Workplace Bullying: 5 Reporting Tips to Make it Easier for HR
It’s always a tricky proposition reporting a workplace bullying situation to HR. If you play your cards wrong, it could make the bullying much, much worse. Even if you play your cards right, you may feel the increased pressure of being included in a much larger investigation.
One thing I like to remind my clients is that HR personnel are people, too. They may dread running an investigation as much as you may dread bringing it up in the first place. Think about the pressure they must feel between listening to you and sympathizing with you and then enforcing company policy which may not be designed to help or support you.
Make no mistake, they are also in the hot seat when a bullying situation comes up. So what do you do? Here’s 5 tips on reporting bullying to make it easier on HR, and easier on you.
Tip #1: Stick to the Facts & Avoid Being Emotional
Avoid bringing up how the particular behavior made you feel. Even though the behavior may make you feel small, humiliated, angry, helpless, or depressed, you’re not going to win any arguments based on your feelings. In fact, being too emotional may shift the opinion that you may actually be the problem.
Tip #2: Avoid Labels
Don’t label the aggressive behavior as bullying. I know this seems crazy but really, if you call a behavior bullying (or harassment or discrimination) you are backing the HR professional and the organization into a do-or-die strategy. They are going to get defensive, fear litigation, assume you’re not reasonable and resist your labels. (And, all this happens in a flash.)
Instead, stick to factual occurrences and events. Just explain what happened and how it’s getting in the way of doing your job. Ultimately, it is the bullying effect on your job, and the resulting impact on the bottom line that will give your argument traction.
Tip #3: Document, Document, Document
Going hand in hand with sticking to the facts, make sure you thoroughly document individual incidents of the behavior. What was said or done and when? What day? What time? How many times? Keep copious notes and have examples of the documented behavior ready to go just in case you need it.
It might be wise to hold back your documentation until a formal investigation begins. I have seen that submitting documentation early sometimes works against those who are complaining about the bullying behavior. I am not exactly sure why this is but maybe it gives the company more ammo to prepare a case against you.
If an investigation does happen, having the documentation prepared will give you much more credibility. It will also take some of the pressure off of HR to go hunting for facts, or trying to make decisions based on hearsay.
Tip #4: Keep Your Cool
Both while reporting the behavior, and after, it is important to retain a level head. As I stated earlier, overly emotional behavior will shift the attention of the problem from the bully to you. But you also must keep your cool after reporting the behavior, when the investigation takes place, and when the bullying behavior happens again.
That means don’t overreact, don’t retaliate, and don’t become angry or impatient at the pace of the investigation. The more you take the high road and let the bully’s behavior implicate him or herself during the investigation, the better off you will be.
The most powerful position you can have is to be in control, reasonable but firm and assertive. The more out-of-control you are the easier it is for others to dismiss you as hysterical or defensive or unreasonable.
Tip #5 Don’t Give Up
In one case I witnessed the company stalled on the investigation and then determined that there was no cause for the complaint. My client reviewed her documents, talked to witnesses and then resubmitted her complaint by challenging the HR manager to redo the investigation. She did this calmly and assertively and eventually prevailed in her complaint.
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.