Bullying at work
Bullying is constant nitpicking, fault-finding, and criticism of a trivial nature. And it’s regularly done, and it often is done in such a way that you don’t recognize it. In fact, others don’t recognize it. You might want to try and confide in somebody and they think you’re crazy or you’re off base, or they kind of know you’re on to something but they don’t, by any means, recognize it as anything overt. You are left feeling alone.
So this is bullying. In fact, the criticism that you face – you often turn to yourself and you wonder and doubt about yourself. You feel like a fool and you actually start to believe the criticism has validity, which it does not. Often, the criticism is based on distortion, projection, misrepresentation, or fabrication.
Bullying is also constant. It might be constant attempts to undermine you and your position, your status, something that you’ve worked very hard to attain, your worth, your value, your potential. They are comments made that are very hard to disprove, but when you hear them, you start moving backwards. How about if you’ve been in a group at work, have you ever been singled out and treated differently? For instance, everyone else can get away with murder, but the moment you put your foot down wrong, however trivial, action is taken against you.
How about being isolated and separated from colleagues and you are excluded from what’s going on? You are not permitted to know certain information. Well, if you don’t know about it, you can’t care about it. And if you don’t know about it, you can’t act on it. Of course, this situation leaves you looking like a fool. But, being the target, you might wonder, “Oh, did I miss the email? Maybe I should take my spam filter down.” You start owning the problem instead of seeing it for what it is: an attempt to actually single you out.
How about being belittled, demeaned, patronized, especially in front of others? How about being humiliated, shouted at, even if it’s once or twice a month, and threatened in front of others? How about being overloaded with work, or having your work taken away just as you’re about to complete a task, and it being replaced with other menial tasks, or with no work at all? It takes away your momentum. How about finding that somebody else has signed their name for your work – they’ve stolen your ideas or plagiarized your ideas, or taken credit for it? How about having your responsibility increased, but your authority taken away? You’re responsible to solve the problems but you can’t have any wiggle room in which to deal with the problem.
How about if you legitimately take a sick day, you were criticized, questioned, and people start to talk because somebody started a rumor? Then all of a sudden you start thinking, “Gosh, I better not take that sick day.” Well, remember you’re entitled to it just like anyone else. Do you see the challenge? The key here, and another principle to highlight, is as soon as bullying behavior occurs, it’s very important to not doubt oneself too long, but to actually start to protect oneself right away.
How about some further awareness, like how do you recognize a bully? Here’s some further research that was done. A lot of bullies, and it’s hard to recognize this, have a Jekyll & Hyde nature. They’re vicious and vindictive in private, but innocent and charming in front of witnesses. Sometimes, no one can actually believe that the person you are questioning would even be a bully. The bully already knows this and throws on the extra charm just to protect themselves.
Bullies also can be experts at lying, convincing, and when called to account, will make up anything spontaneously to fit their needs at the very moment. How can you compete with that? Some bullies will use a lot of charm, and they will also try to be very convincing to their peers and superiors, charming them all along the way, lining their thoughts with the fact that they are very productive, charming and the perfect employee.
Imagine when you go to confront your boss or your peers about a potential bully, what these people might think. Now, you might think, “Gosh, you know, it doesn’t matter. I’m a woman or I’m a man of principle and it’s a matter of principle to deal with this bully.” That’s excellent.
I believe until we have legislation from employers, there will be the chosen few that will go through the narrow gate, so to speak, and actually attempt to deal with a bully through the right channels. I’m saying, be prepared – it will not be easy. If you expect to still keep your job, you might be in for a surprise. I guess sometimes we think it’s not fair. I had a recent email from somebody saying, “I’m 54 years old. I have 8 years left until I can retire. I’ve been here 30 years. I’m entitled to my pension. What can I do for the next 8 years in order to deal with this bully?”
When I read an email like that, as I’ve read so many emails, it’s as if the target, this person who’s being bullied, is outside of the situation. They’re waiting for somebody else, or something to happen in order for it to be fair, in order for them to feel better. I think another principle to recognize here, and it’s unfortunate, is that if you’re a target and you are being bullied, there is no easy way out. There are but maybe two choices. You can leave the situation, and yes it might be very hard to leave 30 years with a pension, but you will have your mental freedom. You can stay and fight the bully, but be strategic about it. You could be the 3 out of 10 that actually don’t leave their job. It depends on your energy level, your stamina – but again, remember to take care of yourself first.
[It] occurred to me, we have a system of law, not of justice. And sometimes laws occur because of injustice, but it does take time. With sexual harassment, we started off with the injustices, and it did take some time, but now there are laws in place and it is against the law to sexually harass somebody. It’s still a grey area, because it’s very subjective. With bullying, as we’ve mentioned, it is more of a private nature, more insidious, and is very hard to prove. But I do fully expect legislation will occur. However, between now and then, what do we do? If you are a target right now, you have to make that choice: to leave or stay. If you stay, this situation is not outside of you. You ARE part of the situation.
Early in my career, I had a very good boss named Jack. He said, “Val, when you get a job, start looking around for another job.” I said, “Jack, that’s not fair. And I’m working for you.” He said, “No Val, that’s just smart. Always have a choice and an option ready for yourself.” I thought “Well, that’s funny. I’m working for Jack, why would he say that?” As soon as he said that, I knew then that every day that I came to work, it was my choice. I knew that he would know in my head that I would have another option lined up. Now what Jack was really saying is, all employers should be prepared for people to exercise their choices. At the same time, all of us should have choices in the back of our mind and never feel beholden to a certain work situation. If we do, it’s up to us to make sure that we have the extra choices.
Remember, bullying will have its effects on you over time. You will start to notice the side effects from it. First of all, you will doubt yourself. Some of you might be already feeling anxious and extreme physical symptoms from bullying. Remember, you can actually stop this by leaving the situation. And just because you leave the situation doesn’t mean that your thoughts will stop. It’s important to get a hold of your thoughts as well. Anybody that has come out of being bullied has benefited from at least being acknowledged for the fact that it wasn’t their fault. And sometimes that very simple statement has to be said time and time again, over and over again, because their self esteem has taken such a beating. It is perfectly acceptable to reach out for help to the right people: a therapist, a coach. You’re boss may not be the right one to go to, a spouse may not be the right one to go to; but someone who is trained and able to coach you along to better health.
So when we look at bullying, a further awareness, an in-depth awareness, maybe even very complicated issues like bullying become more simple when it’s very clear. Make a decision to protect yourself first. Decide to stay and fight the battle, or to go and move on. Those two principles might just save you some time and energy.
I will conclude with a reminder that a lot of people who are bullied are the highly talented, very coveted, smart, nice people of the world – of which the bully wishes he or she was. Remind yourself, it’s an odd form of compliment – probably one that you wished you never had – but the target really does want what you possess. Let’s make sure that the bully does not steal from you the very qualities that have made you the wonderful person that you are, because the world needs those wonderful qualities.