullying, because that creates a real connection--real person to real person--that subservience doesn't.

In other words, when you stand up to a bully, the bully knows what you really think and can therefore make a real connection. If you're subservient, however, the bully realizes at some level that you're hiding your true feelings. The bully can't respect you or connect with you because you're hiding your true self by groveling.

Put another way, you're doing the bully a favor when you stand up to him, as well as protecting yourself from the psychological damage that comes from being constantly abused, which is where subservience will land you.

In closing, I can't help but add that this is how a leader should deal with a fly in the room:

Published on: Feb 22, 2018
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