How to Raise Your Profile Outside of Your Immediate Team

You may be great at building and maintaining high quality relationships with people who work alongside you day-in, day-out. Consequently, those colleagues recognise the value of what you do and how you do it. These co-workers regard you as being someone who works hard, understands your subject matter, has something to say, wants to make a contribution, and is both competent and confident. They know your strengths and your areas for development. They have first hand, regular evidence of the value of the work you do. Within your department or your team you have influence and may even be regarded as an opinion-former on some topics.

But outside of your team or department it may be another story. You might not be that well known and may find it more difficult to get heard. You may lack the basic influence and connections that you need or you might not be known at all. Equally, the reputation you do have might not do justice to your skills. Perhaps you don’t meet many senior managers in the normal course of your work. Or, when you do, struggle to sell yourself to them, and don’t manage to cultivate the degree of positive regard you would like to have. You might think that your ambition and hard work go unacknowledged by those people whose decisions shape the future of your employing organisation, and you may be frustrated that your desire to play a bigger role in the organisation goes unrewarded. You may think that you deserve an opportunity to have greater responsibility and you may believe that you could do a more senior role. However, with your current profile, none of these things is likely to happen. And you don’t know how to bring about a situation where your reputation outside of your team or department becomes a more accurate reflection of your knowledge, application and endeavour within it. You are afraid that you will continually be seen as low key or lacking punch and therefore, unfairly, will be denied opportunities for advancement.

So, what can you do to change your image and manage your profile with the senior people in your organisation who don’t work alongside you on a day-to-day basis?

Firstly, create a plan. Who specifically do you want to raise your profile with? Over what issues do you want to engage with them? What messages do you want them to receive from you about your work and the benefits of your approach to it?

Secondly, enlist the help of carefully selected sponsors. Who do you know who you could approach for an introduction to the senior managers you want to speak with? What testimonials about your good work might these sponsors be willing to pass on? What forums already exist in your organisation where you might have an opportunity to speak with the senior people whose opinion you want to influence? What do you need to do to get an introduction to one of these events?

Thirdly, commit to selling yourself. When you speak with one of the managers whose view of you you want to develop, approach the verbal exchange as a sales conversation. Don’t regard it as a workplace chat. Or as a process in which you are a passive participant. It’s a conversation in which you are going to sell yourself. This is your opportunity to tell a senior manager about the value of the work you do, the outcomes your work creates for customers and your employer, and the fact that you are an effective, available member of staff who would like an opportunity to take on a bigger challenge. Pick one recent piece of work that you handled well and tell your senior colleague in clear, factual terms what you contributed to the project, what successes you had, and how those positive outcomes benefitted your organisation. Don’t give them some of the story, like what work you were involved in, and then omit the punch line: that it was you whose contribution was key in certain areas of the work, or that it was you who managed the project from start to finish. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that they will already know about your good work from someone else and be ready to reward you as soon as they realise who you are. Use the opportunity you have created to bring them up to date: tell your senior colleague what you want them to know about you and back it up with facts that prove your case.

5 Effective Strategies for Confronting a Team Bully

A team bully doesn’t only want to remove power from you, their target, and retain that control for themselves. A team bully also wants to remove power from non-targeted team colleagues so that they can retain as much control as possible over the entire team. 

A true team bully uses behaviour in 1-2-1 encounters with you, and in wider team meetings, which limits the choices available to you at the time of the attack in order to create a bullying dynamic between you.

Importantly, the team bully also wants to alter the wider team dynamic from one characterised by co-operation and goodwill towards one in which relationships become strained, team members defer to them, refuse to confront them, fail to support you, and regard the bullying as ‘normal’ and not noteworthy. Under these circumstances, the team bully will be able to continue their campaign without hindrance, disempowering you and the entire team.

Here are three effective ways for you, the target, to confront a team bully:

  1. Recognize bullying remarks for what they are: tactics designed to undermine you.  A true team bully wants to make you ‘the problem’.  Their bullying remarks highlight what they regard as your deficiencies or errors, issues which they focus on to undermine your self-confidence and to sully your reputation. But as soon as you recognize these comments for what they are – devices through which the bully tries to impugn your credibility in the eyes of colleagues and injure your self-belief – the remarks cease to have the same impact. They are not the truth about you. They are not valid comments about you or your performance. Seen from this standpoint, you can mentally take a step back from a bullying remark and use your energy to formulate an effective rejoinder.
  2. Clarify truth from fabrication.  Many bullying remarks contain a kernel of truth dressed up in fabrications and slanders. The bully takes a fact about you but then embellishes it with a cobweb of deceit before relating these ‘facts’ to colleagues in your hearing in the hope of undermining your self-esteem and impugning your reputation. The bully hopes that your colleagues will recognize the kernel of truth and swallow the falsehoods whole without questioning them.  Should you find yourself on the receiving end of this tactic, your primary task is to clarify the truth from the lies. Repeat back to the bully what you heard them say, before clarifying the truth from the falsehood. A bully who recognizes that you know your own mind, can stand up for yourself, and are not rendered vulnerable by their slanderous attack is likely to back down, at least for that encounter.
  3. Create a consequence for the bully to deal with.  A team bully wants to keep the spotlight on you, their target, and often does this by highlighting what they regard as your shortcomings both as a person and as an employee.  Their aim in doing this is to intimidate you and put you on the back foot. Creating consequences for the bully to deal with in the moment of an attack means putting the issues back to them, requiring them to give account for their behavior. Switching the conversation away from your supposed shortcomings back to the bully interrupts the bullying dynamic the bully wants to create, and puts them onto the back foot.  A pithy well-directed question from you to the bully can derail an attack, and send back the message to the bully that you will not be a straightforward person for them to target.

However, it is vital that non-targeted members of the team confront the team bully as well to prevent them from giving their power away to the bully. Here are a couple of effective ways a non-targeted team member can draw the line when they hear a bullying remark in a team meeting:

  1. Tell the bully that their remarks are out of step with the tone of the meeting, and invite them to re-phrase them.
  2. Remind the bully of the business purpose of the meeting, and tell them to restrict their remarks to relevant work topics only.

Learning how to use the influence available to you to combat team bullying is a key learned skill. You could upgrade your toolkit by:

  • Reading my new book Bullying in Teams: How to Survive It and Thrive for input on how to retain your dignity when you are attacked in a team situation, stand up for team colleague who is being bullied in front of others, prevent a bully from controlling your team, and how to develop a bully-proof mindset.
  • Accessing free audio and written downloads on how to detoxify, recover from and combat workplace bullying

Essential Bully-Proofing Skills

Workplace bullying is about power.  The bully wants to remove power from their target and retain that control for themselves, establishing a bullying dynamic between them.  A skilled bully simultaneously attacks three of their target’s forms of power: their personal power (their self-esteem, self-belief and self-confidence); their reputational influence (their credibility in the eyes of others); and their organisational status (their ability to perform their role effectively).  Being attacked in a campaign orchestrated along these lines can be overwhelming.  Targets can feel powerless to protect themselves especially if the bully is more senior than them.  The toxic combination of not knowing how to protect themselves, and having to work alongside the bully day after day, results in many targets complying with the bully’s wishes to get the encounter over with quickly, inadvertently making it easier for the bully to target them again.

There is much that a target can do at the time of an attack to mitigate the impact of the bullying and protect themselves.  Let’s examine four key principles for handling bullying safely and effectively, each of which enables the target to alter the bullying dynamic in their favour putting the bully onto the back foot. In my coaching and writing, I take the view that the optimal time to alter the bullying dynamic in the target’s favour is at the moment of attack.  Strange though it may sound, it is in these moments that a bully – someone who lives under the misapprehension that they need to have power over their target – will often desist when handled effectively by someone who knows how to defend themselves:

  • Put the issues back to the bully. Bullies want to make the target out to be ‘the problem’ and use a variety of tactics to achieve this aim. These include highlighting supposed deficiencies and failings in the target’s work and exaggerating genuine mistakes. Putting the issues back to the bully involves placing the spotlight back on them and their conduct, requiring them to give account for their bullying behaviour.  An example is the situation where a bully delivers ‘feedback’ to their target in front of the entire team.  The feedback is aggressive, undermining and bullying, and the target feels shamed.  Nonetheless, in a respectful but firm tone, the target says: ‘I value feedback because it enables me to learn. If you were to give me that feedback again, this time worded so that it is obviously designed to help me improve, how you would re-phrase it?’  Now it is the bully who is in the spotlight, feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable.
  • Find something to say or do to demonstrate to the bully that they are not 100% in charge. Bullies want to control the interaction with their target.  No matter how limited a target’s choices may be in some circumstances, there will always be something the target can say or do to demonstrate to the bully that, although they may be intimidated, they can still decide for themselves how they will behave.  These actions could be as simple as checking their emails, directing a remark at someone else or deciding to leave the room.
  • Use facts to confront untrue bullying remarks. Bullies often use tactics which involve distorting the truth, misrepresenting facts or subtly or blatantly being dishonest. These tactics are designed to impugn the character or work of the target.  But, truth always trumps lies.  In circumstances where the bully is lying or slandering the target, there will always be facts available with which to confront the untrue bullying remarks.  These truths include the target’s feelings of shock and surprise at being misrepresented.
  • Use confident body language. Bullies have an instinct for vulnerability and are on the look-out for non-verbal signals that their target is experiencing self-doubt.  Using confident body language not only impacts the bully but it also helps build the target’s self-belief.  It consists of keeping your shoulders back, holding your head high, maintaining level eye contact, sitting forward with your hands on the table or standing with your torso held upright and feet planted firmly on the ground.

Developing robust bully-proofing skills is essential for people at work who are vulnerable to being targeted. If you want to learn more, you could:

How to Stop Blaming Yourself If You are Bullied at Work

Many people with experience of being bullied at work blame themselves. They feel shame at being targeted. They think that in some way they must be responsible for the bully’s use of aggressive, coercive behaviour towards them. They try and help the bully see the error of their ways, and they try and change the bully’s behaviour towards them.

Assuming responsibility for the bully’s decision to target you means that you burden yourself with a load you cannot be responsible for – the actions of the bully – while you are also struggling to handle the trauma of being targeted. The mental slide into self-blame and trying to change the bully can greatly add to your suffering and confusion.

So, with great compassion, hear this. You are not to blame for the actions of the bully. They and they alone chose to target you, to use aggression towards you in your workplace, and to square this approach with their conscience. These issues sit with them. Your responsibility is to learn to protect yourself at the time of an attack.

Any confusion or self-doubt you have about this issue may result in you adopting any or all of the following ineffective strategies when in an encounter with the bully:

  • Appealing to the bully’s ‘better nature’: a strategy which pre-supposes that the bully possesses a measure of goodwill and that you can somehow induce them to extend it to you.
  • Trying to reason with the bully: which pre-supposes that a logical argument will prove influential with a person whose use of angry emotion at work suggests that they are unlikely to be persuaded by rational argument.
  • Trying to appease them: which pre-supposes that the bully is amenable to being mollified and soothed, and that if you try hard enough you will work out how to do this effectively.
  • Feeling sorry for the bully: which pre-supposes that the bully is somehow being unfairly treated and deserving of sympathy, when it is actually they who are choosing to mistreat you.

None of these strategies is in your best interests. Each of them is based on the assumption that you have done something wrong which has caused their aggression and that there is something you can do differently which will:

  • Dissuade the bully from being aggressive.
  • Lower the level of their aggression towards you.
  • Result in them changing their minds entirely about bullying you.

The starting point for using effective strategies is not thinking that you are responsible for the actions or the feelings of someone acting abusively towards you. The starting point is to hold that person accountable for what they are saying and doing at the time of an attack, and to use self-protective and self-preserving behaviour while simultaneously putting the issues back to them.

Working Alongside Competitive Team Colleagues

From time to time there is competition in every team, and sometimes it can be healthy and lead to improved work quality. But on other times, competition can simply get in the way of the work or become divisive.

It stands to reason that ambitious and talented team members will want to demonstrate that they have plenty to offer, and sometimes they will compete with one another to do so. But the trick lies in knowing the difference between galvanising, productive, healthy competition and damaging, destructive, unhealthy competition.

Knowing when it’s getting out of hand – and being able to draw the line – is just as important as knowing how to let iron sharpen iron. Colleagues who like to compete tend to regard conflicts in which they participate as contests, the contest being one between opposing positions and the people who hold them. So, it follows that truly competitive colleagues regard their team colleagues as opponents if they happen to hold differing views to them on an issue. This way of doing things can lead to productive debate – iron does sharpen iron – but it can also spiral into unhelpful, energy sapping discussions which fragment teamwork rather than resolve the issues under discussion.

So, at what point do you decide that the competitive behaviour you see on display in your team is becoming unhealthy rather than healthy? I hope that the following ideas, which I have adapted from K. W. Thomas and G. F. Thomas (2004) Introduction to Conflict and Teams, will give you food for thought and help you make that judgement call wisely.

Competitive colleagues tend to be tough-minded, frank and courageous in expressing their views. They want to generate momentum on an issue and can put their views out there out fearlessly. They are likely to assert their point of view, defend the ‘rightness’ of their opinion, advocate their position and challenge other positions. And all of that is fine if it is contributing to a resolution of the underlying issues. But, this method of approaching can backfire. When this happens, and other members of the team baulk at dealing with someone who thinks their point of view is the only one to hold on the issue, the impetus of the debate can alter from galvanising and productive towards edgy and uncomfortable.

It seems to me that the integrity with which a team member decides to compete is the key issue here. If the team member who sticks to their guns is doing so because they truly believe that the only way forward for the team and its work is the position they are advocating, then fine. They deserve to be heard, and their stance deserves respect. Their argument may still not win the day, but it needs to be evaluated. However, if the team member who is loudly advocating their position to the exclusion of all others is doing so simply to win whether their argument is compelling or not, that is quite another matter. How do you tell the difference?

I think the difference lies in the quality of arguments used. Perhaps you could identify a recent example where one of your colleagues, or you, took a position and won’t budge. If their arguments, or yours, contained the following features then the chances are the arguments were put forward with integrity and, even if that position was unpopular, it was made for reasons which had the quality of work at the heart of it. The features to look out for include:

  • A clear statement of the facts, backed up with opinion and a clear recommendation which follows neatly rom the facts and opinion.
  • A willingness to listen and respond to other colleagues’ input and points without feeling the need to alter position or change views.
  • A clear reiteration of the conclusion and the recommended way forward.
  • A willingness to remain supportive of other colleagues’ concerns and issues, verbally acknowledging their validity and responding to them, while also sticking to the merits of their own recommendation.
  • A clear focus on keeping the debate about the issues rather than the personalities or a desire to win.

Only you, as a colleague in a team, can determine when to draw the line given the characters you work alongside, the atmosphere generated by the competitive behaviour you observe (or contribute to) and the quality of decisions and work that are produced as a result.

I hope that these ideas can help you reach that decision point quicker and more effectively in future so that team debates which are characterised by competitive behaviour remain productive and effective, and don’t descend into fruitless or destructive time wasting.