With all this talk about bullying and violence in the workplace, how do you stand up for yourself?

It seems that this fall many of the questions from participants in workshops I was delivering were,”Do you have tips on how to deal with bullies in the workplace and survive?”

What exactly is a workplace bully? It is important to distinguish between normal worker conflict and workplace bullying. Bullying is defined as repeated, persistent, continuous behaviour as opposed to a single negative act and is usually associated with a power imbalance between the victim and perpetrator, where the victim feels or is made to feel inferior (Salin 2003).

Research has indicated that victims of workplace bullying wait almost two years before filing a complaint and have a 70% chance of losing their jobs. Interestingly only 13% of bullies are ever punished or terminated and bullying is three times more prevalent than sexual harassment, usually occurring without witnesses. Even when bullying is witnessed, colleagues will rarely support the bullied employee.

Bullying should not be confused with a tough or strict style of management. Examples of workplace bullying behaviour include silent treatment, starting or encouraging rumours, personal attack of a person’s private life and/or personal attributes, excessive or unjustified criticism, micro management, verbal abuse such as name calling, withholding job related information, withholding job responsibility, replacing proper work with demeaning jobs, setting unrealistic goals or deadlines.

Characteristics of those who bully include low-self esteem, poor communication skills, unresolved work issues and the impression they have the right to inflict controlling and abusive behaviours onto others. They often are viewed as charmers and generally liked by their supervisors. Additionally, they often bully to cover up their own insecurities and weaknesses. According to Rowell (2005), 81 per cent of bullies are managers, 4 per cent are peers and five per cent are lower-ranking staff.

Who is the typical victim of the workplace bully? Remember we said that one reason bullies behave the way they do is to compensate for their own insecurities. Often the victim is a nice person, hard working, intelligent and the bully feels threatened or intimidated. Bullies also tend to pick on those that desperately need the job and are less likely to quit or resign as a result of the behaviour.

According to a study by the Canadian Workplace Bully Institute, Women are targeted by bullies more frequently than men, mostly by other women.

How do you stand up for yourself?

  • Be informed. Educate yourself as to your policies and procedures for bullying and violence in the workplace.
  • Document everything. Document, document, document! Write down every incident, the date, time, place, details of what occurred and names of any witnesses to the incident. Keep a diary; documenting what occurred, including what you have done to try to stop it.
  • Stand up to the bully. Remember when confronted by a bully, do not argue. Someone has to be the adult. Let it be you. There are likely to be witnesses, so your professional response to his/her unethical conduct will carry much weight. Avoid being alone with the bully if this is possible.

If you feel confident and secure in doing so, confront the bully and let them know that their behaviour is not appreciated or acceptable and that you want it to stop. You may want to ask a supervisor or union member to accompany you when you approach the bully. Remaining calm and courteous is important. With a deep breath state, “I find the manner in which you speak to me offensive, and I consider it to be harassment. Please do not do this again or I’ll have to take further action.” If you cannot confront the bully, put it in writing, stating the incident with specific example of their offensive conduct and tell them how you want to be spoken to in the future.

  • Speak to colleagues. Maybe they are experiencing the same thing? There is always strength in numbers. By outnumbering the bully, you will be able to stop them in their tracks. Often the bully has one target, so by gathering your forces you will have the strength in numbers.
  • Pay no attention to them. Most bullies are just seeking attention, so by turning your back to them and ignoring them you have gained control. When they realize you are not listening to them, they will sooner or later lose interest or give up and leave you alone, and unfortunately moving on to someone else.
  • Speak to the bully’s manager. When you approach the bully’s manager have all your documentation with you in case you get a defensive response.
  • Do not retaliate. You might be found guilty and blamed for initiating the conflict. Try instead to be kind to them. Most bullies take pleasure in knowing they are making you feel uncomfortable and hurt so do not let them see your emotional state. Not necessarily immediately, but by demonstrating that you have control over your state of mind and emotions, they may in time stop bullying you and leave you alone.
  • Climb the ladder. If all these tactics do not work and the bullying behaviour continues rather than allowing yourself to continue be the target from the bully, tell someone in management, human resources or the union what is happening. Sometimes the bullies need a resonant message to halt their attacks. You have a right to a respectful workplace.

Finally, be willing to examine your own feelings. Are you truly being victimized? Are you being overly sensitive?

Understanding why a person bullies may help you in dealing with their behaviour towards you. Seeing them as humans just like you are, and knowing that everyone has something that bothers them may give you some insight into how to response to the bullying behaviour. Knowing what bothers your oppressor and focus on that when they try to intimidate you may create a differ reaction. By realizing they are dealing with their own problems, you may increase your confidence to a position you were not aware you had.

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One Response to With all this talk about bullying and violence in the workplace, how do you stand up for yourself?

  1. Katy says:

    Thanks for all these great tips Monika. We hear so much about bullying in schools, but we need to remember that this can be a problem in workplaces as well.

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