Workplace Bullying. It’s the new buzzword on respectful workplace policies.
I was unaware of the term “workplace bullying” until 2013, when I unexpectedly became the target of a bully. It was sudden, because for about 3 years I did not have a toxic relationship with this individual. We graduated the same year from different colleges with the same degree and worked the same job. I considered us equals, although I was aware she was paid more than I was. She did have a habit of coming to work late, and was often negative towards our manager, but I wasn’t the type of person who dwelled on that sort of thing. After about 3 years however, I caught her discussing with another staff member that she had received additional staff discounts and that she knew I had not. I went to management to talk to them about the unfair staff discounts (as I honestly felt we should have received the same discount for the same service), and that they needed to make it right somehow.
I am not sure what management said to her, but our working relationship changed instantly. She became hostile, and successfully alienated me from the rest of the staff within a SINGLE WEEK. She critiqued everything I did. She was constantly rolling her eyes and huffing and puffing when we had to work together. This was all behaviour I had witnessed her doing to other staff members, but it had never been directed towards me before.
I went to my managers; however the workplace owners were completely inexperienced in formal HR issues. They were also reluctant to have a third party professional come in and assess the workplace. When they told me I had to get over the situation and learn to co-exist with this person because “they couldn’t fire her without firing me too – because that would not be fair,” I walked out.
Anyhow, this led me on a 4 year long journey into workplace bullying. Since 2013 I have been researching it, teaching others about it in a private career college, and fighting it when I worked in management.
Bullying is defined as a power struggle between someone with power asserting dominance over someone without power. While I believe this happens commonly in a poorly organized management structure, this is NOT the basis for bullying in my opinion.
I believe the core of all bullying is self-esteem. People who bully feel insecure about themselves or their skillset, which is made more obvious to them while in the presence of competent, well trained, highly skilled or well liked people. People who bully take it upon themselves to “knock righteous people off their high horses.” Bullies often point out deficiencies in others in hopes to keep their own deficiencies from being discovered. This will be even more apparent when someone in a high position of employment feels threatened by the qualities and skill set of someone in a lower position.
In the world there are no “haters” and “toxic” people. There are just people who are hurting and trying, ineffectively, to give themselves relief. Distance yourself if you must, but try to do so with empathy. ~ Lori Deschene ~
Targets on the other hand, often have no explanation as to why they have been targeted, because they typically consider themselves to be friendly, inclusive, and helpful to their teammates. Simply stated, the qualities and skills that make someone a good teammate can also cause some people feel worse about themselves.
When I reflect back to my situation in 2013, this makes sense. My co-worker did have self-esteem issues. She was very attractive, but often complained about her appearance. Although she and I graduated from college the same year, we went to different colleges that were regarded differently by our industry. It wasn’t an issue to me, but perhaps she had the notion that her education was inferior because she went to a college that was less acclaimed. Also, there was a nationwide examination that one would take after graduation to become registered, and she had missed that registration exam due to illness. She was still permitted to do the same job as myself, but she did not legally have the same title that I did. Again, it was not an issue to me, but reflecting back perhaps my additional certification, self-confidence, and general overall work ethic made her more conscious of herself. Our relationship worked for her as long as she was being paid more, permitted to come into work late without consequence, and getting employee discounts that I wasn’t afforded. However, once I chose to address the differences in our treatment by management, she became offended.
So what have I learned since 2013?
RECOGNIZE HOW YOUR PERSONALITY IS REFLECTED ON OTHERS. If you are a target, recognize that your skill set, knowledge, self-confidence and personality will make some other people insecure. When someone is mean to you, just recognize that as a reflection of how they actually feel about themselves. We feel and treat others the way we feel and treat ourselves. When someone is treating other people horribly, we need to realize their own negative self-talk is probably even more horrible.
DON’T HOLD A GRUDGE. Holding grudges and retaliation does not make someone strong, it makes them bitter. Show others compassion and forgiveness. Forgiving someone who takes their insecurities out on others doesn’t make you weak either. It sets you free from their clutches, and interrupts their goal of bringing your self-confidence down.
DOCUMENT THE EVENTS AS THEY HAPPEN. Keep a diary – dates, times, situations. Write things on scraps of paper and staple them into your diary if necessary. This is mandatory if there is to be any formal action taken by an employer.
There are other things one should do in a toxic work environment, but it is not the intent of this blog to go into that level of depth.
We need to start seeing bullies as people who are hurting and just trying to make the people around them feel the same way they do. I believe that if we focused on trying to make people feel better about themselves, that would go a long way in helping reduce the core issue of bullying.