Workplace Bullying

Close-up picture of word "bullying"

Close-up of word “bullying”

Workplace bullying has been defined by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as the repeated intimidation, slandering, social isolation, or humiliation by one or more persons against another (S.B. No. 196). But reading a definition and seeing it in action are two different things. People who have never experienced or witnessed bullying in their lives are often confused, embarrassed and shocked when they become the target of a bully. They ask what they have done wrong or what they have done to anger the bully to deserve such a treatment. They question themselves rather than the other person’s behavior. They may even deny the bully’s attacks. Many times, they do not even realize that they are being bullied.

I hope that this page will educate people on recognizing workplace bullying and in helping those who are experiencing it give it its rightful name. As Dr. Gary Namie & Dr. Ruth Namie write in The Bully at Work: “Many people have never heard of bullying and they do not know what it is. In many cases, the concept is totally new to them. It is amazing how many people have said to us that just having a name, a label, for what they were going through helped them start to do something about it. It helps pierce the veil of secrecy and shame imposed by bullies.”

I had a professor that once said that 90 percent of the solution to a problem lies in identifying the problem. He was talking about computer troubleshooting but I’ve found out that his advice can be applied to many aspects in life. So here are a few signs of bullying. Both lists are quoted from The Bully At Work.

Top Ten Bullying Tactics

1. Blame for “errors”
2. Unreasonable job demands
3. Criticism of ability
4. Inconsistent compliance with rules
5. Threatens job loss
6. Insults and put-downs
7. Discounting/denial of accomplishments
8. Exclusion, “icing out”
9. Yelling, screaming
10. Stealing credit

In their book, Dr. Gary Namie & Dr. Ruth Namie categorize bullies into the Constant Critic, the Two-Headed Snake, the Gatekeeper, and the Screaming Mimi. A bully can be one or any combination of the four. I’m listing the sample behaviors that characterize the Constant Critic because a friend of mine went through many of these:

1. Put downs, insults, belittling comments, name-calling
2. Constant haranguing about Target’s “incompetence”
3. Makes aggressive eye contact, glaring at the Target; demands eye contact when he speaks but deliberately avoids eye contact when Target speaks
4. Negatively reacts to Target contributions with sighs, frowns, peering over the top of eyeglasses to condescend, sour face (the “just sucked a lemon” look)
5. Accuses Target of wrongdoing, blames Target for fabricated errors (doctored documents, compromised databases, fake witness accounts)
6. Makes unreasonable demands for work with impossible deadlines, applies disproportionate pressure, expects perfectionism
7. Sends signals of disrespect through over-confident body language–sitting at a desk with feet up, showing Target bottom of shoes and talking to Target through feet, grooms self (hair, nails) while ignoring the Target; making target sit while bully stands, hovering over, staying above
8. Overuses memos, e-mails, messages to bury Target in correspondence requiring replies
9. Personally criticizes aspects of the Target’s life that are irrelevant to work–appearance, family, friends
10. Excessively or harshly criticizes Target’s work abilities
11. Engages Target in intense cross-examination to belittle or confuse

Some of these behaviors may be attributed to rudeness if it is a one-time occurrence. Bullying, on the other hand, is repeated verbal mistreatment done over a period of time. It harms your health (physical and mental) and your self-esteem.

Finally, I want to add shame as a sign of being bullied. Bullies are masters of emotional manipulation. Shaming their targets is how bullies control them. To the bully, you’re always in the wrong. Some bullies go as far as justifying their verbal attacks as “doing you a favor” or “for your own good.” Shame silences not just the victims but also those who may have witnessed the bully’s attacks.

No Bullies Sign

No Bullies Sign

Bullies hurt innocent people and the harm they cause should be taken seriously. Please join initiatives such as the Healthy Workplace Bill to help end bullying at the workplace.

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