Tuesday, August 19, 2014

When Your Writing Mentor Becomes a ‘Bully’

I’m a huge proponent of mentorship. In fact, I consult with an organization that promotes and implements mentoring and professional development advising strategies for primarily women business entrepreneurs.

Specific to writing, I’ve found that it would behoove any young writer to seek a mentor who can help to guide them in the craft. This person should be someone whose work ethic and professional achievements you admire and may want to emulate. But above all else, this should be someone whose opinion you trust and constructive criticism is useful as you embark or continue to build your writing career.

Most mentoring relationships are meaningful, cooperative, and supportive. However in some cases they can be absolute nightmares! In 2013 I witnessed this first hand when a young woman (I’ll name her ‘Sarah’ to protect her real name) I worked with who had just been promoted from Receptionist to Administrative Assistant was severely harassed by her mentor. In this new position, quite a bit of writing was required – from press releases, to business letters. Often times Sarah would come to my office, sit down and cry a river on my desk. She didn’t understand why this woman who should have been guiding her often berated her, even asking her, “Do you even know how to spell your own name?”

The young woman was so mentally downtrodden, she began to doubt herself and wondered why she was in the job to begin with. It made me mad to see her like this because it brought back memories of when I, too had been so tormented by a mentor that I thought about giving up writing altogether. But unlike Sarah, I had no one to cry to. I had no one who would listen to me. So one afternoon when Sarah knocked on my office door fully immersed in tears I asked myself, What advice would I have wanted to hear all those years back when I was the one bullied by my mentor?

The question guided me to tell Sarah that in life you will always encounter people who will put you down, who won’t believe in you, and who enjoy berating you. They feed off your tears, your uneasiness, and knowing they intimidate you. But it is up to you to decide how long you are willing to put up with it. As long as you believe in yourself, that is all that matters. So dry your eyes and do your work - all while documenting the harassment for you to present to human resources – and use the time you decide to stay to get your experience in. How will you cope? Well, that saying ‘kill them with kindness’ is true because you never want to retaliate. When you are brand new in a position, you never want to give anyone any reason or proof to say anything bad about you as you are just starting out in your career. And you never want them to see you sweat! Once they see how your reaction to their tormenting behavior toward you has changed, they will realize how strong you are – just in time for you to find a new and better job while you present all of your documentation to human resources along with a resignation letter!

The moral of the story is bullies exist – and they will always exist. But find a way to make it beneficial for your growth – not your career exit - while also making it known to them that they don’t scare you and you aren’t afraid of exposing them for the horrible person they are.

Have you been bullied in your writing career? Please share your thoughts and strategies for handling these situations in the ‘Comments’ section.

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