Last week I wrote about what bullying is, and how to begin to successfully respond to it. This week I need to emphasize the difference between being bullied by a supervisor and getting that treatment from a colleague. As a rule, if the bully is a colleague you are more likely to succeed in stopping the behavior by confronting it, whereas that almost never works with a supervisor – and could result in your losing your job.
In either situation, the most important thing to do when you’re being bullied is to TAKE BACK YOUR POWER. When a bully’s actions hurt, intimidate, and scare you – the bully has the power (which, by the way, is exactly what the bully wants.) You need to take that power back. But how? There are a few simple (but not easy) steps.
In the previous blog I suggested that you write out the exact things the bully is doing, and then write out what fear these things bring up. One of the things we know is that when we begin to really describe and define fears, they become manageable. Rather than creating amorphous panic about which we can’t do anything, they become real situations to which we can effectively respond.
Once you’ve written down what the bully does, it’s important to have specific examples. It’s good to document things when they happen, to keep a record. It doesn’t have to be complicated – a few notes on a calendar will do. But be specific with statements like, “In the lunchroom today Charlene [the bully from last week] glared at me, then said very loudly that I didn’t know what I was doing on the Adams project.” This kind of a record is also useful if you decide to bring this matter to upper management or human resources – which is likely the only way bullying by a supervisor will be successfully addressed.
Here are the next, very effective steps. Some of the best recommendations I’ve found come from the Brits (who, as noted earlier, acknowledged the problem of bullying a lot earlier than we did.) The UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line suggests there are three main things to do. Though their primary concern is supervisor bullying , much of their advice also applies to bullying from colleagues.
Here are some key suggestions from that site as well as other experts:
1. Regain control: remember that what the bully is saying is likely not true, is exaggerated, rude and mean. Though you may feel shame, embarrassment, guilt and fear (which is what the bully wants you to feel), these are control tactics – the same tactics used by all abusers (including child and spouse abusers) to get and keep control. They don’t describe you – they are simply bullying tactics. Get help and make alliances with others (perhaps co-workers are experiencing or have observed the same treatment.) You do not have to handle this alone.
2. Make a plan: preferably with others, plan how you will respond when bullying happens. Practice with one another. Write scenarios and scripts. Research bullying and see it for what it is: a weak person trying to make him/herself stronger by attempting to intimidate others.
3. Take action: in addition to the calendar mentioned above (which should be kept in a safe place, not at work), keep copies of any notes, e-mails, etc. that are bullying. Do not allow the bully to play you off against others, which is a favorite tactic. If you are dealing with a co-worker bully, and have the support of colleagues, it is possible that you can successfully respond to the bully by
a. Refusing to play along with what is often passive-aggressive behavior.
b. Actually confronting the person – calling them on what they’re doing, making it public and telling them you will no longer be intimidated.
c. Writing to the bully, describing the bullying behavior and stating that you will no longer be intimidated. This letter can be just from you, or from everyone who feels negatively affected by this person. None of these will necessarily change the bully’s behavior, but will give you more confidence, help you take back your power, and lessen your stress.
Please remember: the action recommendations (other than documentation) should only be used when the bully is a co-worker. They can endanger your employment if used with a supervisor. If the bully is the boss, I would not recommend addressing the person directly. Instead, go to his/her boss or human resources – and go with all the documentation you have gathered – the more the better. You will need to convince your audience that you are not just an unhappy employee, but that the employer really has a problem person in a supervisory role.
Have you successfully dealt with a bully in your workplace? What’s worked – or not? We’d love to hear from you! ~ Daphne Schneider