In this series of articles, we'll look at bullying at work. In this instalment, we look at what to do if you find yourself being bullied.
Is it something that you feel overwhelmed by and unable to find the courage to fight back? You are not alone. Some statistics suggest that one in two of us experience bullying in the workplace at some point.
Sometimes the bullying is obvious, sometimes it’s subtle, but it is always undermining. I know the devastating effects that a workplace bully had on my life in my first job. At every opportunity she sought to undermine or belittle me. I didn’t have the confidence and life experience that I have now to be able to put her down the instance she started, but over time I did learn to become intolerant of that behaviour from anyone.
Some signs of bullying might include:
- Becoming angry and aggressive towards you. Some bullies can have a barely veiled grip on their seething anger. They were probably angry and aggressive in childhood and whilst they know that the same level of outbursts is not acceptable as an adult, when under pressure their rage will boil to the surface.
- The subtle putdown. Sometimes the bully is far more subtle in how they behave. It’s not the big outburst but the constant belittling remarks. A certain look, tone of voice or the pointed lack of invitation to lunch when everyone else has been invited.
- Taking credit for your work. Bullies often operate from a place of insecurity and as a result are unlikely to allow others on their team to outshine them.
- Putting you down for the quality of your work in front of others. Some bullies need an audience to feel they have the upper hand and one of the ways they do this is to attempt to demean others. This can be very disconcerting if you have never experienced such behaviour before and it can be difficult to know how to respond.
Some ways to fight back
Courage is nothing more than a belief in yourself and a right to be treated fairly and respectfully by others. We all want that, but sometimes we lack the belief that we deserve it.
- Check you are not holding self-limiting beliefs. Start by really assessing your level of self-confidence and belief in yourself. Do you believe you have the right to be heard? Do you believe that your opinion is as good as anyone else’s? If not, start to write down what might be holding you back. The very act of writing down your beliefs gives you a powerful way to start identifying them and changing them.
- Speak up. Bullying only goes on so long because people refuse to speak up. The first place to start is with the bully themselves. Adopting a firm and non-confrontational approach is best. Acknowledge their comments and if it has been deliberately undermining, tell them that you are very open to feedback to help you to improve in your work, but not willing to accept comments that are personal and inappropriate. Look to others in the workplace with whom you can share your concerns, such as HR, a Welfare Line, or your boss (or higher if it’s your boss that’s the issue).
- Widen your social and professional network. One of the things that the bully relies on, is a sense of isolation from his or her victims. The best way to counteract this, is to widen your network. Go out of your way to get to know colleagues in other departments. Reach out to your boss or his or her boss. Join a professional network. See if you can find a trusted mentor inside or outside of your company to help you build your confidence.
Bullies can only operate when others accept their behaviour. No matter how strong or well positioned the person appears to be in the company, your self-respect does not have to be compromised for any job or employer. Find your inner courage and get the support to take positive action to stop that bully in his or her tracks.