Employees need to know what to do when faced with a bully at work. In my workshop on bullying, I spend the majority of the time helping participants understand their options, make the best choice, and then maximize the effectiveness of their chosen approach.
An employee who is being bullied has five fundamental response options:
Continue to take the bully’s abuse, suffering in fear and misery. I have much more to say about this in the second part of this article.
Unless the bully is physically aggressive toward you or actively wrecking your reputation with other employees, the damage is primarily emotional. You can change your thoughts to diminish and possibly even eliminate negative emotional impacts.
Perhaps nobody has ever stood up to the bully and told this person to stop. Trying to convince the person to change his/her behavior is certainly worth a shot.
When your own efforts have failed, it’s time to ask for assistance. Report the behavior to someone with the authority and skills to effectively intervene on the your behalf. This might include escalating to others if the first report doesn’t succeed.
Sometimes you are left with no other choice but to remove yourself from the situation. This could mean an internal transfer or finding another employer. It’s not fair that you should leave, but it does solve your problem.
Options two through five are all reasonable choices, especially when deployed one after the other if the previous one doesn’t solve the problem. They deserve more space and each will be the subject of a later post in this series.
The first option, however, is all-together different. It is the choice of many. It is also a terrible long-term approach. Choosing helplessness creates untold suffering for the targets and the people who live and work with them. It is also the reason the bully continues the bad behavior.
When witnessing this response as an outsider, it’s easy to wonder why the target isn’t taking a more active role in his or her defense. From the target’s perspective there are a variety of problems that justify the lack of action:
- Don’t know what to do.
- Fear of increased pain, resulting from retaliation by the bully.
- Fear of upsetting the boss by making waves or appearing to be a whiner.
- Fear of potential discomfort associated with a confrontation.
While these concerns may represent the reality of the situation, they must be countered in order to encourage the target to choose a better option. If you are coaching a bullying target to do something productive, you might make the following arguments.
- There are people inside or outside the organization that do know what to do. Find them and let them be a resource.
- The pain levels are already high, nearly unbearable. Things aren’t likely to get much worse than they already are.
- The bully might currently be harassing others or will soon start. Someone needs to put a stop to this.
- Managers and leaders may not want to deal with this, but it is their jobs to help resolve these kinds of problems.
The bottom line is that accepting the bully’s harassment over the long-haul is not an acceptable response. The target must take an active role in his or her defense.
Here are more articles in this series.
- Defining the problem
- Understanding the problem
- Response options
- Change your thinking
- Confront the bully
- Report the problem
- Leave the situation
- Defend your coworkers
I’d also welcome your call to discuss your situation. Grab a slot on my calendar with the link below.