Bullying at work is an epidemic. You might have witnessed a bully intimidating or disturbing another employee. Perhaps you’ve been a target of bullying yourself. Across all sectors of business, industry, the professions and our military forces, bullying reduces productivity, and produces fear, demoralization, and escalating violence.
A common result of bullying is the removal of the victim from the workplace. The person who complains, and asks for intervention or protection is often the easiest person for the organization to terminate. It’s not unfair to assume that if a bully has proven that he or she is capable of wreaking havoc in your life, the other people in your organization may not want to risk becoming the bully’s next target.
Often, management’s cover for removing the victim rather than the bully is a catch phrase like “it’s a personality conflict.”
Being bullied causes a level of stress that often reduces the victim’s effectiveness and rational thinking, thus making the victim seem a little crazy. Plus the victim stresses the organization by making continued requests for assistance with the problem. You can see why it’s simply easier for an organization to placate the bully. If the bully and the victim are considered equally culpable, it allows the organization to remove the victim who is being destabilized, and acting out increasing feelings of despair.
Losing your job unfortunately, is a frequent side effect of being bullied.
A bully may be satisfied for quite awhile when a victim suffers the consequences of job loss. Because the bully enjoys increased status and validation from others, the bully’s next target may take some time to emerge.
So in the short run, the organization’s decision to terminate the victim seems to be a good one. There’s a quieter workplace, an absence of conflict and a return to greater productivity. Often it takes quite a number of victims and a lot of disruption until the organization acknowledges a pattern of bullying and takes action against the bully.
Thus, a good course of action would be to anticipate you’ll have no support from your management if you are the target of a bully at work. It’s helpful to have a strategy to bully-proof yourself. Here are some key steps.
- From the first act of bullying, do not make the issue a polarizing one among your coworkers. Refrain from discussing the event with anyone who cannot be part of a solution.
- Document what’s happening on the day it happens. Keep the journal of events in a safe place, away from the workplace.
- Make management aware of your observations, without sharing your feelings or perceptions. You might wait for several observable acts to occur, rather than report each incident.
- Consider discussing the events with an outside coach or even legal counsel.
- Act rationally, despite how you may feel. Feeling fear is normal. Acting fearful will only further victimize you.
- When you are being bullied, address the observable behavior when it occurs. Refrain from assigning an intention to what you see. For example, if the bully upends your file drawer: the behavior is what’s at issue, not the reason why it was done.
- If you are forced into an encounter, talk to the bully calmly, even when you are being threatened. For example, I have a client who said the bully blocked her doorway. In that instance, a good choice is to simply ask, “Are you blocking my doorway?” Often a flat, unemotional question causes a change in the bully’s behavior, because the act failed to produce the desired reaction.
- Do not try to reason, bargain, beg or otherwise placate the bully. Avoid the bully unless that tactic would otherwise inflame or bring undue attention to the situation.
- Get your resume together and freshen up your LinkedIn profile. Increase your positive interactions in LinkedIn groups to gain visibility with future coworkers and employers. Remember to ask referral sources to help you identify a position with another organization, only sharing that you think it’s a good time to pursue a new opportunity.
- Button up your work and behavior. Don’t give anyone reason to terminate you or give you a bad reference.