Publicly trashing ideas with the intention to belittle others, scoffing and dismissing any suggestions or proposals made in meetings, openly making snide remarks and frequently denouncing fellow team members at work; these are the some of the common characteristics that categorize bullies at work.
American bullying experts Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie define bullying as a “Repeated, health-harming mistreatment of a person by one or more workers that takes the form of verbal abuse; conduct or behaviors that are threatening, intimidating, or humiliating; sabotage that prevents work from getting done; or some combination of the three.”
The bully aims to assault the dignity, trustworthiness, competence, and self-worth of the target to derive personal gains or sadistic satisfaction often leaving the target feeling responsible, guilty, isolated and confused.
So what can we do to stop these baddies in their tracks?
- Identify the situation. The very first step towards countering bullying is to realize that it’s happening. Once you say what it is, you are opening yourself to different possibilities of countering them. The second important step is to realize that you are not alone. Workplace Bullying Institute and other research has revealed alarming statistics about this silent epidemic across the globe. Nearly half of the workforce has been affected by bullying whether as a target or as a witness
- Free yourself from any negative thoughts: If you are being bullied, it’s not your fault and has nothing to do with your actions or who you are as a person. Take control of your emotions and detach yourself from the bully’s verbal abuse. You did not incur this on yourself, nor do you deserve it. Start out by building a shield against bullies and this can be achieved by being in charge of your feelings and watching out for any toxic thinking patterns. For more information on these patterns read; 8 Toxic thoughts and how to beat them
- Start preparing: It’s now time to resolve the situation in the most effective way possible. Ignoring or avoiding the bully may seem the safest way but it’s actually more harmful; the victim suffers in silence and the problem doesn’t get resolved. Trying to appease the bully or complying with him is no solution either. Bullying is a power struggle. Once you give into one demand, they will push for more. Showing aggression is once again not helpful as it can land you into more trouble than the bully himself or worse, show to the latter that he has power over you. Before moving forward, identify stress-related health complications that may have arisen owing to this and take steps to reverse them by consulting health physicians. Next, conduct a thorough research on company’s policies, laws in your area and your rights as an employee. Prepare a file that documents all bullying incidents you have been exposed to, substantiated with facts and keep it handy for future reference.
- Confront and Set Boundaries: Before resorting to other measures, confront the bully. If he is invading your comfort zone in terms of physical space, place a physical boundary (like a desk) between you and him, or ask him to step back. In emotional space is being threatened such as asking personal questions or offering unwanted advice, tell him off, politely yet firmly. Bullies sense fear and prey on weakness. Show them up front that you are strong and they will usually back down and find an easier target. Your body language is crucial. To show assertiveness, stand up straight, don’t fidget, use a calm and collected tone and maintain eye contact. Ensure that you’re not physically cornered.
- Build a support network: Focus on the people who trust you and talk about you, positively. Keep those things in mind when you’re dealing with a bully and not any unfounded accusations and mud-slinging. These people may also turn into a reliable set of supporters who can back your confrontation against the bullies when the need be.
- Take ACTION: If the bully did not respond to your call for setting boundaries then prepare for the next action which is, to stand and fight. Your first step should be to file an internal complaint and compel employer responsibility for putting you in harm’s way. Be prepared with your file of documented facts to defend your case. Gary and Ruth = recommend another approach which suggests building a business case showing the financial impact of the bullying and presenting it to the executive team. ‘Speak their language’, they say and you might be surprised at the results that you get! This approach is fact based and stands lesser chances of being discounted or discredited. If your Manager sides with the bully owing to personal friendship or rationalizes the mistreatment, you may have to consider involving HR or other higher ups. And if your Management or HR department doesn’t help either, you can pursue other legal actions, such as criminal or civil lawsuits. However, these are expensive and lengthy, so think carefully before treading in that direction.
- Support creation of an anti-bullying workplace: If you are successful then don’t just leave it there, endeavor to bring reforms in the work culture. Most people choose to stay silent when witnessing someone else is being bullied. Don’t be one of them. Moreover, support creation, implementation and enforcement of anti-bullying policies Elicit top Management support, Educate teams in what specifically constitutes bullying and how top it before it starts and encourage consistency in applying these rules.. Bullies will often back down if they know that someone is watching them.