Workplace Bullying: 8 Traps that Prevent Us From Stopping the Bullying

Workplace Bullying: 8 Traps that Prevent Us From Stopping the Bullying


When it comes to workplace bullying, what keeps us down and stops us from taking action to defend and protect ourselves?

I know from research that the workplace is replete with behaviors such as bullying, verbal assaults, mobbing, and intimidation. Given these conditions, it seems logical to take action.

But, oftentimes people do not take action because they fall into a set of traps, the same traps I see over and over again when I work with targets of workplace abrasive and aggressive behavior.

Want to understand those traps? Read on.

The 8 Workplace Bullying Traps

TRAP #1: We don’t believe it’s happening. The conflict doesn’t make sense. Aggression at work seems out of proportion to the behaviors. Or, we have never experienced anything like this before and deny what’s happening.

SOLUTION: Realize that your workplace does not automatically protect you against bullying behaviors. The sooner you come to terms that yes, awful things are indeed happening, the sooner you can generate a solution.

TRAP #2: We are paralyzed by confusion. The situation is confusing because we’re being treated in ways we don’t understand and can’t explain to ourselves.
SOLUTION: Know that people who behave like bullies don’t need a reason to target you. You can be a confident, capable, workplace star and still be targeted. If you are experiencing it, realize it is not your fault, and the bullying behavior won’t necessarily make sense.

TRAP #3: We are shocked. We are awash in adrenalin and frozen with shock and it becomes our habit to shrink down and do nothing.
SOLUTION: With practice, you can choose your reaction to aggressive behavior, and learn to bypass the “fight or flight” instinct response.

TRAP #4: It’s familiar. We’ve taken so many hits to our self-confidence that we stop believing we can get out.
SOLUTION: Although it sounds strange, feeling good and being in healthy working relationships might be scary for you. With some guidance, you can learn how to “step out on the edge” of what is comfortable and break unhealthy patterns.

TRAP #5: We have no idea what to do. The issue seems so personal that the target feels isolated and doesn’t find the right help.
SOLUTION: Understand that you are not the only target. Workplace bullying is more common than you think. Take action and find help.

TRAP #6: We feel we have nowhere to turn. The person bullying us is well liked and respected, a key member of the organization, or is in a top role. Another scenario is, we don’t trust HR or don’t have an HR department to go to. Worse, we may have notified HR and HR will do nothing that you find helpful.
SOLUTION: You are not alone in the world even if you feel alone at work. You can keep fighting but you might want to develop your exit strategy by seeking other opportunities.

TRAP #7: We keep trying the same things that don’t work. Suggestions like managing up, being conciliatory, doing a better job or ego stroking seem like actions that would help you but they don’t.
SOLUTION: Remember that old adage about trying the same ineffectual thing over and over again is the mark of insanity?  If what you tried before didn’t work, why would it work now? With practice, you can learn to recognize your your patterns of behavior that don’t work and try something new.

TRAP #8: We feel like we can’t escape. We have to remain in these difficult situations because we perceive we cannot afford to leave. For example, we cannot give up our health insurance, or our career is at risk.
SOLUTION:  You have to weigh your current suffering against future opportunities. I know that you have been beaten down and find it hard to see your way out but planning your exit strategy now will embolden you for when is time to take action. Bullying has gigantic consequences for your health, psyche, and professional life. Take this into consideration if you think you really must stay.

You Are Not Alone

Do you recognize any of the above behaviors in yourself as a target of workplace bullying or in your friends who are targets? Do you have other reasons not listed here that get in the way of you taking action? I would appreciate your thoughts on what keeps you or other people from taking action in difficult workplace situations. You are not alone.

For more tips to stop bullying, exclusive content, and detailed reports, sign up for my free report on “Costs of Conflict.”

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. You can contact me here.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.

  • i thank you for those words that can help me get throught the bullying at my job, although im not working right now because of my work related injury, in a few weeks im going to go back and my psycologist is preparing me by telling me everything you just mentioned on this article. Like you said i also have an exit plan, so if i ever have to leave, i know were to turn and what i want to do with my life. Its better for my health and for my family!!! Thanks once again!

  • Thank you too Chuy. Best of luck to you in your re-entry. I am starting a group tele-seminar program for workplace bullying targets. My experience has been that most people who are helping targets don’t understand the intricacies of the problem and therefore cannot help them deal with what’s happening. It sound like you have someone who can help you. That’s great news.