Photo Credit: Flickr
Just saying the word bullying prompts a memory and even a victim mentality. No one is immune from this experience, either being the target or the one targeting another. Bullying can sometimes beget bullying, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Understanding and intervening in damaging situations can turn the course of the experience for all involved.
Childhood bullying has been subject to much research and policy-setting in schools. What about when bullying happens between adults and in the workplace? What can be done there?
The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as:
Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is :
- Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
- Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done, or
- Verbal abuse
The Workplace Bullying Institute Definition of Workplace Bullying
When bullying happens in the workplace, we want to call it something else…controlling, rudeness, or maybe incivility. If we call it bullying, we must acknowledge that we could be a victim, or worse, we stood by and watched it happen without intervening. Or even worse, we could be confronted with the possibility that we, because of our commanding personality or position, have become a bullying adult.
I don’t think I’ve ever bullied someone else…but it is possible. When we find ourselves in a changing culture, we can change as well. A wise friend once told me, “A toxic workplace can corrode everyone.” I have, for sure, experienced workplace bullying. Especially early in my career. It’s never pretty, and even thinking about it today causes me to cringe. One situation was very private; no one knew but the two of us. A nurse manager was threatened by my role as clinical specialist and nurse educator on her unit. I had to learn to deflect and avoid confrontations with her (not in a frightened cowardly way but in a “wise as serpents, gentle as doves” way).
Another situation was when a physician wrongly accused me of misjudgment in patient care. This time was very public and he was determined to have me fired. I was not at fault (in fact, one of his interns elected not to act on my assessment of the patient which caused harm to her). Fortunately for me, the nursing chain of command was in complete support of my actions, and his rampage against me was neutralized. Whew! Bullying is costly.
[Sidebar: I don’t mean to disparage either person. Neither was a villain. They just saw things differently and chose to deal with it by coming down on me. I wasn’t a victim after all…especially in the second situation, the patient was the one who suffered during that blame-shifting. Bullying cuts a much wider wake than we think.]
Let’s think about our workplaces. Have we given into a workplace that mimics today’s “modern” culture – technology over humanity, coolness over experience, short-term gains over long-term legacy. Bullying doesn’t necessarily come out of any of this, except that our rules of engagement can change. Within that can evolve a level of incivility that gives birth to bullying, if we are not vigilant in preventing it.
Why “Modern” Work Culture Makes People So Miserable – Jeffrey Pfeffer
Refusing to ignore bullying and calling it out when it happens are crucial. This can be risky. We have to decide if we can handle the potential negative outcomes. If we don’t wrestle with the problem, it can become commonplace and the silence is deafening.
“Words denied mean analyses not offered, things not grasped, surprise not registered, strangeness not taken in, all of which means that terrible mistakes are repeated, wounding ways of acting in the world never seriously reconsidered. The words’ absence chains you to the present, to what’s accepted and acceptable.” – Tom Engelhardt
Am I wrong here? Is our workplace immune to what our culture is going through? The US is divided right now over how we are handling some huge social issues- racism, poverty, immigration, and potential national threats from outside the US. The media is peppered with Americans calling foul on what is perceived as bullying – from our leaders as well as special interest groups.
What is our recourse? One popular action seems to be to bully back…to villainize…to essentially return blow for blow. Social media is slammed with “he said, she said” hateful rhetoric. I’m so thankful for those who take a path of peace and wisdom (like the news story recently of 5 young people in our city who struck a blow for genuine rather than symbolic change. Transformative change).
Maybe, bullying in the workplace is hard to change because we as adults should be able to fight our own battles, unlike children who need help when caught up in this destructive cycle. We want our children to feel safe and to learn effective ways to deal with confrontation and conflict. In the workplace, we also want to have an atmosphere of mutual respect, purposefulness, and trust.
While insulating ourselves from bullying is one approach to deal with it, hopefully we can consider a more proactive stance. Many schools these days have a “No Tolerance” bullying policy. The students didn’t come up with that. It was people in authority advocating for them – parents, teachers, the school board. What would a “No Tolerance” model look like where we work? Who would set that in place? How would it work?
As peers, we can confront bullying and intervene with each other. However, to change a whole culture, we need those with greater authority to advocate for such a work environment.
Something to think about…and consider.
Please check out the links below – excellent reading on this weighty topic. Also if you have experienced workplace bullying or if you’ve known success in curtailing bullying in your workplace, please share in Comments below.
Anti-Bullying Week: Of Weasels, Snakes, and Queen Bees [Don’t miss the short video – clarifying & tremendously useful]
Infographic – 7 Facts of How to Deal with a Bully at Work – Catherine Adenle
Who Is a Workplace Bully’s Target? – Sally Kane
The Top 5 Threat Assessment and Workplace Violence Prevention Trends in 2017 – Arnette Heintze
75% of Workers Are Affected By Bullying – Here’s What To Do About It – Christine Comaford
The Hidden Toll of Workplace Incivility – Christine Porath