Speaking Out Against Bullying Isn’t So Simple
Bullying happens for many reasons, not the least of which is the silence of the target and witnesses. Silence is not golden when it comes to bullying behaviors, but speaking up is not easy either.
But why is that? When it comes to bullying, conventional wisdom says “if you see something, say something.” But as is all too familiar for actual targets of bullying, the environment is NOT conducive to reporting the behavior.
For employers, policy makers, and others in charge, there are destructive myths in place that make speaking out against bullying seem like something easy and simple, but the reality is something quite different.
Myths About Reporting Workplace Bullying
Here are a few of the myths that create a false picture of what it’s actually like to report the behavior.
Myth #1: Most Organizations Have A Workplace Bullying Policy.
Reality: Many organizations do not have a good policy in place.
This means that if a typical target or witness of workplace bullying actually makes a report, there is no guarantee anything will be done about it. In fact, sometimes it may actually make things worse for the person bringing the report to the attention of management. Which brings me to my next point.
Myth #2 : Targets Can Speak Up and Be Protected From Retaliation From the Bully
Reality: Targets are vulnerable to retaliation from the bully.
If you stand up for yourself you will encourage the bully to behave more aggressively. He or she will use your words and your boldness to their advantage. You will be made fun of. You will be humiliated. The bully may even turn the tables on you and have you written up for insubordination. Then Human Resources will perceive you as the troublemaker.
Myth #3: Targets Can Speak Up and Be Protected From Retaliation From Management
Reality: Management often teams up with the bully to retaliate against the target.
Management is unknowingly biased to the accused, usually because the accused is a manager that seems to or in reality deliver on the bottom line so is favored as a producer). Witnesses (and sometimes the target) remain quiet by refusing to bear witness or give facts about the bullying situation for fear of retaliation so whoever complains is “out there” alone without any support from colleagues.
Myth #4 : Your Organization Will Fairly Investigate Workplace Bullying
Reality: Your organization will most likely not act fairly.
In many workplace situations, even when a company means well, the person who complains is seen as the problem. The company does not know how to do an investigation so the complainant feels their point of view is not taken seriously. Witnesses and targets do not have a lot of documents to support their complaint because bullying often takes place in meetings and bullying behavior is justified as tough management.
Myth #5: Witnesses Will Defend the Targets.
Reality: Witnesses usually isolate targets.
Finally witnesses don’t want to experience the bullying so they isolate the target in the hope that they will not be “next”. This essentially leaves the target to feel like there is a mob against them and feel hopeless that any complaint they make will be supported by witnesses.
Changing Your Own Behavior Can Change the Situation
This is not to say that reporting bullying is completely hopeless. Rather, knowing what environment you are in can help you strategize with reporting behaviors that can actually improve your situation.
For more solutions and tips on how to deal with workplace conflict and bullying behaviors, exclusive content, and detailed reports, sign up for my free newsletter.
Also read my upcoming book, Success Strategies for Handling Workplace Bullying, which outlines strategies I have been teaching targets. My strategies have been proven effective and empowering for targets and I’m committed to sharing them with the world.
I’ve been 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.
I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.