This post was orignally a guest post for Ann Lewis author of “Recover your balance: How to bounce back from bad times at work”
Take a stand
In my research for my series on the bullying of women in the work place by women, I was contacted by a huge number of women and somewhat surprisingly men too. Most of this communication was private.
This sent me two messages: the first was that bullying is still a shame based experience leaving many unable to openly admit that it had happened. The other was that individuals who had been targets, even years later, went to considerable lengths not only to protect the identity of the perpetrators, but also the organisations where they worked. In many cases little or nothing had been done to support them. In essence, the bullied had become part of an enabling process which allowed repeat offenders to continue abusive behaviour.
Could I say they these victims had moved on?
No, not really. Many had simply resigned and left organisational life to become corporate refugees by working freelance or starting their own business. Some went onto be bullied in subsequent jobs. Others had abandoned their careers totally. Most were scarred, still bewildered and angry. Many had had such horrific experiences, which in my naivety I had previously only associated with movie story lines.
Premeditated sabotage strategies aside, on a daily basis many accused bullies (especially women) have no idea that their behaviour is perceived as « bullying « and are quite shocked or even distressed when finally challenged. So it seems that the bullying process can be viewed as a breakdown, or absence of, constructive communication, with each party needing to assume responsibility for their own role in the dysfunctional dynamic.
• The responsibility of the “ target” is to communicate his/her perception of the situation and follow through as required . Failure to do this can mean staying stuck in a negative position, which is tantamount to handing over personal power to both the bully and the organisation.
• The responsibility of the bully is to change his/her behaviour and communication style to acceptable norms.
• The responsibility of the organisation is to ensure that it is carried out.
What would I suggest to anyone who feels that they are being bullied?
• Research corporate and sector guidelines. Most countries have no legislation to deal with bullying, although that is changing. Benchmark your experience against those checklists.
• Seek professional help early in the process. This is good investment. You are experiencing a trauma! If you were suffering a wound to your leg, would you try and treat it yourself? No! You’d see a doctor!
• Work on strategies to self advocate and heal. Focus on becoming “unstuck” and taking responsibility for retreiving your own position .
• In tandem set up an audit trail of abusive treatment. Document and note each incident. This will be useful in any internal inquires or even eventual legal action.
• Find a mentor. Someone who can support and validate you professionally.
Walking away from a bad experience maybe sufficient for some to heal and I agree that in a number of instances, “letting go” will do it. However, the individuals who seemed be in the best place, were the very few who had found the courage to challenge the bully in a constructive and strategic way, as well as tenaciously dealing with the organisations where the bullying had occurred, even to the point of legal action.
This is not about revenge, although I’m sure for some individuals that might play a satisfying part. Stepping up in this way is also about contributing to the cultural change of what is acceptable workplace behaviour. It will raise public awareness to prevent the same thing happening to others. This transparency also obliges organisations to enforce (rather than pay lip service to) workplace protocols instead of intervening only when the bottom line is negatively impacted. Think of the significant advances that have happened over the last 40 years in the areas of discrimination against women, minorities or the physically impaired. This has been the cumulative result of individual as well as group action.
So somehow, and easier said than done I know, the targets of bullying need to dig deep to find the courage to step up and take a stand, not just for their own recovery, but for the protection of our future working environments. To quote Martin Luther King “Justice denied anywhere, diminishes justice everywhere”
That is when personal moving on also leaves a legacy.
What do you think?
Great blog post, Dorothy.
And… we have been raised in a bullying culture! If you’ve been a child then, at some time in your childhood you will have been bullied. Parents tell you what to do, how to do it and how to be. Should you object you are co-erced either be emotional blackmail or physical punishment. Or fear of what might happen, as in the ‘I’m going to count to 3 and if you’re not in bed by 3……’ with a blank left for the child to fill in with fear of the unknown threat! And, if you are a parent, you will, of course, at some time have bullied.
This helps develop parts of our personality with one a bully and the other a victim. The degree to which either dominates, or not, depends on a vaqriety of factors. However, childhood experiences and dynamics work to make some people more prone to bullying than others.
One of the reasons people are so reluctant to deal with the bully is that the current situation also triggers past traumatisation, and they become infantalised.
Hi Sharon – thanks for your wise insights. It’s interesting to hear the issue trailed to childhood experiences. And of course I said to my kids ” You’ve got 10 seconds to do xyz , or there will be such and such a ( dire for them) consequence ” . So is there a fine line to tread between discipline and bullying even outside blatant abuse?
I agree with a lot of the post, but not the sentence “So it seems that the bullying process can be viewed as a breakdown, or absence of, constructive communication, with each party needing to assume responsibility for their own role in the dysfunctional dynamic. ”
It is never the targets fault that a bully decides to aggressively degrade and humiliate them. Bullying is not simply rudeness or not listening, it is a blatant personal attack.
Look at http://www.workplacebullying.org/targets.html, for more help.
Hi Daniel thanks for your comment. I actually don’t disagree. The first time bullying happens it is absolutely that for sure. But for many people if someone is rude or abusive they deal with it and it doesn’t happen again.
Others are more vulnerable and the bully somehow knows that and taps into it in perverse delight. He /she preys on that vulnerability, so that the target gets sucked into a pattern of repetitive abusive. It’s that cycle the target needs to break.
What I have found is that even years later, targets don’t want to name either the bully or the organisation where the incidents took place. Ironically by remaining silent the target has unwittingly become part of the enabling behaviour.