When someone repeatedly and deliberately says or does things to hurt another person it is known as bullying.
Most commonly we think about how school bullying has grown exponentially due to the 24hr per day reach of social media. It seems there is no safe place for kids to get away from bullying. However, adults too can experience bullying in the workplace, in social settings, and are also becoming the target of cyber-bullying.
Bullying behaviour might look like this:
- Intimidation or threats. This is where one person uses their authority or position to coerce a colleague to do something or there will be detrimental consequences. It can be as subtle as “When I decide on my successor, I will be looking for someone who goes the extra mile; first to work, last to leave and will respond to any demands outside of work hours. Someone who has decided work is their priority.”
- Physical bullying. Repeatedly violating your personal space or bumping into you. Sexual harassment, including encouraging others to collude with inappropriate comments about your appearance also fall into this kind of bullying.
- Passive-aggressive behaviours. There can be nothing more frustrating than being ignored or to have a person give you the silent treatment. The silent treatment is an obvious kind of bullying, however it can be very wearing on your patience when a colleague repeatedly says “yes, sure I’ll get that done” with no intention of following through. Passive-aggressive behaviours are not limited to one bully. Ever been excluded from that invitation you wanted? You would think exclusion finished with adolescence. Yet time and again the office goes out to lunch and no-one invites ‘you know who’ How painful for the person that is excluded from a group.
- Sticks and stones! The old children’s rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me” is simply not true. Gossip, hurtful teasing, judgemental comments, and public shaming are very much evidence of bullying. In particular, we seem to be able to say a lot of hurtful things in an email or online that we wouldn’t dream of saying face to face. Such experiences ranging from being repeatedly annoyed to social and economic trauma can result in symptoms of mental health disorders. According to the Australian Psychological Society, signs that indicate a person is being bullied could include withdrawal, depression, anxiety (including panic attacks), low self-acceptance, loss of confidence, chronic exhaustion, disordered eating habits, and in its extreme PTSD and thoughts of suicide.
FIVE STRATEGIES TO COMBAT ADULT BULLIES
- Trust your gut feeling. If you feel uncomfortable in an interaction trust your instinct to remove yourself from the situation. If you feel unsafe, remove yourself and get the help you need. Follow company procedures to get support. If you are afraid to do this or have tried to no avail, you can call a crisis hotline, make an appointment with a psychologist, or get advice from a legal representative as some alternate options. It’s important to know your rights in order to defend yourself appropriately.
- Keep Your Distance. Let’s face it, some people just are difficult to deal with. If the bully is just annoying and not interfering with your workload, try to avoid interacting with that person. Bullies can thrive on getting a response and might give up if they are politely ignored. This includes not showing them that they are getting under your skin. The more calm you are the more likely you will be able to act thoughtfully and in your own best
- Assert your boundaries. Make sure you let the other person know that they have crossed a line. Further, tell them that if they continue to cross that line you will speak up. Sometimes bullying continues because the sufferer remains silent. Bullies thrive in secret places. When speaking with groups of children, I often tell kids to hold out their hand like a policeperson and say “STOP, NO, I will tell my mum” to the person who is making them feel uncomfortable. You may need to send an email that clearly reiterates your conversation, ie; Dear Jo, Just confirming our conversation today that I have kindly asked you not to speak to other colleagues about me. And that if you continue to do so, I will need to take this matter further.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about it. It’s more common than you think, and people won’t think there is something wrong with you or you are a drama queen. If you are an employer, ensure there is a clear pathway for employees to voice their concerns – AND respond promptly. Also make sure adequate support has been providing to the employee, namely provide psychological support as needed.
- Model respectful behaviour. Bullies get away with their behaviour when you bully back. Do your best to create safe, healthy places for yourself and others. Check that you are not gossiping or making public jokes at the expense of others.