Tag Archives: bullying

Your basic rights and how to deal with bullies

by M.C. Parker

Bullying seems to be endemic to the workplace. I kept running into it – especially in the corporate world. I needed to understand why I kept facing this issue, and find more productive ways to deal with it.

The most constructive advice I found came from a book by Jane Middleton-Moz and Mary Lee Zawadski called Bullies: From the playground to the boardroom – strategies for survival.

I used their list of basic rights as a guideline to help teach others how to treat me, recognize when boundaries are crossed, and as a healthy reminder on how to treat others.

Your Basic Rights
1.  The right to have your thoughts and feelings acknowledged and accepted as real. Your thoughts and feelings belong to you and no one else.
2.  The right to live a life that is free from judgement or blame.
3.  The right to emotional support.
4.  The right to live life that is free from physical and emotional threats.
5.  The right to be asked something, not ordered to do something.
6.  The right to be heard and treated with respect.
7.  The right to your own opinions and viewpoints, even when they’re different from those of others.
8.  The right to be loved and cherished.

What is bullying?
A bully, according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary is “a person who uses strength or power to coerce others by fear; who persecutes or oppresses others by force or threats; or who pressures or coerces a person to do something.”

“Bullying,” as defined by authors Jane Middleton-Moz and Mary Lee Zawadski, “is a cruel and deliberate act of intimidation with the intent to gain power or control over another person.

“It leaves its victims with intense feelings of vulnerability, fear, shame and low self-esteem.”

Are you being bullied?
Take the test (http://www.bullyfreeatwork.com/blog/?page_id=2) and find out.

Typical behaviour for bullies:
• Ignore you, not say hello when you greet them, not return phone calls or e-mails
• Dismiss what you’re saying or “put you down”
• Sabotage you or make you look foolish, or set you up to fail with impossible demands
• Spread rumours, lies and half-truths about you
• Frequently act impatient with you, treat you like you’re incompetent
• Try to intimidate you by interrupting, contradicting or giving you the silent treatment

What can you do about it?
In Bullies: From the playground to the boardroom, the authors note bullies are experts in intimidation and like to cause confusion, fear, or feelings of powerlessness in their intended victims. Bullies like to gain control of the situation by rendering their targets helpless or forcing them to lose control of their temper.

Swallowing your feelings or losing your temper will put your self-esteem at risk when faced with a bully.

Their advice is that you stand up to the bully, but avoid fighting with them. You need to be assertive, not demanding.

1. Look the bully straight in the eye.
We’re naturally inclined to avoid eye contact when confronting someone, but be warned, that will give you the appearance of being powerless. Bullies thrive on their victims’ helplessness.

Most people are uncomfortable with conflict and tend to stare at their shoes while delivering an otherwise assertive message. The message will not be communicated if nonverbal communication says, “I’m really afraid and powerless.”

2. Use confident body language.
Bullies can sense fear, so use a firm tone of voice and be certain your gestures match your words. Your assertive message will not come across the way you want if you are shuffling your feet and using a pleading tone of voice.

3. Choose carefully whether to confront the bully alone or with others who have also been bullied or witnessed your abuse.
Sometimes bullies depend on the apathy of the group to allow them free rein. In a group, they might fight to preserve their “image” and you may not be fully heard. If the bullying is recent and you have equal power (a co-worker, friend or family member) or you’re in a position of power (as the bully’s supervisor or mentor) then confronting the bully alone can be effective.

However, if the bully is your boss, which is most often the case in the vast majority of workplace bullying, or the bullying has been going on for a long period of time, then confronting the bully alone usually doesn’t work.

An interesting approach
One of the best things you can do with a bully is to literally walk away from them. Train yourself to listen critically to the bully and when you hear words of attack (criticism, blame or self-justification), simply excuse yourself with one of these bully-proof responses and walk away.

• Excuse me, I have a meeting to go to.
• I have something I have to attend to. I’ll get back with you later.
• Pardon me, I was just heading out. Can we talk tomorrow?
• Let’s talk later (this afternoon). I have something that can’t wait.
• (Non-defensively) Do you think so? Maybe you’re right.
• I don’t agree, but I’m sure we can talk about this another time.

If you’re stressed out and afraid to try this, practise rehearsing these lines out loud by yourself or with a friend. Visualize yourself assertively looking your bully in the eye, speaking with a firm voice, and successfully deflecting them. If it helps, keep referring ‘Your Basic Rights’ to bolster your confidence.

What if you’re the bully?
Bullies tend to have low self-esteem, poor social skills, and be overly concerned with their workplace image. Check out page 5 of Bullying in the Workplace: A handbook for the workplace (listed in the resources below) to answer questions that will help you determine if you’re helping or hurting the cause for creating a workplace culture of dignity and respect.

If you suspect or know you have bullying tendencies, it’s time to learn how to deal more effectively with people; perhaps get some additional training on sensitivity, communication skills, leadership, or get individual counselling to help you modify your behaviour. If you don’t change your behaviour, you may eventually find yourself in serious trouble in the workplace, maybe out of job or sued for your behaviour.

Resource information
Free publication
Bullying in the Workplace: A handbook for the workplace
Published by the Ontario Safety Association for Community & Healthcare
http://www.osach.ca/products/resrcdoc/rvioe528.pdf
Includes excellent detailed information and strategies for both employers and employee and an extensive list of resource information.
http://www.osach.ca

The book I found most helpful
Bullies: From the playground to the boardroom – strategies for survival by Jane Middleton-Moz and Mary Lee Kawasaki.
http://www.middeltonmozinstitute.org/meet_jane/books.php

Image credit: Free digital photos/Taoty

© 2012 M.C. Parker