When I was starting middle school I road a bus filled with high school students. Since my ride home was short, I always sat in the front seat. That put me in the crosshairs of two older students who soon found multiple ways to torture me. They would snap my ears with their fingers and mutter veiled threats. Fortunately, I stood up to their taunting and the school intervened to change their behavior.
That experience taught me empathy for the persons in our society who are bullied daily. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, “workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating.”
Bullies need control and often target those who possess greater technical skills, emotional intelligence, or model high moral and ethical standards. Many of those targeted are also non-confrontational making it easier for the bully to continue their nefarious behavior.
The WBI offers a three-step approach to confronting a workplace bully.
- Name what is happening to you. It’s actually common for a bullying target to blame themselves. Tell yourself that you did not choose this situation, it was forced on you by the bully. When you identify the behavior for what it is, you can begin to deal with the perpetrator.
- Take time off to heal and craft a plan. Persistent bullying has many physical and emotional effects. Time away from work should include visiting a trusted therapist to assess your mental health. Your plan of action should include the possibility of changing jobs, especially if it appears unlikely that the bully will be challenged effectively.
- Shine a spotlight on the bully. Of course, this is risky. You may be fired or forced to leave on your own. Bullies often have entrenched support from those inside the company. This can be direct support, such as a family member or friend, or indirect, where the behavior may be acknowledged but tolerated.
This approach recognizes the importance of maintaining your own health. It forces the employer to assume responsibility. It also places control of your future in your own hands. You depart on your own terms, if that is the only option.
As with any situation involving bullying behaviors, documentation is critical. Make your case based on the facts, the long-term costs to the organization. Be careful who you discuss the behaviors with. HR and management are not always supportive. You don’t want your hard work to be used against you. Eventually you may need to find a good lawyer who specializes in these cases.
Don’t try to tough it out with a workplace bully by showing how strong you are.
Today’s workplace culture is more competitive than ever. This emphasis on winning can easily pit employees against one another. A workplace bully can often operate with impunity in this environment. Leaders have a responsibility to create a safe space for their employees to work and thrive. Don’t allow a bully to gain a foothold in your business.
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