The VP of business development laughs at your suggestions in team meetings. He consistently interrupts you and throws you off balance. Lately, he’s been giving you assignments that everyone knows is “busy work.” You’ve been feeling confused, angry, and powerless. These are all common reactions to bullying. This goes beyond personality conflicts and normal communication challenges. A bully is more than a typical “difficult person” who makes you want to pull your hair out from time to time. So then, what is “bullying”?
Bullying is behavior that controls you, intimidates you, offends you, humiliates you, and perhaps confuses you. It can take the form of physical abuse, verbal threats, malicious gossip, offensive jokes, tampering with your personal belongings, the list goes on.
If you are being bullied—or think you might be—here’s what you need to know:
It’s possible to be bullied without realizing it. You might feel that something has happened to you, but not know how to identify it. Worse yet, more sophisticated bullies can be gracious and even helpful at times—just enough to keep you confused. There’s plenty of material out there to help you understand bullying. Research online, or check out The Bully at Work by Gary and Ruth Namie.
Know that you have a right to feel safe at work
No one has the right to make you uncomfortable—physically, psychologically, or emotionally. However, it’s common for victims of bullying to doubt themselves. To make matters worse, many workplaces and families tolerate bullies and even inadvertently protect them. It’s up to you to take action so that you feel comfortable and safe.
Talk to a trusted colleague
After you identify what’s happening and how you feel, it might be helpful to talk to someone. This will give you psychological and emotional support. Don’t make the mistake of taking a bully on alone unless you’re confident you have the skills and emotional power to do so. Bullies are good at finding their targets—people they think will be afraid to stand up to them. Don’t be discouraged if you feel you need support.
Document the behavior
Bullies are often good at hiding their toxic behaviors from senior management. Make it impossible for them to do so by documenting their behaviors. It will help you clarify what has been happening—getting it out of your head and onto paper will help you see what’s really going on. Document when and where the behaviors occur, and whether others are present when it happens.
Stand up to the bully
The person bullying you is counting on you being too afraid to stand up to them. This is where you will likely need help. Talk to your trusted colleague or have a session or two with an executive coach who understands workplace bullying and get the support you need. They can help you set boundaries and help you come up with consequences for the bully and what to say. Tell them what behaviors are unacceptable. Let them know that you’re documenting their behavior and will take action if it doesn’t stop.
Talk to senior management or Human Resources
Check your employee handbook and see if your company has a policy for dealing with abusive workplace behavior. Whether they have such a policy or not, you need to let senior management know there’s a problem. Even if you successfully stand up to the bully, inform senior management. They need to know about it so they can help protect others.
Beware of Passive-Agressive Co-workers
Do they go above you?
Instead of asking you questions, do they speak to your supervisor, giving the impression that they don’t value your input? Speak to them directly about this, but don’t expect miracles.
Do they text when you’re speaking?
Don’t let them get away with this. Be assertive and say, “Can you take a look at this report?” They probably dislike confrontation and may pay attention.