At a recent dinner, I met an adult who didn’t like her food touching. I was amazed; my 10 year old daughter abhors her food in close proximity, but I just assumed that this fetish was something kids grew out of.
Likewise, I had always believed that bullying was a schoolyard pastime. Not so. Workplace adult bullying - verbal abuse, job sabotage, misuse of authority, intimidation, humiliation and deliberate destroying of relationships – is not only on the rise, it’s also four times more common than sexual harassment or racial discrimination.
Alarming similarities between bullies at school and work abound: the desperate grab of control by the bully, under-reporting by witnesses who avoid conflict as a way of personal survival, the contagious nature that encourages non-bullies or victims to act aggressively and the ignorance or denial of administration. However, there is one critical difference that resonates with grown-ups: the threat of losing one’s livelihood. And so adults often stay in a bad situation.
To make matters worse, workplace bullies are usually rewarded for their behavior. Because they are highly social and politically savvy, they usually charm or manipulate their way to positive performance reviews and plum promotions. Instead of using their keen talent for assessing strengths and weaknesses in service of their teams, they use that talent to identify and abuse their victims and promote themselves, often without anyone ever noticing. Indeed, there is a fine line between a leader and a bully. As with so much else, bolstering your own confidence can ensure that you don’t fall prey.
1. Trust your gut, and then dig deeper. Bullies are charmers. Many will tell you how capable you are and it can be quite the aphrodisiac. When that same person begins to tell you “you can’t…you’ll fail…” take a closer look at what may be in it for him or her.
2. Understand what’s got you going back for more. As masters of sniffing out weakness, a workplace bully may offer you precisely what you feel you’re lacking professionally…access to resources, visibility or skills. Knowing your own vulnerabilities may help you realize when you’re under the spell of a bully.
3. Muster the courage to act. Remember that the company has an obligation to protect you. Rather than focus on the emotional abuse, talk in terms your employer will surely understand. Gather data about the economic impact the bully has had on the company in terms of expenses associated with replacement, recruitment, demoralization, and absenteeism.
As a mom of four, I have unfortunately had my share of dealing with physical, verbal and cyber bullying. The best advice I give my kids, and now my readers, is don’t stand by. EVER. Speak up even when you’re afraid. When you don’t, you give permission for the bully to attack… and you could be the next victim.