The Technical Bully Scenario

I’ve been again, unfortunately, reminded what makes a poor work environment for a DBA or Developer.  Eddie Awad had sent this out and the second one really resonated with me:

I refer to this in the IT world as the “technical bully syndrome” and it’s quite common in the arena.  It’s not because it’s a male dominated group- I’ve seen bullies come in all shapes and sizes, along with being of both genders.  In fact, there are a couple studies out there that say women managers and leads are more likely to bully a subordinate than a male is.

Now there isn’t any law against having a bad boss/manager/lead.  I lucked out in that I actually have quite a good manager where I currently work, but even if you are a good manager, you also have to note the cost to the business when you have people report to someone who does bully.  This individual pinpointed as the bully, will most likely get along very well with 90% of the folks around them.  They have a consistent need though, to pick out an “outlet” for their aggressions/frustrations and may have a small set of subordinates or peers that they switch from, bullying in intervals.    Often the switch occurs as the bully’s target starts to or simply threatens to escalate to management or HR if the bullying does not cease, the bully will then move their bulls-eye onto another target.

The cost?  Time, resources, revenue and productivity to the business.

It takes time to bully someone- time out of the bully’s day, but also time out of the target’s day when they could be productive.  The target can also be highly impacted post the incidents, feeling frustrated, disrespected and devalued.  The time lost then results in productivity loss to both parties, which in turn then costs the company revenue.  If left to continue for very long, resources are lost and high-turnover becomes the norm.

The target, who may have been highly productive in the past will start to show less results and seem to have conflicting requirements.  They may seem frustrated and angry, feeling unable to understand how to address the problem successfully or no matter what changes they make to their work style, without management intervention, they are unable to find a way to avoid the bully’s wrath.

The bully often chooses targets that are not weak, but strong.  Peers or subordinates that make them feel threatened, no matter if the threat is real or imagined.  They will continually find ways to undermine the target and make them seem insignificant.  If the target does decide to choose a defensive pose, becoming angry or responding in kind, this can escalate the behavior from the bully.  Often the bully does not see themselves as doing anything wrong!  They may be completely unaware of their behavior, having grown up with it and/or may live with similar disrespect in their personal relationships currently.

When I have been a target in the past, I have often either threatened the bully because of my technical skills, which they seemed to be completely focused on trying to convince everyone that were not sound and/or give conflicting requests to make it impossible for me to meet requirements or I reminded them of someone, (often a wife or mother..) that they had long-time issues with and felt it was acceptable to use me as an outlet when they became frustrated.

There are those that were equal-opportunity bullies.  It didn’t matter if you were male, female, what race you belonged to or your position- as long as you were below them, you were fair game and you simply did your best to avoid their bulls-eye.

I have stayed employed for a company where I was a target on and off for a couple years, until someone figured out what was going on and rid the company of the bully that was causing the high-turnover and tumultuous work environment.  The DBA’s group at that time found quite peaceful, productive years post the bully’s departure.

I have worked for another company for a very short time, where I saw the bulls-eye aiming for me and left so fast that the bully’s head spun.

No one knows what a DBA does but a DBA.  No one knows what a good DBA is except other DBA’s, (and then some would argue that there are a few that are heavily followed that would not be if most DBA’s only knew… J)  As a DBA who has seen how well IT groups can work together when everyone respects each other and respects what skills each person offers and how poorly the group will perform, how high turnover will be when a bully exists in the group, I hope more managers taken notice.

Yes, it’s not against the law to have a bully in your midst, but it should be a crime to allow it to damage the productivity, growth, resources and revenue for the company.

Author: Kellyn Pot'Vin

3 thoughts on “The Technical Bully Scenario

  1. Yes!

    When this happened to me I was very lucky that I had a friend that took me to one side and told me exactly what to do.

    In my case it was a colleague and it was exacerbated by the knowledge but inactivity of my manager.

    I hope that with the access to great advice and the ability to connect with people in the same situation as you that the Internet provides that these scenarios will become less common/easier to handle.

    But I suspect that this will be an ongoing problem. When it happened to me, I lost the ability to assess the situation, and it was only the wisdom and support of a friend that enabled me to successfully come through the experience.

    With hindsight, It was obvious what I should have done, but it was only the advice of my rational friend that enabled me to take the right approach.


  2. There are times when having a bully around is a positive. For example, in a company that has bullying as a foundational principle (like the “bus waiting” example in the article), if you can redirect the bullying away from yourself and towards the other departments, it could be an Iron Shield (like the Israeli’s anti-missle defense). It’s quite a useful skill if you can do this. The difficult part is, all the people around you will still be bullied, and there isn’t really anything you can do about it.

    All companies have some amount of dysfunction, and to be able to deal long-term with a lousy company, and not have it bring you down, is actually a quite valuable skill.

  3. It takes a strong and exceptionally skilled manager, who is also quite, hands on, to deal with a bully on their team. I have seen one deal with the problem very effectively, but it did require an extensive amount of his time allocated to addressing the problem, almost daily. The backlash came when this effective manager left and was replaced with another ill-prepared for the challenge. Lucky for all involved, the previous manager left a foundation that allowed the targets to directly report the issue to HR when the bully tactics returned and HR terminated the bully within a month of the problem resurfacing.

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