If you have ever been bullied, were you surprised that your closest co-workers may not have come to your defense? In addition to taking a ‘blow’ from a bully, when a target is perhaps at their lowest point, they sometimes turn around and there is no one ‘in the school yard’ standing behind them. Consider a group email sent by a co-worker to a peer group calling down another worker’s idea and leaving that worker out of the email loop. You receive the email and see your co-worker and friend is being made fun of and doesn’t even know it! This has happened before in various forms such as one on one gossip and group settings (all while this other person was absent). What do you do? Here are some choices; which ones would you do? Which ones would you not do? Anything else come to mind?
- Read and re-read the email; and feeling uncomfortable with what is happening, you call your closest friend and talk about it. Then you go on with your day with this at the back of your mind.
- Respond to the entire group (since the email was sent to the entire group to begin with) and suggest a new way to resolve this issue. You include the absent co-worker on the email and note it was inappropriate to exclude this person in the first place; standing up for the person who was excluded.
- You ignore this all together, saying ‘that’s just the way this person is’.
- You see someone did respond, trying to hold this person accountable for their email. You then decide to support this person and the worker with a return email: ‘I agree’ in order to support the target and the person who stood up initially.
- Once the supportive email was sent, you call that person to say “Great email, I was thinking the same”. Then proceed to move along with your day.
- Once the supportive email was sent, you call that person to say “Great email, I was thinking the same”. You also call the target and offer support. Then proceed to move along with your day.
- Once the supportive email was sent, you call that person to say “Great email, I was thinking the same”. You also call the target and offer support. Then you email the group to say the same.
- You call the bully to try and ‘get to the bottom of things’ first by being curious and not accusing, then making sure you are clear with the wrong-doing. (They will likely be defensive, be prepared). Better yet, do a call with a co-worker, peer or friend to then call the bully – having a witness is stronger.
There are many reasons why colleagues might not come to the aid of a target. These include:
- Often, colleagues have very little real understanding of the tactics of bullying such as guilt, sarcasm, manipulation, psychological violence, etc; especially if it hasn’t happened to them.
- People are so used to the bully behaving this way that it is considered as “normal” behavior.
- The bystander wants the bully’s approval for something such as a promotion, an award or inclusion in a group. Why stand up for someone else who is being bullied and then risk being left out by the bully (retribution)?
- By spreading misinformation such as half truths, lies or withholding, the bully starts to create ‘power over’ the target and others. A distorted picture is created and this is what the bully wants everyone to see.
- The bully goes to great lengths to undermine their target and portray them as ineffective, unethical or incompetent by manipulating people’s perceptions of the target. Eventually, colleagues are encouraged to regard the target as a threat. People take on the bully’s view of the target as the bully is so convincing that ‘everyone seems to feel this way’ – people rarely fact check.
- The bully is a smooth, slimy, psycho-path inclined individual who is nice in public; aggressive in private. This is deceptive behavior.
- The bully often creates an alliance with a colleague who has a similar disposition. This adds to the level of disfunction; even while not really knowing the target! In addition, the bully is often able to convince emotionally needy bystanders to fold in as controlled supporters.
- Very few people, when put to the test, have the integrity and moral courage to stand up against bullying. It is easier to ignore or minimize the event.
- The bully’s response serves to minimize the real impact of what is going on – often responding with comebacks when caught such as: “that’s in the past”, “focus on the future”, “what’s in the past is no longer relevant”, “you need to move on”, etc. Denial, discounting, minimizing…
- The “I didn’t know what to do” excuse is used to abdicate and deny any responsibility. Bystanders who use this excuse make no effort to find out. Question: Would you do this if it were your child your co-worker or a loved one?
This is written for the 1000’s of targets who have suffered, the 100’s of people who have stood by a target but felt alone. For the people who did not receive the support from their co-workers and friends, and for all the people who will make a new decision to do the ‘right thing’ to be an up-stander even though it might not be popular or feel comfortable. Here’s to an empowered, united future.
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Valerie Cade, CSP is a Workplace Bullying Expert, Speaker and Author of "Bully Free at Work: What You Can Do To Stop Workplace Bullying Now!" which has been distributed in over 100 countries worldwide. For presentations and consulting on workplace bullying prevention and respectful workplace implementation, go to http://www.BullyFreeAtWork.com
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