You're on your way to work. You feel tightness in your chest, a knot in your stomach and tension in your shoulders. You haven't even stepped foot in the office and already there's physical chaos in your body! You're aware of the dread you feel, and of of how nervous and jittery you are. You didn't sleep well last night. Come to think of it, you really don't sleep well at all anymore. You used to sleep lots better, before all this began.
Nagging questions lurk in the back of your mind. When will it begin today? What will happen? How long will it take before you hear that caustic tone, those biting words and scathing looks, those dreaded taunts accompanied by that all too familiar condescending snarl? You remember the shock waves of humiliation and shame from the last time. You dread it happening again. You want it to go away. You just want it to stop!
You're the target of the office bully's behavior and you don't know what to do. You've thought of complaining to your boss, but you feel that would be tattling. As a child you learned that a tattler wasn't respected. You don't want to feel like a child needing parental rescuing. Besides,
what if your boss doesn't believe you? Perhaps your boss will think you're over-reacting. That would be horrible! You decide not to talk to your boss. You sink further into a state of self-doubt. You feel alone, disturbed and without direction.
You fantasize about quitting your job. That would solve the problem, but you feel too shaky to begin job hunting. Your confidence has been diminished, if not shattered, and the enthusiasm you once had for your work has vanished. Your know that your productivity and concentration have
decreased and that your work focus is mechanical and routine at best. Your ability to think creatively is a thing of the past. You wonder who would hire you.
All this makes you feel sick. You want to talk with some of your friends, family and maybe even your co-workers, but where do you begin? Will they understand how bad this really is? Most everyone has to deal with some stress, maybe they will think that you're being just too sensitive, or worse still, even exaggerating. Then too, in the case of
your co-workers, they probably wouldn't want to get involved. After all, you think, it's not their problem.
You spiral further into isolation and fantasize about retaliating. The fantasies are rich in retribution. They give a respite, some temporary solace and satisfaction, but they're just fantasies. The reality is - you're in trouble. You ask yourself why this is happening to you. You don't have an answer. The one thing you do know is this is consuming your life, and it has to stop!
If you, a colleague, friend or family member has ever been the target of workplace bullying, you are not alone. Each year thousands of individuals experience this nightmare. Bullying is a serious form of WORKPLACE VIOLENCE.
By utilizing a tri level approach, based on practical strategies involving self-awareness, self-responsibility and self-assertiveness, an individual who is the target of workplace bullying can move from a victim stance to a position of strength, survival and self-respect. It isn't easy, but it is possible.
SELF-AWARENESS MEANS ACKNOWLEDGING THE REALITY:
* Be aware of how you present yourself in body language, tone of voice and over all demeanor. Bullies can easily pick up social cues and zero in on them. A posture connoting insecurity or shyness, the avoidance of eye contact in conversation, or sometimes speaking very softly can focus the bully's attention on you as their next target.
* Practice making changes so you feel in charge of yourself. Try different paces when walking and learn what feels more powerful to you. Practice by watching yourself in a mirror. Listen to the quality of your voice. Increase its depth or tone. Play these changes on a tape recorder. Listen to the differences you hear. Pay attention to how the differences make you feel. Look at your face in a mirror. Make eye contact with yourself and hold it. Choose a strong phrase that affirms you. Keep it in a visible place. Repeat it out loud and often.
* Don't deny or minimize what you feel. One of the bully's major tools is to get you to doubt your own experience and feelings. Don't do it! Allow yourself to be aware of exactly what you feel. This is no time to hide your head in the sand. If you think that you would benefit from receiving professional help, then get it. The thought crossed your mind, so go with it! The longer you try the "stiff upper lip" routine, the more difficult and intolerable your situation may become. Getting help is a form of strength, not weakness!
* Write down exactly what you think and how you feel when you have been attacked by bullying behavior. Writing down this information validates you. Holding onto these thoughts and feelings mentally often causes confusion and self-doubt. Don't keep your thoughts and feelings a
secret from yourself! Get them down on paper.
* In addition to feeling shame and humiliation, you may also feel other emotions such as resentment and anger. These emotions are appropriate! You can use the energy derived from them when you are ready to move to your chosen course of action.
* If others in the workplace ignore what is happening to you, it doesn't mean that your experience isn't real. It takes enormous courage to face what others ignore or avoid. Own your experience! Co-workers or bosses who ignore bullying behavior share in the responsibility of its presence.
SELF-RESPONSIBILITY MEANS CHOOSING TO SURVIVE:
* Take excellent care of yourself. While rest may be difficult, get as much as you can. Pay attention to proper nutrition and exercise. Take time to reward or pamper yourself. The point of this is to acknowledge and value your self-worth. When a bully's attacks are aimed at your most vulnerable points, you need to counter those assaults by reminding yourself that you are a worthwhile person capable of self-care. This will strengthen your self-image and your resolve to survive the weight of the bully's assaults.
* If at all possible avoid being in any isolated space where you might be alone with the bully. Be aware in particular of places like elevators, parking lots, garages, lavatories or stairways. Staying out of the bully's physical range offers no opportunity for additional face to face attacks.
* Do not suffer in silence. Silence is definitely not a virtue in this instance! This does not mean that you engage the bully in discussions. Not at all. If you choose to confront the bully, that will come when you have the emotional reserves to do so. Don't take this on before you have established those reserves. What not keeping silent means is that you honestly and opening discuss what is happening to you with your family and friends. Give them a complete and honest picture of what you are experiencing. The bully is counting on your shame and humiliation to keep you silent. Talk, tell your story. Get it out. You need to be heard by those who care and love you. Do not hide in silent submission!
* Enlist your family and friends to support you by telling them exactly what you want from them. For example, perhaps it would be helpful to have friends and family members share stories of their experiences of you where they can recount your strengths, successes and accomplishments. It is important for you to remember and acknowledge yourself before the the bully came into the picture. Allow those close to you to share their stories with you. Take in what they say. Realize that the bully is
counting on you to forget, discount and dismiss all the positives and pluses about yourself.
* Don't isolate yourself or hide. Stay connected with the people and things in your life that have always given you pleasure. Listen to your favorite music, go to a movie with a friend, go fishing if that's your pleasure. Draw or paint, sing, ask someone to cook a meal for you, go to places and do things that help you to feel connected with yourself and with others. If you love nature, allow yourself the pleasure of its company. If cities turn you on, then spend a day soaking up the activity. If you have friends, family or a partner to share this with you, so much the better.
* The hard truth is that you are ultimately responsible for how you will get through this miserable time in your life. People can want to help, but you are the one who will decide and choose to open the door to help yourself, and to give others entrance to join you.
SELF-ASSERTIVENESS MEANS DECISION-MAKING IN ACTION:
* It's decision making time. But before you take action, it's important to review all your options carefully. You have three choices: to leave and not fight back, to leave and fight, or to stay and fight. No one choice is better than any other. It is up to you to decide what course of action is best for you.
* You may decide that your health, sanity and well-being aren't worth the cost of the pain and suffering, so you may make the decision to leave your job. There is NO shame in this. Leaving might be the best decision you make, since it indicates that you are strongly aware of the importance
of taking care of yourself. Your well-being comes first! Staying in a work environment where you may suffer a nervous breakdown is a costly and devastating experience. If you decide to leave your job, be confident and trust that you have made the right choice for yourself. If you decide to leave, and to take action, then some of the following may be helpful for you prior to your leaving.
* You may decide to stay on the job and fight. If that is the case, then several important issues need to be addressed. The first is documentation. You will need to record the behaviors, words and action that the bully has directed towards you. Record this information clearly
and unemotionally. These are facts so record them as such. If you can put them in context do so, just do it clearly.
* If there are witnesses to any of the incidents you record, then list the presence of those individuals. Notate the dates and times of each occurrence. Do not leave this record in the office where it could be discovered. Do not type this record on your computer.
* Watch with whom you speak! This is not to encourage you to be paranoid, but, to be wise. Oftentimes workplace bullies have their coterie of friends who may act as spies and observers. Some may even try to befriend you to get you to talk. Be prudent. To speak too openly and too freely may sabotage your plan to fight.
* If you have friends and allies at work, and choose to speak with them, make sure they are willing to support you when it comes time to bring this to a head. Perhaps some of them also have been bullied, and will add their own record at that time. There is strength in numbers.
* Know what your company's internal policies are with regard to employee conduct. Human Resource Departments are responsible for creating and retaining these documents, and many others. Some companies have
written codes of conduct for the workplace. Become familiar with the contents of these documents.
* Now that you have gathered and documented your records, you may wish to support yourself with specific legal knowledge and information. In this case, the National Employment Lawyers Association located in San
Francisco, California is an organization which represents employees only. Sharing your documentation with an attorney may be the best way to determine what further course of action you have at your disposal. Some companies have risk management departments, some have a forum for complaints and grievances. Checking with an attorney and offering all the information you have gathered will afford you the opportunity to review your options and decide on your next step.
Pauline A. Salvucci, M.A. is a Business and Personal Coach with over 25 years experience in counseling, organizational development and training. Pauline coaches
both individuals and small groups. She is the principal of The Coaching Connection.