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Bullying office manager

Dear Office-Politics,

I am in an I/R position and befriended the office manager in our office. She comes across as being snotty, judgmental, mean, and rude, just to name a few. While we were friends for around six months, she would compliment people on one side of her mouth meanwhile demeaning them from the other.

I witnessed her behaviour bestowed on many coworkers (one had to leave the company due to it) and for the most part just passed it off as “her”! I have managed to maintain good relationships with everyone else in the office. However, she has now turned against me. It sounds like denial but I really do not have any clue why. Recently she even started trying to take an active role in my job and when I tried to put a polite end to it, she became even worse. Knowing how she handled other relationships (she told me everything) I feel as though I am her next target/victim. I am completely stressed out about it and considering my options.

Other dynamics include an affair between her and a senior management member making discussing it with management difficult, other people in the office who have experienced this behaviour are also considering their options, this particular job is a stepping stone for me and I am not sure leaving it too soon would be of benefit to my resume. As it stands, she emails me at home to ask me to return things to her that she has given me, she totally ignores me at work or does the complete opposite by rudely standing outside of my office while I am discussing work with coworkers. She makes backhanded comments as she walks by my office door and she goes to other coworkers and bad mouths me. Given her relationship with the senior manager, she acts like she is untouchable and pushes every button possible to get my goat. Most of my coworkers can’t believe she would turn on her “only” friend but personally I think I should have seen it coming.

I am tired of being bullied by her. There is going to be a meeting between her, a manager and myself in the very near future but I am getting very stressed worrying about what will be said and what should be said. Although I would like to keep my job, I worry that her backstabbing has gone too far to go back to a positive relationship and am not sure whether I can forgive and forget. She doesn’t allow you to put your head down and do your work, she disrupts your day as much as possible. I am known in our office as the team leader/cheerleader but this is putting a very big damper on the environment. What can I do? I believe I am respected in my office for the job I do but I am not sure that is going to be enough. Please advise.

Thank you.


robert mueller

Dear Tired-of-bully,

From your bully’s treatment of others, you might have had a sense your supervisor’s excruciating rudeness was eventually headed your way. But if you had never experienced a “Bullying Boss” before, you would have had no reason to know they exist. Please forgive yourself. And as a Workplace Warrior, forgive her as well. But never forget — not even one detail.

To be clear, your supervisor, “Pauline,” was never your friend. All along, she “played” you like a pawn on her cold, plastic chessboard. “Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer,” bullies have been heard to say. Of course, bullies have few or probably no real friends anyway. If you choose to stay for a while, you just might reverse your political roles but you can never be friends. Your only real options are to earn victory over her and/or leave.

The trick to winning is first to honor your and most people’s natural instinct to seek the fellowship of others. Then, in Pauline’s exceptional case, let that go in favor of becoming a righteous, political opponent.

When crafting your strategy it might help to know Pauline appears, at least from here and like most bullies, to be cunning but not particularly bright. As with most targets, you appear to be her opposite: her intellectual superior but maybe not as clever as you currently need to be. You can grow. She can’t.

She developed her bullying routine simplistically by trial and error. Where there is a routine, there is predictability and thus vulnerability. By documenting events in an even and standardized way, patterns will emerge. As they make themselves known, think not only about how to work each of their elements defensively but offensively as well. It might sound rude, but it happens to be true: “the best defense is an offense.” She’s on the offensive, so you better be too!

If you find, and it is remarkably easy to do so, people familiar with her past including past targets, you will almost certainly find Pauline first “courts” each of her targets in the same way. She shares false confidences; provides the target “protection” from herself (much like gangsters do shopkeepers); and, gives gifts she fully intends to pull back later. She is, right now, courting her special manager in the oldest of ways. You can be certain she is documenting every embarrassing detail. Geeeez! He can’t see it coming either.

If you are particularly bold, and in a position to do so, you might ask him a question or two intended to elicit what types of gifts she’s tentatively given him. In addition to her obvious offering, these are the kinds of things a good intelligence operative like you documents (time, date, place, people, quotes). You then hide these away until you need them, like a special piece of jewelry. There could be a sexual harassment/discrimination lawsuit in here somewhere, not only for Pauline but for you as well. That could mean a nifty severance package — your “stepping stone” in an unexpected form.

Although I doubt Pauline thinks about it, but you’ll probably also find that her courting technique is always followed by the same betrayal. She substitutes malice where there was once a false intimacy. “Backstabbing,” “backhanded comments,” and “bad mouthing” now define your day just as it did with the others before you and will for her manager to follow.

She is currently causing you to worry about an upcoming meeting, probably without a bona fide reason to. For her, to cause you the worry is enough. I really doubt they going to fire you, or give you a hard time beyond what you can handle. You are a particularly valuable employee and you have support in your and their milieu. If they foolishly fire you or undermine you in significant way, they will regret it for all to see.

When you get to the meeting, lay back and let them come to you with the agenda they already have in mind. Try not to be reactive, and try to buy time to plan afterwards how to respond. Take someone with you, if that’s possible.

To your considerable credit, you have already established leadership of the group. You described your role as “team leader/cheer leader.” If you want a reason for her attacks, that is almost certainly it.

From here, you have the option of consciously, rather dangerously unconsciously, becoming the employees’ guerilla leader. You will ease your pain considerably if you think of workplace politics as if it were a board game, or a war with maps and charts and whatnot. Collect intelligence, analyze and strategize objectively and keep these to yourself. Give only succinct guidance to others. To advance on her politically — while unnoticeably pulling back socially — makes it easier for you to pull back emotionally. To pull back emotionally makes it easier to think and act objectively. Life feels a whole lot better this way.

You will covertly plan how to undermine her official but malevolent authority to productive rather than hurtful ends. Not in the abstract but from the patterns, your objectives will become known. You might even replace her as the unit’s next supervisor, after her affair with her special manager inevitably goes bad. But, like most sincere employees, you are held back by your reasonable preference for a productive, low stress, rational and personal relationship that can never be.

If you accept your already established leadership role and the responsibilities that come with it, strength will replace doubt. Your departure might ultimately be forced but, no matter what, your honor will be respected and not just by others but, most importantly, by you as well. That’s your choice. You decide. I can easily visualize your joyful, cheerleader pompoms serving as excellent, lighthearted cover and camouflage for your well-considered plan and practical maneuvering.

You are thinking both about leaving as well as your good reasons to stay. I recommend that you shift your focus to where all employees’ focus should always be: exactly where are you most likely to go next regardless, on what terms, and what events are most likely to precipitate your departure.

Take courage and make the effort. This is an enormous opportunity. Pauline knows you’ve “got what it takes,” so should you.


Robert Mueller

Robert Mueller is the author of Bullying Bosses, available through Amazon. Mueller draws on over 20 years experience as an attorney involved in investigating, litigating and solving legal and political problems in the workplace. He has represented nurses, social workers, professionals, teachers, clericals, customer relations, law enforcement, intellectuals, creative persons, trades people, miners, heavy construction and manufacturing workers. For more information please visit Bullyingbosses.com. Read the Office-Politics review of Bullying Bosses.

ISBN 0-9768293-0-4, $17.50 US, 283 pages, paperback

  1. One Answer to “Bullying office manager”

  2. Dear Robert, Ever do work in the death care industry, particularly cemeteries! All is not peace and quiet in cemetery offices! Your article on bullying is correct 100%. How can this behaviour be stopped and eliminated from daily office life?

    By Betty on Sep 25, 2008

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