When Is a ‘Workplace Bully’ Not a ‘Workplace Bully’?
Is Every ‘Workplace Bully’ Truly a Bully?
Last week, I penned an article about actions to take if you believe you’re facing bullying at work. The responses I received, especially on LinkedIn where it first appeared, were truly overwhelming. A close friend shared her own harrowing experience with workplace bullying. Even though her situation has been resolved, she felt compelled to share the article with her HR team, highlighting the gravity of this issue.
Understanding the Bully’s Perspective
A comment from a LinkedIn group caught my attention and I felt it was worth sharing. Dawn mentioned, “When you feel bullied, it’s essential to approach the person and express how their actions are affecting your dignity at work. It might be challenging, but it’s a fair approach. It gives the ‘bully’ a chance to change. Not everyone displaying bullying tendencies is a bully. Some might just be unaware of how their actions affect others.” Dawn’s perspective is valuable. It emphasizes the importance of open communication. By addressing the issue head-on, you’re setting boundaries that might have been previously overlooked.
Is It Bullying or Just Insensitivity?
Skye London, a Career Coach and HR Specialist, recently discussed ‘office jerks’. She suggests that sometimes these individuals might lack emotional and social intelligence, but don’t necessarily have harmful intentions. However, if such behaviors persist, they might earn the label of ‘bully’, especially if their actions harm their colleagues’ well-being.
I recall a colleague who, despite being intelligent and well-liked, occasionally made inappropriate jokes. When confronted, he would genuinely regret his actions and rectify his behavior. He wasn’t a bully, just someone unaware of how his words could hurt others.
The Challenge of Confrontation
But let’s look at another scenario. Imagine a manager or teammate who’s openly aggressive, frequently belittles you, or discusses your performance negatively within earshot. Would you feel comfortable confronting them? The mere thought might be daunting. If you’ve been exposed to such behavior for a long time, your confidence might be shattered.
There’s a genuine fear that confronting such individuals might backfire. They might perceive your honesty as a weakness and use it against you. If you believe this could happen, it might not be wise to address the issue directly.
Understanding the Bully’s Behavior
So, why do some individuals get labeled as ‘bullies’? It’s primarily due to their actions. They might not even recognize their behavior as problematic. They might dismiss your concerns, blame their stress levels, or even adopt a philosophical stance. But none of these reasons excuse their behavior. They need to acknowledge their actions and understand the harm they’re causing.
If their aggression has demoralized someone to the point where they doubt their worth or believe that nothing will change, it’s a clear sign of a toxic work environment. Disturbingly, individuals who’ve been bullied are twice as likely to contemplate suicide. Given the value many place on their jobs, an attack on their professional competence can feel like an attack on their identity. The stress of potentially losing a job, especially if supporting a family or living near the poverty line, can be overwhelming.
Addressing the Issue
This isn’t about labeling someone as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Many well-intentioned individuals might display unacceptable behaviors simply because they lack certain interpersonal skills. They might not know how to manage people, handle outcomes, or cope with their own stress. So, where should they begin? Personal development is a good starting point. It’s the individuals who refuse to acknowledge their actions and blame others that pose the real concern.
Both parties need effective coping strategies. The workplace is filled with various stressors and personalities. Does the bullied individual have the resilience to handle stress and maintain their confidence? Does the bully have the self-awareness to understand their behavior and seek better communication methods? Everyone has a role to play, but it starts with agreeing that bullying is unacceptable.
Seeking Help and Support
This might be a somber topic, but it’s crucial for understanding and empowerment. As mentioned in my earlier article, a staggering 50% of Australians will face workplace bullying at some point. This means half of all Australians will endure situations that diminish their self-worth and job performance. It’s essential to establish boundaries, hold individuals accountable for their actions, and ensure everyone is treated with respect.
If you believe you’re being bullied and need guidance, check out my previous article for helpful resources.