In other words, we're seeing — on a public stage — the kind of bullying that many women have had to deal with in the workplace for years. So we thought it might be helpful to hear from some experts on bullying, as well as how some real-life women have dealt with such attacks — mostly, but not always, from men.
These stories (mostly anonymous, as the women who experienced these incidents did not want to stir up trouble with current or former coworkers) are a reminder that there is more than one way to handle bullying. They also shed light on the fact that, though we often prefer to mask our own anger in the process, sometimes we don't — and that can be effective, too.
As the first woman to become the presumptive nominee of a major political party, Clinton likely won't have the luxury of letting her temper show too much. (What's called "moral authority" in men somehow translates to being shrill or unreasonable in women.) But it sure can feel good to do so — especially when it gets results. Refinery29 spoke to experts, as well as some of the women who have had to confront bullies head-on. Ahead, they share their best advice.
when you tell a bully to stop, say their name, too: 'Donald, stop.' That hits a certain part of their brain.
"Some classic body-language markers of bullying include invading someone's personal space, using sharp weapon gestures like pointing and jabbing, interrupting people, [and] jumping in and taking over a conversation, especially if the other person speaks slowly, pauses, uses proper turn-taking etiquette," Wood told Refinery29. "Stopping this is often as simple as putting up your hand in the 'stop' gesture. The limbic brain reads that right away. But you can also firmly say, 'Stop,' or, 'I wasn't finished, let me complete my thought.' A bully wants to fluster you.
"I see bullying partly as a result of the egotism of our technological age. There's research showing that when we send and receive emails and texts, because we're not dealing with people face-to-face, we're laying down neural pathways to the ego centers versus the social centers of the brain. We're losing bandwidth to know how to relate to and empathize with other people. So, when you're under stress, you freak out and go to your primitive brain and attack and bully. And if bullying works for people, they'll repeat it.
"So when you tell a bully to stop, say their name, too: 'Donald, stop.' That hits a certain part of their brain. Also, call them out on their behavior in front of others: 'Donald, you're not letting me talk.' Make their behavior public. And if they do it the next time, stop them right away. You have to retrain them. Don't be afraid. Or just say, 'Ouch' when they bully. This applies to male or female bullies. As women, sometimes we take our grievances elsewhere and complain. Or we'll say, 'We need to sit down and talk about this.' I recommend calling it out on the spot in front of others. Often, it really works."
There's evidence suggesting bullies are narcissists, very self-centered people who are low on empathy and understanding others' points of view.
"Certain organizations allow human aggression and abusiveness to thrive. If you're applying for a job or just starting somewhere, certain red flags are the company having no clear policy on civil behavior, or a poorly constructed harassment policy. Also look for places where hierarchies and lines of communication are either unclear on paper or they're not adhered to, where job descriptions are vague, or where introductory training isn't available. Of course, having all these things doesn't guarantee that bullying won't happen, but it's less likely.
"There's evidence suggesting bullies are narcissists, very self-centered people who are low on empathy and understanding others' points of view. There's also evidence suggesting that they tend to work in jobs where they themselves have a high stress level and low control at the same time. They're generally, but not always, men. So, all these things, personal and organizational, can create the perfect storm for a bully in the workplace.
"Direct bullying behaviors include belittling and humiliating, especially in front of others, as well as malicious gossip, spreading false rumors, or failing to correct false rumors. But bullying also includes exclusionary and isolating behaviors like ignoring the target or giving the silent treatment; or work sabotage, like withholding from them information they need to do their jobs well.
"Bullying can become difficult for the target to the point of extreme distress and health problems including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress symptoms, like nightmares, extreme anxiety upon approaching the workplace, and gastrointestinal problems. Yes, you can try to tell a bully to stop directly, but I don't believe in putting the responsibility for stopping the bully on the victim. The organization should create structures where the bully is not in power. Short of that, though, at least clearly document the abusive behaviors as they happen."
"At a previous company I worked for, my boss was the blustery, moody, fat-fingered bully who loved me when he hired me but then came to hate me. He looked like he wanted to punch me in the face whenever he saw me. One day, in a meeting, he mocked my response to some question — I forget exactly what he said. And I stopped the meeting cold and said, 'Bob, stop talking to me like I'm an idiot.' And he started to stutter and bluster and whined, 'I'm not!' 'Yes, you are!' I said, and left the building and walked around for an hour in a rage.
"When I came back to the office, I was convinced I'd find myself fired, so I went straight to the HR lady. I started telling her what had happened in the past and she was furiously taking notes. He stopped bullying me after that. No doubt he'd been spoken to. But he basically never even looked me in the face again. I got a new job a couple months later. I think he got demoted because I heard later that he was put in a much smaller office and eventually fired."
At a previous company I worked for, my boss was the blustery, moody, fat-fingered bully who loved me when he hired me but then came to hate me.
"When I was 24 and working in sales for a major corporation, I had a much, much older male boss who was in his late 60s. He was a VP who used to yell a lot, which freaked me out and made me want to curl up in a fetal position, as I didn't grow up around anyone who yelled. He would embarrass and intimidate people.
"After hearing him yell at others, I'd strategized about how I'd handle it if he yelled at me. And one day, he finally did, in a pretty public area near our cubicles. I found the presence of mind to tell him that we wanted the same thing and I could hear him better when he spoke in his normal speaking voice, and would he please not yell at me. He never yelled at me again. I think it might have been a difference in styles and culture. He was an older Jewish guy who had grown up in the garment industry in New York, and I was a middle-class young Black woman for whom being angry in public would be the kiss of death, especially at work. So I'm not sure he intended to be abusive, but he did understand power and was certainly wielding it."
When men interrupt me in meetings, I keep talking over them, and if it continues, I finally say, 'Do you realize you keep interrupting me?'
"I had a female manager who used to bully everyone else in my group but not me, I think because I have a strong personality and I'm Black (she's white). One day, we had some changes to our system, and I don't know if I wasn't paying attention or if I just didn't hear her, so I asked one of my coworkers to go over the changes for me. My manager came over and yelled, 'I've already gone through this once and I'm not going to tell you again.' I said, 'I wasn't asking you, so you don't have to tell me again.'
"Then she proceeded to say some things that weren't very nice — I can't remember exactly because it was years ago. I went back and forth with her, telling her I didn't care who she was, she was not going to speak to me that way...
"The next day she baked and brought in my favorite cookies, which I refused to eat. I told others in a very loud voice that I didn't want to be poisoned. Then I didn't speak to her or anyone at work for a month, I was so angry. I eventually started to talk again one day and she apologized for [her] actions and never mistreated me again."
After hearing him yell at others, I'd strategized about how I'd handle it if he yelled at me. And one day, he finally did, in a pretty public area near our cubicles.
"My husband and I are business partners, and often we get hired to do research on companies that are being acquired. On one deal, I was the main consultant since it was in my area of expertise, software. My husband and I were traveling to meet the client separately. So I arrived at the hotel and met the client, a much younger guy than me. At the time, my husband and I were engaged and I had a monogram on my luggage with my initials of my maiden name.
"So the client and I were standing at check-in in the hotel, and he saw my monogram. My husband and I have last names starting with the same letter. So the client said, 'Oh, I see you're getting a jump on your married monogram.' And I joked, 'No, I didn't change my name for my first husband and I'm not doing it for my second.' And he got in my personal space and put an index finger in my face and said, 'You know, my wife tried to pull that shit on me and that's where I drew the line.'
"I stood my ground and blinked a couple times and just said, 'I think I better get up to my room.' Sometimes you can't get in a dogfight, especially with a client. But after that, I made a point to not show fear to him, stand my ground, ask smart questions on the job, and behave as I normally would. I've learned a lot since then. When men interrupt me in meetings, I keep talking over them, and if it continues, I finally say, 'Do you realize you keep interrupting me?' That usually does it."
Don't get smaller, bringing your arms in closer to your body, ducking your head down, etc. The bully reads that as fear.
"On a film I produced, a fellow producer who was much older and more experienced often belittled me. I felt he was a good person but took his anxiety out on me, which I think was easy for him to do because I was young and female. He was always worried about something, like raising money for the film, or logistics. In general, I simply let him harass me and focused on my work.
"Others on the team had told him to back off, but that didn’t seem to work. Then, one time when he was really needling me, I finally had enough and said, 'Fuck off.' He looked dumbfounded. I was in a car and drove away. He gave me far less of a hard time after that. But 15 years later, I bumped into him at a restaurant, and he sent me a note that said, 'I never think of the days of making that movie without a twinge of guilt and shame, for being, well, not the best I would have liked to have been. I just want to apologize, very belatedly, for being a less than pleasant partner, which I fear I was.'"
M., 61, fashion merchandising employee in New York
"I've had a boss for many years who is a yeller. A great guy, but a yeller. Several years ago, I couldn't take it anymore. I'd read about the Stroke and Stand technique by Dr. Pat Allen. Basically, first you stroke the person, affirm them, then stand firm and make your point.
"So, one day I said to him, 'I need to talk to you about something. I think you're a great boss, I know you have my back, but I hate it when you yell at me and I know that my part in this is that I yell back at you, but I hope we can learn to discuss things and change our dynamic.' And he said, 'You're right, I can't argue with you.' That changed a lot. But unfortunately he is a difficult guy and the yelling started up again after a few years, which proves that sometimes you have to revisit things and do some follow-up work."