Open Letter to a Former Bully

This letter was and never will, be sent. Aside from the fact I will never see this person again, the purpose of writing it was to satisfy a need in me rather than to prompt reform in them. This is one of the most personal things I’ve ever written.
Dear _______,

It’s been many years now since we worked together and it’s taken me a long time to reach this stage where I felt able to write this letter to you and tell you how I feel.  I want to tell you where I think you went wrong, where you may still be going wrong and why you need to change – if you haven’t already.

This letter hopes to avoid being accusatory in tone. I don’t want it to be a ‘reasons you suck’ list. But some of what I’ve got to say may end up sounding that way regardless of my intent.

It’s fair to say I didn’t like you back when we worked together in _______.

Well, I say ‘worked together’ that’s perhaps stretching it a little. We occupied the same office for some of the time but whatever else our relationship may have been, we did not work together. I worked for you. Granted, you weren’t actually paying me my salary, but as far as you were concerned it was like this – you said, I did. There was no sense that my opinion ever counted for anything or that you were interested in hearing it at any stage. As far as you were concerned, there were two ways to do something – your way and the wrong way.

If all this sound petulant on my part, it’s not meant to. After all, you did know far more than me about how the ________  ran. Obviously you did, since you’d been there for 15 years by the time I arrived, so the fact your knowledge was far greater than mine isn’t something I intend to dispute.

But this isn’t about work competences, it’s about your abilities to manage people. And in that department, I’m afraid your approach was severely lacking.

You see, _______  there’s ways and means to get what you want out of people. Treating them with respect and kindness is usually a good place to start. Perhaps they didn’t teach you that on whatever course you went on to learn how to be a manager – that’s assuming you ever went on such a thing to start with. Your approach was based on a far simpler principle which has, sadly, been used by people throughout history. It’s called rule by fear.

The principle can be summarised as follows – ‘Do what I say, do it right now, or I’ll clobber you.’ It has been a big favourite with dictators, despots and tyrants for about as long as one person has bowed their head in submission to another. It’s the philosophy of the school yard bully and the gangland boss. It is entirely self-seeking and negative, because rather than value other people as equals, each of whom is unique and has something special to bring to the table, your approach assumes others are mere puppets to be played with and disposed of at will. It was clear from the way you ran things that you weren’t remotely interested in the well-being of others, didn’t value them and didn’t care at all about their professional development. They were disposable tools for you to do with as you pleased. And if any of them dared step out of line, they were swiftly slapped back down again.

No argument can be called sound if it lacks evidence to support it, so let’s look at a few examples of where your approach fell short.

On my very first day, you asked for my help to move a desk which I gladly gave. I made the cardinal error, in your book, of daring to voice an opinion about the suitability of a particular location to which your response was, I believe, ‘You’re a know-it-all, aren’t you?’ You did this, of course, in front of all the other members of the office. How would you have felt if someone had done the same to you?

On another occasion, someone was discussing feng shui and I asked the innocent question what it ‘meant’ exactly if my room were organised with the bed in a particular position. You swiftly deduced my bed was, in fact, placed in this position and replied, ‘It means you’re going to die.’ No doubt had I complained of your unkindness, you would have laughed it off as an hilarious joke and berated me for not being tough enough to take it. But – and this is a thing worth bearing in mind – I don’t happen to find someone telling me I am about to die very funny.

Bullying, though, came as second nature to you. You spent hours mocking a colleague whose hair dye had left him with an unfortunate shade of blonde that his colouring looked ‘like diarrhoea.’ You also spent an hour talking about how someone had ‘curled one out’ (i.e. defecated) near a hotel swimming pool, a subject which apparently caused you great hilarity. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t say that sounds like someone who maintains particularly good professional standards at work. It’s the sort of thing I’d expect from a teenager not from a grown adult in a position of supposed responsibility.

Then there was ________ who joined not long after I did. You took a shine to her, possibly seeing her as a younger sister surrogate and you forced your company upon her during lunch-times. She was uncomfortable with this, wanting her own space and her own time rather than having to spend time hanging around with the boss. A few weeks into the job, she abruptly resigned for another opportunity. When she left, did you wish her luck on her last day? No. You ignored her, because she hadn’t done what you wanted her to do, that is, to be your perennial best buddy at work. You took her leaving for another job, something which she was quite entitled to do, as a personal affront, a betrayal, an abandonment. How very self-centred your little world is, with all the stars and planets revolving around you, put there solely to satisfy your needs. I wonder if anyone else in the world has any needs at all according to you? Or does the question not even occur to you?

Another girl once told me, somewhat nervously, that, and I quote, ‘Someone can be so horrible.’ She didn’t name names of course but we both knew who she meant. She meant you. But, the fact she didn’t dare criticise you even in your absence, even to a sympathetic audience, in this case me, speaks volumes for the fear and anxiety you were able to generate even in your absence.

In short, the office you ran was a pretty miserable place, devoid of humour unless it were at someone’s expense, silent most of the time while you presided over it like some malevolent gargoyle. I was regularly berated for things I had done, hadn’t done, had forgotten to do or a combination of all three. This meant being hauled into an office to be ‘bollocked’ by you, although frankly, given your predilection for humiliating others I am surprised you didn’t just do it there and then in front of everyone. I can only assume your strategy was to be as unpleasant as possible behind closed doors with no witnesses present to take my side should I ever have decided to take my case to some higher authority. Not that I imagine any of my colleagues would have taken my side over yours, such was the climate of fear and intimidation you had over them.

Perhaps the most hilarious moment during my time working with you was when you sent me on a racial equality course one afternoon – having (hours earlier) described a child you saw in a shopping centre while on your lunch-break as being ‘dressed like a gypsy.’ I hope you can appreciate how this looks to an outsider. Just in case you can’t, I’ll tell you – it looks hypocritical, unprofessional and frankly vile. I shudder to think what other charming terms of endearment or racial slurs you might have for other minority groups lifted straight out of the 1970s or whatever decade it was when you grew up.

The problem with an approach like yours, aside from the fact it will ultimately lead to a mass exodus of people from your office over time, is that there can only be one queen bee – and frankly, however tough you may think yourself to be, there’s always someone that little bit tougher. And eventually, you will meet your match. Someone who isn’t intimidated by you, sees you for what you are and fights back. Someone who isn’t scared to write down a long list of your misdemeanours with dates, times and evidence so they can then go to senior management and drop you right in it. Frankly, you reap what you sow and if all you’re giving to this world is unpleasantness and negativity then that’s precisely what you will get back.

Before that happens and you crash and burn, you may want to think about that and whether or not you’d like to avoid it. You cannot, and absolutely will not, ever be the supreme ruler of the planet. You will have to co-operate with others and learn to live in harmony with them if you’re going to get anywhere in life. I’m afraid the ‘shout at them and make them quail’ school of management went out with JR Ewing in the 1980s.

As someone once said, those who learn nothing from history are condemned to repeat it. I highly recommend you don’t repeat the things you did and that you learn from your mistakes.

So – be kinder, be nicer, be gentler. Understand that other people have feelings and that if they think you care about them, you’re more likely to get the best out of them. Be willing to encourage them and recognise their strengths as well as their weaknesses. If they have weaknesses, it’s up to you to help them develop their confidence. Berating them for every failure will not help them become anything other than fearful, miserable and ultimately an ex-employee as they run for the door.

I wish you luck with your mission of reform – should you choose to accept it. But as one of my therapists once said, in this life the only thing you can give someone is information. What you, choose to do with it, is up to you.




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