When someone is under the ‘spell’ of a workplace bully or very difficult person, the tendency for the target is to self-reflect and analyze the thoughts “What could I do better?” or “How can I adapt or change?” in order to minimize the effects of this awful situation. Normally, with a respectful person, this is the way to proceed. Unfortunately, this approach does not work with a workplace bully.
Q: What happens?
A: We over-extend our boundaries and we reach out to the bully in hopes of a revelation from the bully to resolve the situation in a win-win way. As you may be only too aware, this only re-positions you in the bully’s court, thereby leaving behind your own foundation or solid footing.
Q: What can a target do?
A: The first step is to recognize that the bully has strong boundaries. Also realize that you have the right to have your own boundaries.
Q: What is a boundary?
A: A boundary is anything that helps to separate or distance you from another.
Q: Why is this not natural for some people i.e. to set a boundary?
A: Our most basic need as human beings is for relationship – setting a boundary means setting yourself apart from another, which can feel like the opposite.
Q: What are types of boundaries I could set with a workplace bully?
1. Physical/body boundaries
The Challenge: Many people who have been abused physically may have a challenge in setting a healthy “no” boundary. They may find themselves in situations where they are too close to another, wishing they could distance themselves.
What Can You Do?
Make agreements with yourself based on what you do not want, and stating what you will do instead.
2. Emotional Boundaries
The Challenge: In a target’s heart, they want reconciliation and relationship. When the bully does not reach out with empathy and understanding toward a target, the target sometimes “over-reaches” to the bully by sharing information and insights with the bully in order to connect, only to find this open boundary to be met with a non-compassionate and non-considerate edge. The other challenge a target faces is not setting a clear emotional distance boundary in order to “re-group” their self worth and composure. Instead the target might keep hanging around or being overly available, “hoping for the best.”
What Can You Do?
Make agreements with yourself based on how you feel around the bully and deciding to protect yourself emotionally through time-outs and time-limited interaction.
3. Words/Vocabulary As A Boundary
The Challenge: Disagreeing with another often brings fears of rejection and hurt. Some people are not in touch with their “No”. The word “No” feels like a confrontational word that would automatically distance one from another. What is the alternative then? To give to another with reluctance or obligation? A lifetime of “giving in” like this will only build unhealthy resentments and perhaps future entitlements. Bottom line – if you cannot say No to external control, or you feel your own internal pressures of “I should”, then you have lost your sense of self control. If you do not use direct words to communicate where you stand, your boundary is left open; others are either left guessing or pushing you beyond where you are comfortable.
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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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