Author: Teryl Schroenn, CEO at Accsys (Pty) Ltd
Bullying remains a very emotive issue. I have a few friends who openly admit that they were bullies at school, and that they didn’t mean any real harm, and were “just teasing”. Comments that people overreact, and that the victims often bring it on themselves are also made.
It is a reality that the bullied person’s reaction can lead to further bullying, or their lack of reaction could move the bullies to a new target. You might have noticed that some bullies are quite charismatic, may be natural leaders, or, very often, lead through their followers’ fear of being turned on next.
These former self-styled bullies have grown up into nice people who are really fun to be with. Who would have thought?
But the people I know who were bullied have not grown up nearly as undamaged. In fact, it is my unscientific opinion, that bullies grow up to be happier and more successful than the bullied, because their sense of self is more entitled. (Other than in the entertainment industry, where almost all of them claim that they were misfits and excluded from everything…)
What is bullying at work?
There are so many different, and subtle, ways of making people feel less than valued, that sometimes the bullied person simply feels more and more inadequate at the job, without realising that they are, in fact, being bullied.
How regularly do we hear “Everything I do is wrong!” and it seems to be true. There is often the perception that the bullies are senior people with power, or men who sexually harass women, another type of bullying.
But there is the other side, too. There are employees who use passive/aggressive behaviour, constantly making small mistakes or not checking their work, so that their line manager never feels safe using their input without double and triple checking etc. This can impact on the relationship, making the line manager less patient, and it becomes a negative circle, where the employee feels undervalued, blames the manager for making him nervous, the manager becomes harsher in his criticism, and so it goes on. Is there a bully in this pairing, or are they simply incompatible work partners?
Not always the boss who bullies
Power shifts happen in relationships, and sometimes it is the person in the less formally influential or powerful role who is the bully. The wonderful Ellen de Generes finishes each show with the words “Be kind to one another” and bullying is very much the opposite of that.
It is important to determine what is bullying, what it isn’t and how we introduce more kindness into the workplace, without sacrificing productivity, growth and effective business practice.