While the thought of bullying conjures images of elementary school playgrounds or junior high cafeterias, the problem persists well into adulthood.
Research indicates that as many as one in four adults are likely to experience instances of bullying.
Bullying occurs when someone tries to gain control of a situation by making others feel angry or afraid. It is characterized by verbal abuse such as name-calling, sarcasm, incessant teasing, threatening, mocking, down-putting, belittling, ignoring, and lying. Workplace Bullying also includes such abuse as exclusion from a group, tormenting, ganging up on others, failure to respect boundaries or humiliation. Sometimes it takes the form of not replying to e-mails or voice mails. Moreover, Workplace Bullying also extends to racially or sexually abusive comments and behavior. Some bullying from men may take the form of physical contact, hovering or intimidation.
What causes bullying? Most adults who engage in bullying were victims of bullying themselves. Most suffer from a deep sense of insecurity and low self-esteem. Deep down they are chronically frightened and very often deeply ashamed of this fear in themselves. Because they can’t tolerate being in a situation where they do not feel in control, they try to control situations by any means necessary.
While the typical schoolyard bully is often portrayed as not being very bright, adult bullies often are and employ their intelligence and acute perceptive skills in their attacks. They also defy stereotype because they may posses many positive qualities, demonstrated most often in situations where they don’t feel threatened.
Some workplace environments actually foster bullying. In circumstances where assertiveness and aggressiveness are highly rewarded, things may tend to get out of control. Too strong an emphasis on attaining short-range goals regardless of future cost may foster an over-the-top competitiveness. Poor or inconsistent disciplinary practices may remove or weaken external constraints on inappropriate behavior.
How does one cope with Workplace Bullying? First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that this bullying behavior is about them, not you. It’s the bully that has the problem. They are attempting to cope with it at your expense, but the problem is theirs.
You may try being assertive with a bully. Assertive in this case means maintaining an erect posture, looking them in the eye and saying something like I’ve noticed you treating me in ways I find to be disrespectful. I’d like you to stop doing so. It doesn’t mean raising your voice, threatening or being disrespectful yourself. Though it may sound silly, it’s often a good idea to rehearse what you intend to say at home in front of a mirror. You want to be in control of your emotions, be clear in what you have observed and the outcome you want. Maintain eye contact. Make the intervention in private, as doing it in a crowd will only make the bully feel more defensive. Take them aside where you can speak privately but in a public place like a hallway or break room. This tends to minimize the possibility of an angry or inappropriate response. The conversation ought to be short and to the point. Maintain a respectful and courteous attitude and tone of voice.
If the bullying has already been going on for a while or you don’t feel comfortable in confronting the behavior on your own, you can report it to the proper authorities at your company. Targets of bullying are often perceived as troublesome or problematic employees. This makes the question of how to proceed with reporting this behavior very important.
Get yourself a little notebook and briefly document instances as they occur over time until you have several documented. Note the time, place and date of the incident, who was present and a brief summary of what transpired. Be sure to log in similar detail any complaints you have made to your supervisors. If e-mails or voice mail messages comprise part of the bullying behavior, save copies of them.
When the time comes for your conference remain calm, rational and in control of your emotions. Even though you may experience many different emotions in the telling of your story, it is critical to remain composed and collected. Rehearse at home if necessary. Make your points in short, clear statements including times, dates, places and names. Refer to your journal if necessary. Remain focused, avoiding any comments or details that are off the point. Avoid giving the appearance of extracting revenge. Acknowledge that the bully may not be fully aware of his/her behavior. Conclude with a brief summary of your skills and achievements within the organization. Remind everyone that all you want to do is be free to return to your work with a sense of peace and safety.
One last point. Bullying is a social process and usually occurs in public places. Usually present is the bully, the target and often many witnesses. If you are a witness to someone else being bullied, consider stepping in to disrupt the process. See if you can distract the bully or change the subject. If someone is being mocked or teased, you can comment, I don’t see what’s funny about that. Or you can just take the target by the arm and say, Let’s go over here for a moment. There’s something I’d like to ask you. The main point is not to condone the bullying with your apparent participation in the process. Other witnesses may observe how you handle the situation and feel moved to do likewise in the future. You may well be able to effectively discourage bullying by demonstrating a willingness to stick up for each other.