There is hardly a problem more difficult to handle than bullying at work, and likely no topic more avoided. It’s also one that it pays to be aware of, as early intervention can nip it in the bud. Bullying is not a one-time only clash, it is not a character conflict, it is not about simple disagreements. Bullying is decidedly sinister. The victim’s life is impacted far beyond trying to avoid someone; it can seriously affect health. Bullying is persistent and malicious, cannot be explained with logic, and cannot be dealt with through avoidance. The more a victim attempts to adjust his or her behaviour, take on blame, or doubt perceptions, the more power is given to the bully, and the harder it becomes to shake the attention. Bullies do their dirty work when there are no witnesses, and are deceptive to the max. Clever liars, they deny with utmost conviction anything their victim asserts, which fosters self-doubt and launches a vicious cycle. It infringes on human rights, attacks dignity, and can lead to the victim suffering from depression and even post-traumatic stress syndrome. Get the facts about organisational culture see this.
The victim may find it difficult to find allies, quite simply because colleagues, at a deep level that they themselves would rather not admit to, fear retaliation. Others, because they don’t understand the level of conniving, secrecy, and maliciousness, “pooh-pooh” the experience, suggesting that it’s all in the victim’s imagination or somehow the victim’s fault. What then, can a victim, typically the quintessential “nice” person, do?
– In the early stages, consider asking the bully assertive questions, for example: “Why would you say that? What exactly do you mean by that?” Or suggest, “Let’s take this discussion to the manager’s office.” You may nip it in the bud.
– Keep a diary. Courts take cumulative small incidents seriously.
– If you’ve been visiting your doctor for treatment or seeing a counselor to cope, keep a record of these visits.
– With your diary and documented doctor’s visits, go to your boss to ask for a transfer or to have the bully transferred, or ask for a grievance hearing. Share how the bully’s actions are seriously impeding your work, and are bringing the work unit into a situation for potential disrepute.
What then, is the bully’s purpose? Usually it is to control, to hide incompetence, or to project incompetence onto someone else. Most of us wouldn’t begin to torture a colleague in this way, but bullies are not your average employee. Experts agree: you are dealing with a sociopath or disordered personality, making it critical that you fight back by documenting the bully’s actions, and assert your rights by involving management.
Bullies are opportunists: they look for an easy victim. Don’t be one. Learn to stand tall, breathe deeply, make good and sustained eye contact, keep your voice in control, and refrain from responding to the bully’s bait. Oftentimes the victim is the first to leave. If management takes no action the victim rightly decides it’s time to go. See this not as a failure, but as regaining control and growing your career in a healthier direction.