Any type of bullying is about one thing only: exercising power. It is critical to our purpose here to be very clear about that. In fact, it makes all the difference in the world to be clear about it. And here is why.
To effectively cope with bullying one must have the proper perspective about what is taking place. However, when one is the target of a bully’s attempts to publicly demean and belittle, it is very difficult to maintain an objective perspective; it is natural to pay more attention to your own sense of fear, shock, outrage and shame. It is almost impossible not to take the situation personally. It is reasonable to think of the situation as being about you.
The fact of the matter is that it’s not about you. It’s not about you any more than catching a red light is about you: You just happen to be in the right spot for the situation to occur.
A bully seeks as a target someone whom he senses he’ll be able to intimidate. You seem to him to be the most vulnerable from among all other potential candidates. It’s not as if the bully is some nice, mild-mannered guy who just happens to get triggered by something in you. He is a predator, someone who needs to exercise control to shore up his own poor sense of self-esteem. He is driven by his own inner wounds, fears and sense of shame to take things out on others.
But why has he chosen you? Apparently he senses that you are the least likely to fight back. But while this quality of yours seems like a liability in this circumstance, it can otherwise be a very positive trait. You are a peacemaker, a lover of your fellow man, one who values fairness, sacrifice and cooperation over the exercise of raw power. Let’s think for a moment: Who else had these qualities? Three names come immediately to my mind: Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Not such shabby company.
But there is no need for you to sacrifice yourself as these great men did. There isn’t even any need to retaliate or get even. There is, however, a need for you to learn how to appropriately stand up for yourself, and that is what the material in this workbook is all about.
Reporting bullying behavior to the authorities
If you don’t feel comfortable in confronting bullying behavior on your own, or have been unable to achieve the desired result, you can report it to the proper authorities at your company. But a word of caution: Targets of workplace bullying are often perceived as troublesome or problematic employees. This makes the question of how to proceed with reporting bullying behavior critical.
Get yourself a little notebook and briefly document instances as they occur until you have several examples. Note the time, place and date of the incident, who was present and a brief summary of what transpired. Be sure to note in similar detail any complaints you have previously made to your supervisors. If e-mails or voice mail messages comprise part of the bullying behavior, save copies of them. Keep these materials, especially your notebook, in a discreet place, preferably at home.
When the time comes for your conference with the appropriate parties, remain calm, rational and in control of your emotions. Even though you may experience many different feelings in relating your story, it is crucial to remain composed and collected. Rehearse at home or with a trusted friend beforehand until you are able to chronicle events without becoming emotional.
Make your points in short, clear statements and include times, dates, places and names. Refer to your notebook if necessary. Remain focused, avoiding any comments or details that are off the point. Don’t give the impression of wanting to extract revenge (as much as you might like to). Avoid any displays of emotionality. Remain cool, calm and collected.
Acknowledge that the bully may not be fully aware of his behavior. Conclude with a brief summary of your skills and achievements within the organization. Remind everyone that all you want is to be free to return to your work with a sense of security and safety.
Confronting bullying behavior
When confronting bullying behavior, it is important to frame or define the situation as being one where you can exercise some control. In order to have the best chance for success, it is important to avoid falling into the role of a passive, helpless victim. You need to see yourself as having a certain amount of influence over the situation. You need to see yourself as an autonomous entity with power and options. Your choices may be limited, but it is you who is deciding what choices you make.
Here is an example of framing: You can leave the job if you want to. You may not want to, but you can if you do. Staying or leaving is your choice: You are in control. If remaining in the job fits into your larger goals, then you can choose to remain: You are in control. If remaining means dealing with a bullying boss, you can choose to do take that on as well. Whatever choices you make, you need to consider that you are making them from a place of personal choice, autonomy and control.
That being said, let’s consider your options.