Who’s the bully in your life?
Most of us have that one person we can’t get along with. They say rude things. They make life hard. You get the feeling they wish they could make you disappear—though not without suffering first.
It’s even harder when your bully is at work. You can’t get away from them. You expend an enormous amount of emotional energy just to keep them from getting to you. They’re starting to wear you down. You love your job, but you didn’t sign up for this.
You need to meet Mila DeChant.
Mila scored her dream corporate job, never realizing it would come with a price. Her managers didn’t want her in the position. They tore her down on a daily basis.
She refused to let them win.
In this week’s YBTV interview, Mila shares her personal bullying story. You’ll find out how you can avoid getting shut down and silenced by bullying at work. You’ll learn why you need allies behind you.
And you’ll discover an empowering dance that can give you your mojo back.
What You’ll Learn
A while back, Mila went dancing with a group of friends.
When Mila dances, she likes to dance alone. She owns her part of the dance floor. No one comes near her.
But this time was different. A random guy came up to her, pushed his hips against hers, and started grinding.
As women, that kind of behavior no longer surprises us. We run the risk of unwanted touch every time we go to a crowded bar or club. Not all men understand that a woman isn’t asking to be groped just because she’s dressed provocatively and dancing by herself.
This time, Mila had had enough. She turned around and faced her harasser. Instead of shouting at him, she started to dance.
She had no idea where those motions came from.
I started clapping, and putting a moustache over my mouth, and fist-pumping and swinging and pointing at him. At that moment, I felt that this is my empowerment dance. This is my way of gaining back my empowerment and saying, ‘Hey, step back.'”
Her harasser was taken aback. He stepped away from her. “He was so offended by it,” Mila says.
That didn’t stop Mila. She dubbed her new dance the “Moustache Dance.” Now she shares it when she goes into companies or organisations to train.
The dance “carries such an in-depth meaning of claiming your voice, your power, your confidence,” she says. “Tell your story through the Moustache Dance.”
Empowerment in the Workplace
The dance floor might seem like a different animal to the boardroom, but similar principles apply.
Women are treated differently just because they’re women, says Mila. They’re reduced to how they look. They’re boxed into a feminine role.
When they say, ‘Oh, you’re a lady, so you can take notes,’ that’s a microaggression. That’s reducing our voice. That’s reducing our identity.”
Mila wants to flip the script.
“I look at that empowerment on the dance floor and translate it into: How does it work in the workplace? How does it work in the community? How are we looked at as women?”
She encourages leaders to consciously pay attention to the way people are silenced.
“It starts with you,” she says. “Don’t stand by when someone speaks for someone else. Turn to that person and say, “I’m interested in your ideas.'”
Bullying in the Workplace
But surely our workplaces have evolved past the days when management said, “Jump!” and everyone jumped?
Not in Mila’s experience.
Some years go, she got her dream job as global program manager at a large company. The first six months were fantastic, but then she transitioned teams. “I don’t know what real hell is, but to me that was hell,” she says.
For two and a half years, she was bullied at work. Her managers told her she couldn’t speak English, she couldn’t understand simple English, she couldn’t follow instructions, she couldn’t do anything, she wasn’t an integral part of the team, she wasn’t worthy of her job title, she should be in the warehouse.
“My job title was constantly changed. My job scope constantly changed. My responsibilities constantly changed. It was like walking on eggshells. I didn’t know when I was going to get yelled at. I didn’t know what kind of email I was going to get at 4am, at 5pm,” she says.
She couldn’t recognize the person she’d become. She couldn’t speak clearly. She couldn’t think clearly. “There were times where I would just sit on the table [and] burst out into tears,” with her manager’s criticisms echoing in her mind.
She began waking up with anxiety attacks at 2am. “I couldn’t take it anymore,” she says. “I actually stood on top of a building, ready to take away my life.”
But then, although she was alone on the roof, she heard a voice right beside her, telling her to stop. Her phone then pinged with a message from her sister, asking, “Is everything okay?” Mila walked away from the edge.
“That was the defining moment for me to walk away from my corporate career,” she says, “because it was such a dehumanizing environment.”
Even though she had no savings and no job lined up, she had a mission. She was going to bring humanity and heart back to leadership.
Humanizing the Workplace
After leaving the company, Mila started her business Chief of Hearts. Her goal is to humanize every aspect of the workplace.
Our work environment has a major impact on our health and wellbeing. “We spend 70 to 80% of our awake time per day at the workplace,” she says. It’s good business sense to create a positive work environment. But sometimes organizations need help.
Mila tried to report the bullying at her old job. “Even my HR managers were not willing to help me. I was told, ‘Sorry, we know your managers. They are not like that. You need to fix it.'”
That’s why she’s so passionate about making sure everyone has a voice.
It’s about “enabling someone else by saying, ‘Hey, stop speaking over that person. Let’s listen to what this person has got to offer, even though [they’re] an intern, entry level, a minority, female, or disabled.”
Today, Mila gives corporate workshops and works with organizations to promote diversity, inclusion and equity. She promotes what she calls #heartship, leadership with heart.
If you’re getting put down at work, Mila has some tips.
You don’t have to speak up to your bully. Instead, “speak up in an environment where your bully is present.” Make sure you have allies with you.
Finding allies who will support you is crucial. “When you identify who are not your allies and who your allies are, you create that safe space for yourself,” Mila says.
You don’t have to get into a fight with your bully. “You can respectfully—respectfully—disagree and say, ‘This is what I have been thinking about. This is my perspective. This is why I’m saying this.'”
When your bully disagrees and tries to put you down, you can say “I respectfully disagree, but I am curious to learn why you are disagreeing. Why are you dismissing my idea?”
Don’t let yourself be silenced. “When you speak up, it gives hope to other people who have become invisible by the actions of bullies.”
Mila wants you to know that you’re not alone. “Do not give up hope on yourself,” she says. “Find your ally. If someone tells you not to speak with anyone, if someone tells you not to reach out to anyone, find that ally. And if you need someone to talk to, please reach out to me, because I am your ally.”
Jump to Topics of Interest
2:03 The origin of the Moustache Dance
5:20 How women are treated in business
8:27 Mila’s experience of workplace bullying
15:00 How to deal with workplace bullies
20:07 You are not alone
Mila is a keynote speaker, people scientist, and visionary who partners with leaders, businesses, universities, and communities to drive change, instill empowerment, and courage in the way we lead and cultivate our human capital through inclusivity, culture, catalytic conscious actions and leadership development. She’s the founder and CEO of Chief of Hearts and host of the podcast “Human Becomings.”