6 lessons to cope with bullies in the workforce

sad woman

Early in my career, I was employed as junior manager and was bullied almost everyday for six months. This experience led me to learn the following:

Lesson #1. If it is not written down, it did not happen

Document, document and document some more. A clever idea you may have heard recently is to note in a diary with all the incidents or conversations that occur between the concerned parties. Documentation can be introduced into mediation should you need to take this incident further. Include: dates, names, where the conversation took place or if any outcome or resolution occurred. Action is what makes change. You may need evidence to bring to a higher manager, especially if the situation ends up being a “he said-she said” debate.

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Lesson #2. Accepting bad behaviour is what you accept as your own self worth

Incidents like the one I experienced leave an imprint on your self-worth and your confidence to perform for your organisation. If a particular person is bullying you on a daily basis, then you can bet your next pay-cheque that once you leave, the bully in question will find a new victim to take your place.

Can you let this person do this to someone else? I often said to myself: thank goodness it was me going through this and not another employee who is in a more vulnerable situation. I know I can get through this tough period the next person may not be able to find a solution.

Lesson #3. Being resilient is so important

I am normally a quiet achiever. Which means to me, head down, use a strong work ethic and don’t cause waves. The situation of being bullied is an opportunity to change work culture, to change the way the work force supports female employees and the hierarchy within an organisation. It may also be a sign that you need to evaluate your own character and work solutions. Can you cope dealing with your bully in the short-term to succeed or are you actually suited to a different opportunity or position elsewhere? Do you need to find your spine to continue in this particular field?

Lesson #4. Find your Voice

I never was able to get it through to my bully that enough was enough. As was my background, I was never taught to stand up for myself. I dreaded going to work. I became a very good actress. I cried all the way to work, pulled myself together for the actual day and cried all the way home, and increased my alcohol intake at night to numb the pain. All the ways I thought of to deal with him just encouraged him to continue. I was taught from a young age to work hard and respect my boss and my authority figures. I tried ignoring him-his voice got louder. I changed some of my shifts but couldn’t change all of them, as he was one of my direct superiors. Other managers told me “That is his personality, you will have to learn to deal with it”. I should have marched up to him, told him that in the next incident I would report him in writing and follow through with it when he called my bluff. Strengthen your voice to be heard with conviction and to create change.

Lesson #5 Work within the process and system

I learnt to go through the correct processes to make change, even though my outcome was resolved by circumstance. I complained in writing and in person with the support from team members to management. He got a slap on wrist and a few days later he went back to being his delightful self. He continued to make my work life a living hell until he received a promotion to another area. I learnt that he was also going through a divorce in his personal life. I may not have made changes in the workplace for myself but I do know that when I left that company some months later, I created an improved process for the next person to come forward with issues.

Lesson #6 It’s not about you

Which leads me to bullies are unhappy people. It is never about you on a personal level. The bully has chosen you because they see you as someone they can control and manipulate to make themselves feel better about themselves. There is a big difference between a manager who gives you lots of challenges and opportunities to see if you can handle them for future promotion and a manager who is giving you a hard time because they feel the need to put you down on a regular basis.

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Have you ever experienced bullying at work? How did you handle it? How does your employment culture deal with bullies?

Lisa Berson

Lisa is a midwife, writer, blogger and mum who has come a long way since the episode of bullying described above. Lisa now divides her time between freelance writing, caring for new mothers & babies and kid-wrangling in Southwest Western Australia. Follow Lisa on Facebook and Twitter