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Bullying: From The Playground To The Office And How To Deal With It

Bullying: From The Playground To The Office And How To Deal With It

Introduction to workplace bullying

In a way, being bullied is… well, sort of… a good thing. Far from being a loner or a weakling, the reason you are being targeted by a bully is probably because you are smarter, more competent, more poised and better-liked than the bully. You’re probably too independent and savvy to bow down to the bully’s ego trip and become a slave. All of this means the bully has decided that you are a threat, and has launched an all-out war against you to keep you in your place.

Knowing this is probably not comforting to you. After all, you’re the one who feels like throwing up on Sunday nights, or who uses your paid time off for “mental health” days to escape from misery at work. On these mental health days, you can hardly drum up enough enthusiasm to get out of bed, much less have fun with family or friends. Perhaps you spend a lot of time fantasizing about killing the bully or killing yourself, or your doctor has become concerned about your skyrocketing health problems. If so, you are not alone.

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Thirty-seven percent of Americans reported being victims of bullying in this 2008 study from the Workplace Bullying Institute. (By the way, the Workplace Bullying Institute website is utterly fantastic, and should be one of your first stops on the web for validating your experience and beginning to do your research. A good portion of the research for this article came from there.)

What does workplace bullying look like?

Bullying is not:

  • Usually physical or sexual in nature, which the bully knows would get him or her into trouble.
  • Simply being rude. Rudeness – belching, spitting, nose picking, etc. – doesn’t cause undue stress. It’s just annoying.

Bullying is:

  • A form of emotional abuse.
  • Most of the time, done to you by your boss. Seventy-two percent of bullies are managers, supervisors, team leaders, or other people in positions of power.

Bullying might look like:

  • Being assigned the impossible task of doing a job without having the time or training to learn how to do it. The bully would then give you a poor job review.
  • Sabotaging your efforts to get your job done by throwing away your files, deleting your database, or intercepting important phone calls and emails.
  • Receiving snide comments about your appearance, background or lifestyle.
  • Hearing back-handed compliments, such as, “You’re smarter than you look.”
  • Hiding your personal effects (keys, wallet, jewelry, etc.) or work materials.
  • Calling you into the office and hurling accusations at you, or threatening such meetings and never holding them.
  • Trying to discredit you or turn others against you.
  • Constantly interrupting you so you can’t get any work done.

The list could go on and on. Bullies are insecure, but they are clever, and they can be infinitely creative in finding ways to torment you without overtly violating laws or policies.

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Should I report bullying?

You might think filing a complaint with the human resources (HR) department or your boss’s boss would be the first logical thing to do, but statistics don’t support this course of action. There are no state laws that require employers to address workplace bullying.

As a result, according to this 2008 study, when employers were told about incidents of bullying, only 1.7% responded with the best case scenario: a fair investigation that resulted in protection for the target and consequences for the bully. In 53% of cases, the employers did nothing, and in 71% of cases, the target was actually retaliated against.

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There are a couple of reasons for this disappointing response. Victims of bullying are often seen as “whiners” and “troublemakers,” while the bully is seen as producing a temporary increase of productivity from his or her employees – especially if the bully takes the time to “crop” business statistics so they present the bully in a favorable light. Also, hiring is often done according to the “who-you-know” rule. If the bully is a personal friend of the president of the company, it is going to be difficult for the president to hear bad things about his or her friend.

What can I do?

Here are some things you can do in the face of these dismal statistics. These suggestions are geared toward helping you feel more empowered while you’re in what is one of the most frustrating, hopeless situations that exists. Don’t underestimate the value of your mental, physical and emotional health in times of extreme stress like this.

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  1. Take extra good care of yourself physically. Vigorous physical activity helps a lot in times of stress, so make it a priority to engage in your favorite exercise every day, or start an exercise program if you don’t have one.
  2. Remember, your attention is the same as your respect. Do your best to disrespect the bully by ignoring them, both at work and at home. It’s difficult to simply stop thinking about something, so find ways to distract yourself into thinking about something else instead.
  3. It is easy to be dismissed as a whiny troublemaker by HR and upper management. Nobody cares about your suffering, and worse, any documentation about your emotional state can be used against you. Carefully choose one or two people to whom you can vent, but do not air your feelings anywhere else.
  4. Be better than the bully in every way you can. Dress one notch nicer. Get to work ten minutes earlier. Keep your office space, your conduct, and yourself absolutely pristine. Learn to work around the bully and get your job done in spite of him or her. Your present conduct will pave the way toward better work in the future.
  5. Start your search for a new job. Seventy-seven percent of targets lose their jobs, either voluntarily or not, so have your escape route in place. Don’t be afraid to look for “fantasy jobs” or start implementing any dreams you’ve had for starting your own business at this time. Remember, these steps are about maintaining your own morale in the middle of a war zone.

If you want to expose the bully

  1. Start doing research. Take time off if you need to. Find out whether or not he or she has crossed a legal line and can be prosecuted. About a quarter of bullies violate discrimination laws. Look for internal company policies as well as state and national policies.
  2. Start gathering data about the economic impact of the bully on the company. Employers will sit up and pay attention if a bully’s actions are affecting the financial bottom line of the company. Put dollars and cents to the expenses of staff replacement, demoralization from under-staffing, absenteeism and lost productivity. Make the case that the bully is too expensive to keep.

A final word

Remember, you are not at fault for being bullied. Bullies didn’t become bullies overnight; they all have a history that can be exposed through proper vetting. The fault for bullying lies entirely with the employer, for hiring them in the first place (negligent hiring), and for ignoring complaints about the bully (negligent retention).

While the legal landscape looks grim for bullying targets right now, awareness is gradually increasing. Twenty-one states have anti-bully legislation in the pipelines, and hopefully soon we’ll begin to see states signing these proposals into law. Again, the Workplace Bullying Institute is an awesome resource. Start there, and good luck.

Featured photo credit: gun.?/Israel. via flickr.com

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Last Updated on April 9, 2020

5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

It takes great leadership skills to build great teams.

The best leaders have distinctive leadership styles and are not afraid to make the difficult decisions. They course-correct when mistakes happen, manage the egos of team members and set performance standards that are constantly being met and improved upon.

With a population of more than 327 million, there are literally scores of leadership styles in the world today. In this article, I will talk about the most common types of leadership and how you can determine which works best for you.

5 Types of Leadership Styles

I will focus on 5 common styles that I’ve encountered in my career: democratic, autocratic, transformational, transactional and laissez-faire leadership.

The Democratic Style

The democratic style seeks collaboration and consensus. Team members are a part of decision-making processes and communication flows up, down and across the organizational chart.

The democratic style is collaborative. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek is an example of a leader who appears to have a democratic leadership style.

    The Autocratic Style

    The autocratic style, on the other hand, centers the preferences, comfort and direction of the organization’s leader. In many instances, the leader makes decisions without soliciting agreement or input from their team.

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    The autocratic style is not appropriate in all situations at all times, but it can be especially useful in certain careers, such as military service, and in certain instances, such as times of crisis. Steve Jobs was said to have had an autocratic leadership style.

    While the democratic style seeks consensus, the autocratic style is less interested in consensus and more interested in adherence to orders. The latter advises what needs to be done and expects close adherence to orders.

      The Transformational Style

      Transformational leaders drive change. They are either brought into organizations to turn things around, restore profitability or improve the culture.

      Alternatively, transformational leaders may have a vision for what customers, stakeholders or constituents may need in the future and work to achieve those goals. They are change agents who are focused on the future.

      Examples of transformational leader are Oprah and Robert C. Smith, the billionaire hedge fund manager who has offered to pay off the student loan debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College.

        The Transactional Style

        Transactional leaders further the immediate agenda. They are concerned about accomplishing a task and doing what they’ve said they’d do. They are less interested in changing the status quo and more focused on ensuring that people do the specific task they have been hired to do.

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        The transactional leadership style is centered on short-term planning. This style can stifle creativity and keep employees stuck in their present roles.

        The Laissez-Faire Style

        The fifth common leadership style is laissez-faire, where team members are invited to help lead the organization.

        In companies with a laissez-faire leadership style, the management structure tends to be flat, meaning it lacks hierarchy. With laissez-faire leadership, team members might wonder who the final decision maker is or can complain about a lack of leadership, which can translate to lack of direction.

        Which Leadership Style do You Practice?

        You can learn a lot about your leadership style by observing your family of origin and your formative working experiences.

        Whether you realize it, from the time you were born up until the time you went to school, you were receiving information on how to lead yourself and others. From the way your parents and siblings interacted with one another, to unspoken and spoken communication norms, you were a sponge for learning what constitutes leadership.

        The same is true of our formative work experiences. When I started my communications career, I worked for a faith-based organization and then a labor union. The style of communication varied from one organization to the other. The leadership required to be successful in each organization was also miles apart. At Lutheran social services, we used language such as “supporting people in need.” At the labor union, we used language such as “supporting the leadership of workers” as they fought for what they needed.

        Many in the media were more than happy to accept my pitch calls when I worked for the faith-based organization, but the same was not true when I worked for a labor union. The quest for media attention that was fair and balanced became more difficult and my approach and style changed from being light-hearted to being more direct with the labor union.

        I didn’t realize the impact those experiences had on how I thought about my leadership until much later in my career.

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        In my early experience, it was not uncommon for team members to have direct, brash and tough conversations with one another as a matter of course. It was the norm, not the exception. I learned to challenge people, boldly state my desires and preferences, and give tough feedback, but I didn’t account for the actions of others fit for me, as a black woman. I didn’t account for gender biases and racial biases.

        What worked well for my white male bosses, did not work well for me as an African American woman. People experienced my directness as being rude and insensitive. While I needed to be more forceful in advancing the organization’s agenda when I worked for labor, that style did not bode well for faith-based social justice organizations who wanted to use the love of Christ to challenge injustice.

        Whereas I received feedback that I needed to develop more gravitas in the workplace when I worked for labor, when I worked for other organizations after the labor union, I was often told to dial it back. This taught me two important lessons about leadership:

        1. Context Matters

        Your leadership style must adjust to each workplace you are employed. The challenges and norms of an organization will shape your leadership style significantly.

        2. Not All Leadership Styles Are Appropriate for the Teams You’re Leading

        When I worked on political campaigns, we worked nonstop. We started at dawn and worked late into the evening. I couldn’t expect that level of round-the-clock work for people at the average nonprofit. Not only couldn’t I expect it, it was actually unhealthy. My habit of consistently waking up at 4 am to work was profoundly unhealthy for me and harmful for the teams I was leading.

        As life coach and spiritual healer Iyanla Vanzant has said,

        “We learn a lot from what is seen, sensed and shared.”

        The message I was sending to my team was ‘I will value you if you work the way that I work, and if you respond to my 4 am, 5 am and 6 am emails.’ I was essentially telling my employees that I expect you to follow my process and practice.

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        As I advanced in my career and began managing more people, I questioned everything I thought I knew about leadership. It was tough. What worked for me in one professional setting did not work in other settings. What worked at one phase of my life didn’t necessarily serve me at later stages.

        When I began managing millennials, I learned that while committed to the work, they had active interests and passions outside of the office. They were not willing to abandon their lives and happiness for the work, regardless of how fulfilling it might have been.

        The Way Forward

        To be an effective leader, you must know yourself incredibly well. You must be self-reflective and also receptive to feedback.

        As fellow Lifehack contributor Mike Bundrant wrote in the article 10 Essential Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader:

        “Those who lead must understand human nature, and they start by fully understanding themselves…They know their strengths, and are equally aware of their weaknesses and thus understand the need for team work and the sharing of responsibility.”

        The way to determine your leadership style is to get to know yourself and to be mindful of the feedback you receive from others. Think about the leadership lessons that were seen, sensed and shared in your family of origin. Then think about what feels right for you. Where do you gravitate and what do you tend to avoid in the context of leadership styles?

        If you are really stuck, think about using a personality assessment to shed light on your work patterns and preferences.

        Finally, the path for determining your leadership style is to think about not only what you need, or what your company values, but also what your team needs. They will give you cues on what works for them and you need to respond accordingly.

        Leadership requires flexibility and attentiveness. Contrary to unrealistic notions of leadership, being a leader is less about being served and more about being of service.

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        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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