Work and lifestyle

Beat the bully: how to recognise and tackle workplace bullying

Would you be able to recognise workplace bullying if it happened under your nose or worse, to you?  

It’s something that can be easily dismissed as office banter or a person’s natural management style but while some people might be more blunt than others, there is a fine line between being blunt and being a bully.

Workplace bullying is rife.  A 2011 survey by Unison revealed that 6 in ten employees in the UK have been bullied, or witnessed workplace bullying.  And that’s just in the public sector.  Bullying at work can lead to the development of anxiety disorders and depression for people being victimised, as well as absenteeism.  It’s estimated that 18 million working days are lost every year as a result of this problem.

Psychologist, Dr Lynda Shaw, says that to understand bullies we need to look back at, and understand, their childhoods.

“Bullies aren’t born bullies but all toddlers have a natural aggression they need work through.  Unless they receive good, effective parenting at that stage, that aggression can continue throughout their life.  It can interfere with friendships – bullies think this sort of behaviour is the only way to make friends – intimate relationships and parenting.”

But, that’s not to say we should feel sympathy for a bully.  As Dr Shaw says, “Bullying is certainly habitual but there is no doubt that any kind of bullying at all is deliberate.”

Examples of workplace bullying include you and your contribution at work being ignored; people not wanting to help you; sniping; sarcasm; not giving praise when it’s deserved and quick to attribute blame.  It can leave people feeling upset, downtrodden and less confident, which in turn can have a detrimental effect on your job performance.

Confidence coach and trainer Katie Day says that bullying is a big problem that needs to be taken seriously by companies: “An employee could join a company with full confidence in their ability to carry out their role, with exceptional talent and expertise. If that person is the victim of bullying, in a frighteningly short period of time, they can turn into a dysfunctional employee, withdrawn, ineffective and a poor team player.

“Bullying affects a person’s ability to think clearly, undertake their role with maximum efficiency, communicate effectively with colleagues, managers and customers and minimise mistakes. What bullying does exceptionally well is ensure people perform badly in their role, struggle to build and maintain effective relationships at work, are unhappy and disengaged employees and have an excess of days sick every year. Is this a scenario any company would be happy to endorse?”

So what can you do if you find yourself experience some form of workplace bullying?  We have 5 top tips to help you tackle this issue.

Develop your confidence.

Bullies are more likely to target those who they perceive as having a weakness, or some kind of vulnerability. Often, this can be kind, easy-going people.

Focus on building your assertiveness; look calm and confident and work on your body language. Bullies won’t pick on someone who they think will stand up to them.

Be calm and cheerful.

You may feel more like getting angry than keeping a smile on your face but anger will be seen as a sign of weakness, so don’t rise to the bait.

Although it can be difficult, try to stay reasonable, calm and cheerful. If the bully doesn’t think their behaviour is having an effect, they should eventually back off.

Use visualisation techniques.

When you’re getting short shrift from a bully, try to imagine them as a baby/on the toilet/in their pants or sing a song in your head.

These sorts of techniques will make you look vacant, like you’re not listening. This will render the bully ineffective because they’ll see that their behaviour is not having any effect.

Talk to the bully about their behaviour.

It’s unlikely that the bully’s behaviour will change on its own, unless they have some sort of ‘awakening’ or ‘realisation’ about how their behaviour is affecting others.

If you feel able to, try to speak to them directly about their behaviour and how it makes you feel. Stay calm and rational, give them examples of their bullying behaviour and explain how it is affecting your work.

Take a witness with you if you think it will help and write down what happened during the meeting.

Go to HR.

If you can’t address this directly with the bully, don’t be afraid to go to your HR department.

Before you do though, make a diary that documents the bully’s behaviour towards you as proof. Include dates, times and their behaviour. Try to remove your emotion from the equation when you write this diary and keep it factual and as objective as possible.

When you do speak to HR, keep discussions focused and consistent. Again, stay calm and take a witness with you for support if you want to.

However, don’t expect this to be a ‘quick fix’; companies will probably want to investigate the issue further and it may result in a company providing more support to the bully to change his or her behaviour, rather than major disciplinary action.

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