Bullies! You thought you left them on the playground in elementary school, but nope you get to encounter them in the workplace too. In a 2021 US Bullying survey conducted, 30% of people say they have experienced bullying . Eeks that’s a lot of people who feel inferior, have been harassed, or ridiculed trying to do their best.
Bullies are puffing themselves up on your expense. Making themselves feel important, smarter, savvier, by making you look or feel small, insignificant. The good news for your career is that if anyone observes this, they look like the fool, not you. Still doesn’t make it any less hurtful or get in the way of your ability to do your job freely. This is at the crux of psychologically safe environments. We all want to work in an environment where we can show up fully, bring our ideas & experiences, and not be afraid of experiencing ridicule, harassment, or someone trying to squash our ideas or progress. We can do enough self-sabotage on our own.
“Bullying prevents people from being authentic and bringing their true self to work. The fear of being humiliated, rejected, and ostracized causes people to hide in plain sight, afraid to speak up, and share their opinions. Belonging and connection are key components of the human experience, both at work and outside of work, the disconnection brought on by this fear can impact our physical and mental health.” Rick Hecht, LMFT, MBA, and PhD candidate has spent countless hours studying bullying and the impact in the workplace. The effects of bullying in corporate culture leads to lack of innovation and engagement as people do not feel connected to work or supported by those around them to show up as their best. How’s that going to impact the bottom line or progress toward goals??
Bullies seem to know who to pick on. Just like in elementary school. The ones who don’t speak up, who don’t appear to have confidence, the ones who have less power. Making people in marginalized groups inherently susceptible to bullying.
There is a difference between being confident and assertive (totally okay and actually very welcomed, those traits are positive and contagious) versus bullying. Bullies don’t necessarily have the power, but they sure are trying to gain some. These are the folks that take pleasure and think it is “their role” to challenge everything you say, who enjoy making you feel uncomfortable, inferior, deliberately prey on your insecurities, or push you down so you are not on equal footing. The intention for why and how someone challenges is the differentiator. Is this to make the work better, or is to make themselves look better?
Why do they exist, who knows? I leave that to them and hopefully their therapist. Although I suspect if they had a therapist, they wouldn’t be bullies. At the center of bullying is Emotional Intelligence, or a lack there of. A lack of awareness of their feelings, their triggers, their relationship with others, their inability to express themselves meaningfully. And the other is fear. Fear drives a lot of negative behavior toward others.
Now, I know bullying is a big, intense word with a lot behind it. Like gaslighting or narcissistic, but if one feels bullied and their experience is bullying then we need to explore it. No one should be made to feel insignificant, or constantly put in a space where our capabilities are challenged in the work we do or harassed by how we show up.
If you experience any form of bullying here are some tactics to try:
- Stay true to you! Ground yourself in your values, your truth, in how you want to show up. Don’t let someone else make you rethink your heart.
- Check yourself. Get some feedback from others who are observers or have interactions with this person. Do they have this experience? Or is this your imposter or insecurities talking? Always a good time for self-reflection.
- Speak up. Share your truth with your manager. And of course, bring those examples, don’t speak in generalities.
- Find your crew. Build your community in the organization to help you navigate and stay positive. It’s not you, it’s them. Dare I say even have compassion.
- Get Brave. Talk to your bully. This is hard. I get it. But the one thing bullies don’t like is when someone calls them on their sh**. You can start the conversation with “I feel that we not in sync in our communication and I would like …” “Our relationship is not where I hoped it would be to effectively work together…” Like any relationship if we want to change to dynamics, we need to do something different.
- If you are a leader and you see it. Stop it in its tracks. And if you sense it, but hasn’t reached the full-on HR harassment level, don’t let it get there. Trust your gut and talk to the bully about their behaviors. “Organizational culture is defined by the worst behavior they are willing to tolerate.”
Yesterday was MLK Day and as I reflected of what the day means to me, standing up and making sure everyone has the opportunity and space to share their experiences, create, and feel accepted is why I continue to show up and work toward making corporate cultures, kind cultures. At the center of my human experience is to show up with kindness.