Reporting Workplace Bullying is Risky Business: Here are 9 Tactics to Use if You Want to Report it


Reporting Workplace Bullying is Risky Business: Here are 9 Tactics to Use if You Want to Report it

There is a battle going on among researchers and practitioners who deal with workplace bullying issues about the best way to lodge a concern or complaint about workplace abusive behavior (including discrimination and harassment as well as other forms of bullying and abrasiveness). This battle is as follows:


Workplace Bullying: Why Researchers Encourage Reporting

Researchers recognize the importance of standing up for yourself and reporting your concerns. They want you to speak up because it’s good for your mental health to be assertive and ask for help. I concur, silence is deadly to the human psyche.

Also, there is an undying belief that administrators will respond appropriately, stop the bad behavior and protect the person reporting from further abuse. Would that were true.


Workplace Bullying: Why Practitioners Discourage Reporting

Practitioners, on the other hand, are leary of encouraging reporting because we know the tightrope that managers and employer representatives have to walk when they receive complaints. That tightrope is: who do we protect? The employer or the employee?


What to Do?

In order to move the employer representative away from the tightrope you have to be aware that this tightrope exists, and do everything you can while lodging your complaint to keep the manager OFF this tightrope.

Here are nine suggestions for preparing your documentations before making a complaint. Eight of these steps are outlined by Sarah Tracy, director of the Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University. The ninth is my point of view, based on 20+ years experience working helping people avoid the tightrope and stand on solid ground.

1. Be rational
Targets who expressed events in a linear fashion were most likely to be taken seriously.

  • Write out the story ahead of time, starting with the critical incident, followed by a narrative that pinpoints three to five bullying episodes.
  • Practice telling the story to a friend.
  • Bring an outline of the story into the meeting.

2. Express Emotions appropriately
Overly distraught statements could signal that the target is crazy and emotional problems are the cause, rather than the result, of bullying.

  • Envision yourself as a journalist talking about another person.
  • When you practice telling the story, focus on using a calm voice and confident body language.
  • Pause and take breaths while telling the story to manage emotions.
  • Create a vivid image of the abuse without becoming too distraught.
  • Don’t cry, shake or raise your voice.

3. Provide consistent details
Tell and re-tell your story with vivid details that are consistent.

  • If possible, document the details of abuse as they occur.
  • If no record exists, sit down with a calendar and piece together your memories of each incident.
  • Ask co-workers who witnessed the bullying to recount their memories.

4. Offer a plausible story

  • Reference published studies that verify workplace bullying.
  • Use familiar metaphors, such as being scolded like a child, to describe your experiences.
  • Don’t dwell on outrageous events, even though they are true, that others likely won’t believe.

5. Be relevant
The only relevant details are those associated with the bully’s behavior and somewhat the target’s behavior.

  • Focus on the bully’s actions.
  • Discuss your case with other targeted employees so you can provide a united front.
  • Encourage supervisors to talk to other employees who have been bullied.
  • Avoid talking about extraneous or exaggerated details.

6. Emphasize your own competence
The fact that you are a competent employee will strengthen the case that the bullying is not your fault.

  • Highlight career successes.
  • Detail efforts made to end the abuse.
  • Explain how workplace performance is hindered by the bully’s behavior.
  • Do not agree with the bully’s negative characterization of you.

7. Show consideration for others’ perspectives
Credible bully victims demonstrate they had attempted to understand and even tried to have sympathy for the abuser.

  • Acknowledge that the bully may not realize the negative impacts of his or her actions.
  • Indicate that you realize the events you describe may be hard to believe.
  • Explain the negative effects of the bullying on others and the workplace as a whole.

8. Be specific
Using lots of vague pronouns, such as “we,” “they,” and “he/she,” can muddle the story and hamper concrete changes.

  • Use specific, concrete language.
  • Identify the bully and explain that person’s behavior clearly.
  • Offer specific dates, times and names.
  • Ask if the listener has questions or needs clarification.

0. Be neutral
What is missing from this list is what I consider point ZERO, that is do not go into any meeting with labels such as workplace bullying, discrimination, lawyers, lawsuits, etc. These labels trigger defensiveness on the part of the company representative and that puts you on the outside looking in, rather than as a problem-solver seeking assistance with solving a problem.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts. You can contact me here.