Lately, I keep hearing discussions about bullying. It’s happening online with kids to professionals in the boardroom. I was speaking with an Account Manager at an organization that I visited. She shared with me that she was new to the company based on being forced to leave her old job. She started telling me about how she was bullied. Wow…she was bullied! She further explained that she was experiencing psychosomatic responses based on her past leader’s abuse. That may seem a bit much but research has shown that victims can develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). What makes this egregious is that the person whom she trusted to protect her within the workplace victimized his employee(s). The troubled kid on the playground pulling little girls’ hair and threatening other children has grown up to terrorize people in the workplace. It doesn’t have to be bosses either: bullies can be peers, clients, or even your mentor. I know right, a mentor. Yes… You can have someone who really wishes the best for you but uses tactics to control you so that you are doing the things she wants you to do. We often think that a bully doesn’t like someone who s/he directs her/his attention, but oh contraire. A bully can secretly like the person so much so that s/he sexually harasses the victim which is in actuality sexual harassment which is a form of bullying. Bullying takes many shapes and forms, but in the end it leaves the victim feeling powerless, hurt, shamed, and more.
Even though, we know exactly what bullying is, I feel compelled to go to my electronic sage Wikipedia to see how it defines bullying:
Workplace bullying is a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes either physical or emotional harm.  It can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation. This type of workplace aggression is particularly difficult because, unlike the typical school bully, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization and their society. In the majority of cases, bullying in the workplace is reported as having been by someone who has authority over their victim. However, bullies can also be peers, and occasionally subordinates.  Bullying can be covert or overt. It may be missed by superiors; it may be known by many throughout the organization. Negative effects are not limited to the targeted individuals, and may lead to a decline in employee morale and a change in organizational culture.
There are countless professionals who are bullied daily, and it creates a mental dis-ease. My research reveals that the focus is usually on the employee who is being victimized versus the bully in the workplace. I believe people marginalize the problem similar to how we would overlook children who were picked on. Even today, you’ll hear people say that s/he needs to toughen up, get over it, stand up for yourself, have thicker skin and so forth. It’s not about the victim: the focus must shift to the oppressor. Just as we empathize with kids, we should have compassion and concern for professionals. If we don’t, then the environment becomes toxic and we all become victims or bullies, as well. You cannot remain neutral when you are in an environment where bullying is taking place.
As a leader, you must take the pulse of your organization! If you see that you or a coworker is unreasonably tough on an employee, there may be some underlining systemic bullying issues going on that comes from a lack of leadership skills. Yes…you are culpable of the bullying that is taking place in your organization. Keep in mind that millions of dollars can be lost from bullying in your workplace. This can happen due to ongoing sick days taken by employees who are either afraid to come to work or feed up with coming to work, an inability to attract or retain top talent based on their values being compromised when they witness bullying, the low performance that will certainly occur, or the possible lawsuit that you may have to fight and then quite possibly lose.
Looking at the current US President, Donald Trump, he optimizes the term bully. The problem is that people in general haven’t learned how to deal with bullies. It’s as if we are onlookers vacillating between shock over his behavior to paralyzed on feeling unable to do anything. We are watching real life playground crap unfold every day in hopes that someone will have the courage to take him on. Over the weekend, I went to an interactive presentation where the actors gave four vignettes on bullying and then the audience made suggestions and could act out what they believed would work. No one provided fail safe ways to deal with a bully or bullying situation, which was disappointing. And, I think professionals are just as lost in the workplace. So, here are some ways that I believe you as the leader can prevent and remedy bullying if it is occurring in your workplace:
Allow people to have a voice by your discussing your views on bullying. Often people suffer in silence out of fear that just maybe it’s their fault until they realize that– no…the bully is in fact a bully. Encourage employees to share their experience even if it means having a vehicle for anonymous complaints. As the leader, get out of your office and manage by walking. Get to know your people by talking with them, and then observe how they engage one another and ‘you’. Some bullies are so arrogant that they will even try to bully their boss. Allow people to have a method or easy way to disclose what is going on even if it is second hand knowledge that you will follow-up on. There are situations where others may witness bullying while the victim stands by and says nothing. That must be addressed so that the bully’s behavior is not seen as being condoned or overlooked. That will curtail future incidents from people who learn that bad behavior is rewarded by either being ignored or by people acquiescing.
Hire a consultant/trainer to offer a workshop that explores personality traits. Often certain behaviors that people boast of possessing may actually come across as bullying such as a combination of challenging others, motivated by power, forcefulness, impatience and insentivity. These are just a few traits that come from a personality profile called DiSC; wherein, the D means Dominant. Now, that is behavioral training. You can also offer (1) awareness training to help employees understand what is bullying, (2) skill based training to equip employees with tools to handle bullying appropriately, and (3) management training to teacher decision-makers on how to counsel employees who are bullying and coach employees on how to deal with the issue assertively.
Your handbook should discuss a TRUE open-door policy; wherein, people can come directly to you for such concerns. Also, have your HR department and an attorney write a policy that speaks to bullying, a hostile environment and an inclusive workplace. Importantly, have a three-step disciplinary process to manage bullying issues. This can often be difficult when people don’t regard some behaviors as bullying. To be honest you have to have a zero-tolerance attitude. You can’t turn a blind eye when it doesn’t directly impact you. You need to be on it when you see it, feel it or think it.
Bullying can be physical, mental, threatening, withholding something, teasing, verbal abuse, exclusion, and the list can be exhaustive. But, it’s important to recognize that bullying isn’t just on the playground or on our teen’s social media pages. It is increasingly becoming a part of cultures everywhere and it may be due to reasons that include stress, poor social skills, jealousy, insecurities, and more. I challenge you to really pay attention to conversations, the roles people play during meetings, and other ways employees interact. Spend time understanding your organization to determine whether actions, activities or expectations support a culture that creates or rewards bullies.
Please read about my Women’s Forum http://4-dperformance.com/womens-forum/ which will have experiential opportunities to help women gain control and exert power. Also, contact me for more information about how to stump out bullying in your organization. You can reach me at indigo@4-DPerformance.com