I have read numerous articles about trying to stop workplace bullying, intimidation or aggression and they are all focussed on changing the attitudes of the aggressor. What about the attitudes and behaviour of the victims?Is their inaction or tolerance of certain behaviours at work actually training others to treat them in a poor way? Wouldn’t addressing victims behaviour be more effective in stopping workplace bullying?…
In my younger years of running a business I was very driven and passionate about my work. Some would say that I was rather intense. Now when I required something from another team member urgently my demeanour was rather direct. Although it was not my intention, I found out later from others that my directness and tone was sometimes being perceived as aggressive or intimidating. It wasn’t that they communicated that to me. They were too scared to let me know their feelings in person.
One day, when I was feeling frustrated about the lack of progress of one particular project I voiced my frustrations to my secretary, Heather. At our team meeting the following day, Heather brought up something changed the way I dealt with fellow staff members forever.
As part of our weekly team meetings, we had an opportunity for anyone in the team to voice any concerns or share any ideas without being interrupted. It was called a WIFLE (What I Feel Like Expressing).
Well Heather got up and said, “Paul, I have something I want to say to you. I know that you have a lot on your plate but I will not be spoken to in the way that you spoke to me yesterday. I do not need to cop that in my life or in my work. When I took this job, my friend told me how nice and friendly you are. I have no doubt that you are a nice person but it seems that you are a different type of person at work. Even your wife says you are different at work.
“If this is the way we are going to be treated here, you may want to consider someone else for this position.”
After Heather finished expressing her point of you there was a hush of almost embarrassment in the room as the others bit their lip in an effort to hide their suppressed smiles. I could tell that she had struck a chord.
Everyone was looking at me for my response but I was still in shock. As I processed Heather’s speech in my mind I came to the conclusion that she was right. I wasn’t being myself at work. I was being like I thought a tough, hard-nosed businessman should be. Because of Heather’s verbal slap in the face in response to her treatment it made me have a good hard look at myself and my actions.
“Heather, you’re right. It wasn’t my intention to treat you or anyone else like that. I apologise and I will begin being my normal self at work.” It was the answer that Heather wanted to hear and the answer that the others were shocked to hear. From that moment I completely changed the way that I interacted and communicated with my staff and it transformed the entire atmosphere at work.
Victims need to understand that they are also partly culpable for being bullied.To put it another way, if you think and act like a doormat, others will wipe their feet on you.
I can understand that some victims may feel even offended by the suggestion of them being partly responsible for bullying or intimidation but understand this: if you are part of the cause, you are part of the solution. If you lay all the blame at the feet of the bully, your only hope is for the bully to change his ways on his own … and you have no control over that.
How you take control is by doing what Heather did. It is your responsibility (and no-one else’s) to communicate to others how you are to be treated. You all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Just because someone is your boss, manager or work colleague, it does not give them or anyone else to be rude or derogatory to you. So if anyone is rude you, don’t sit passively and do nothing (that implies that it is okay to treat you poorly). Stand up for yourself.
A workplace without victims is a workplace without bullies.