I love the Internet. Every day there are articles on bullying and bullies, educating us to see the signs of bullying and providing tips on what to do to help ourselves. But most of the signs and tips are generic. Things like ‘pressuring’, ‘isolation’ or ‘shouting’, ‘persistent criticism’, and ‘flaring tempers’ seem to be examples of bullying*. But many of these behaviors can be found in situations without any bullying accusations. Sometimes these behaviors are ‘let’s get-the-job done’ leadership behaviors or ‘I’m totally frustrated’ human behaviors. Ambiguous definitions and explanations of bullying lead to problems. For example:
If bullying is defined broadly, targets fail to see a serious situation as bullying and fail to act early on their own behalf.
If bullying definitions are too generic, there is a dearth of public support for targets.
If bullying is not a big deal then unhelpful suggestions like: ‘managing up’, and deep breathing, or, (once I saw this) ‘lavender oil’, seems to be reasonable solutions.
If bullying is just good leadership/power/get the job done behavior, then people have license to bully because it makes them good leaders (witness the recent comments on Great Britain Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s defenders noting he should be a bully because that’s what leaders need to do).
If bullying is just ‘I lost my temper’, then we cannot create guidelines for what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior. We need clarity.
Bullying is life damaging, career destroying, and confidence killing behavior. Bullying is persistent, pervasive, and gut wrenching. It might be as wide-spread as 30% of the working population. It impacts both men and women; is perpetrated by both men and women and is not confined to certain workplaces or pay grades or educational status. It is everywhere. I know. I’ve been bullied. I know, as an executive coach focusing on bullying and conflict issues, because my practice is replete with bully targets and bullies. I know because I have read over 10 years of research documenting, clarifying, and explaining the incidence and prevalence of bullying. Visit the Workplace Bully Institute http://www.workplacebullyinginstitute.com for a nice collection of research on this topic. The more you know, the more power you have.
In the interests of separating simply bad behavior from bullying, I’ve labeled and defined seven unambiguous signs bullying behaviors.
Seven Signs you have a Bully by the Horns
Sign 1: The Big Set-up. Your boss is complaining about your work performance and it has little to do with reality.
Sign 2: Boxed In. Everyone is turning against you. They don’t talk to you but there are plenty of rumors about you. You’re isolated and it feels like you’re facing a mob situation on most days.
Sign 3: City Never Sleeps. You’re so anxious that you feel everything and everyone is against you. Whereas once you were loved and loving, now you don’t trust anything or anyone. You cannot sleep, you are sick, tired, or emotionally distraught.
Sign 4: Weeping Willow Tree. You go home at night and cry, you can’t sleep, your health is shot, and you cry on the way to work in the morning. Your family is becoming sick of hearing you discuss the situation and have run out of advice for handling things.
Sign 5: Pretzel-ized. You are shrinking down, twisting around, and getting tangled up trying to be someone else so that your bully and his friends stop tripping you up. You try to anticipate every infraction to avoid being attacked, you work extra hard, extra long, extra fast, to try and stay safe. But it’s not working.
Sign 6: My Invitation was Lost in the Mail. Everyone seems to know what’s going on, everyone except you that is. Meetings happen, decisions are made, and you’re so far out of the loop you might as well stay home.
Sign 7: Warning Will Robinson. Your instincts are screaming at you-this isn’t right, something’s wrong, I’m not crazy. Are you listening?
If most of these signs are in your life, then you are quite probably a bully target.
Keep in mind you can’t fix this situation. Some bullies can be helped but not by the target. Bullies can’t be managed UP. And if, like #10 Downing Street, everyone thinks that leaders should be bullies, you’re really on your own. And, when you realize you are on your own, it is time to plan your exit. Read on for strategies for moving on.
Oops, Gotta’ Go: Seven Strategies for Escape
On February 22nd, 2010, The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown was accused of being a bully boss. Apparently he’s been seen shoving, grabbing, screaming at, and dressing down his staff with abandon. He’s the bully; his employees, the targets.
According to the author of a new tell-all about Brown, it’s common knowledge that he has a temper. One reporter called noted Brown has ‘the temperament and people skills of a wounded bear’. http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/1193591_opinion_paul_taylor
One of Brown’s defenders exclaimed, Brown should be a bully because being a leader requires it. Apparently, if you’re a leader and NOT a bully, you’re ineffectual by definition (http://www.npr.org (Feb 23, 2010 evening news). But, I digress.
On point: Brown’s targets did not quit their jobs. Some called the National Bully Hotline asking for help and advice, all well and good, but they stayed in their jobs. Maybe they had to stay for the money or the benefits. Maybe they were ashamed about the situation and blamed themselves. It’s not uncommon to stay in a bully situation.
When asked why targets of bullying stay, the common answers include: ’‘I have nowhere to go’, ‘I don’t believe in myself, who would believe in me’, ‘I’m to sick, too afraid, to bruised to find a new post’, ‘I can’t’! Some don’t even realize they’re being bullied. ‘This is bullying?’ ‘I thought it was me!’, ‘I thought this is just the way things are’.
Denial is a typical first response. Then comes self-blame, confusion, and fear happen. These are followed by grief, illness, powerlessness, and a destruction of self-confidence. We cannot see the forest for the trees. We are lost.
If a bully life sounds like your life – at work, at home, or with friends, read on for steps to developing your Exit Strategy (a fancy phrase for getting out or planning your escape).
Seven Strategies for Leaving Your Bully Situation
1. Ducks in a Row. Prepare your resume and your references. This gives you a confidence boost as you review all your accomplishments and remember you were once appreciated and effective.
2. Use what you have. Use your contacts, social networking, face-to-face networking, and all your relationships for leads to new jobs.
3. Transfer? Consider transferring to another department or office in your workplace but, if the culture is pro-bully, this move may not help.
4. Look Before you Leap. When interviewing, watch for signs of pro-bully mindset and, if it’s there, run the other way. This is the frying pan to the fire problem. Listen to the Robot!
5. Watch Your Back. While planning your escape, keep copious records of the bullying, witnesses, reports you made, etc. You may need this to protect yourself-we don’t want the door to smack you on the way out.
6. Revenge isn’t sweet. Forget it. Revenge rarely satisfies. Years ago I remember a report on sex harassment survivors who sued and won. To a person they were no better off financially three years after the lawsuit than they were before. They lost their jobs, their careers, and their mojo.
7. Heal Thyself. Bully targets feel like victims because they are. But a victim mindset is a terrible burden to carry around. Seek help from a counselor, coach, or spiritual advisor-someone who understands the unique damage done by on-going bullying, intimidation, and pressure. If you don’t have a specialist, you may feel unheard or misunderstood. Remember being bullied is real, serious, and deeply damaging. Many people cannot believe it. They think you’re exaggerating. This doesn’t help you.
“physical contact which is unwanted, unwelcome remarks about a person’s age, dress, appearance, race or marital status, jokes, offensive language, gossip, slander, sectarian songs and letters, posters, graffiti, obscene gestures, flags, bunting (bunting?!) and emblems, isolation or non-co-operation and exclusion from social activities, coercion for sexual favours, pressure to participate in politicial/religious groups, intrusion by pestering, spying and stalking, failure to safeguard confidential information, shouting at staff, setting impossible deadlines, persistent criticism, personal insults” http://www.nationalbullyinghelpline.co.uk/