Bullying or alleged bullying is always stressful
I don’t think I have ever been in a situation where there has not been at least some discussion about whether behaviours can be construed as workplace bullying. In the CIPD Employee Outlook Survey 2010, 16% of people surveyed said they thought bullying by their line manager had increased due to the economic downturn and frankly I’m not surprised. In the last Civil Service People Survey in 2011. Nine per cent of employees said they had experienced workplace bullying. Only 28% said the bullying behaviour had been from their line manager. It seems the allegation of bullying is not exclusively a line manager phenomenon.
In my own lengthy career, I have experienced workplace bullying from line managers, customers and colleagues. I have witnessed allegations of bullying. Some warranted and some not so. Assertive behaviour can be perceived as bullying. When an assertive manager takes over a team, they need to be aware of their impact. Bullying has a particular dynamic. Whether its bullying or not is not always clear-cut. This is why so much of the behaviour isn’t tackled adequately in the workplace. Some of the dynamics of workplace bullying I have witnessed are:
Abuse of and giving up of power
Bullying behaviour is an assertion of power over someone else. Mostly such behaviour is saying “I am more important than you and I know better” It’s a superiority trap, and it is borne of a fear of lack of inner power. Being bullied is a giving up of power. No-one can bully anyone without their permission. If you believe in yourself and know your own worth, nothing anyone can say will shake your foundation. When anyone accepts bullying behaviour, even though it can be very difficult to see this clearly; they are giving up their power.
Rarely a conscious intention and can sometimes come as a surprise to both people involved
People who have carried out bullying behaviour can become extremely upset and appalled when they realise the effect they are having. When you encounter such a reaction you know the behaviour will stop. There is often denial and astonishment that their behaviour could be construed as bullying. These people have work to do. Awareness of their effect on others is often the starting point to change the behaviour forever.
People who are on the receiving end of bullying behaviour are often shocked at how vulnerable they are. It can come as a surprise how upsetting the behaviour is to them personally. They are often ferocious in their condemnation of the “bully”. Understandably, they are aghast at how awful any human being could act towards another.
A dynamic which springs from fear of not being good enough on both sides
Someone displaying bullying behaviour is using the dynamic of force onto someone else. Anyone who has to use force on another is fearful of their ability to negotiate, influence or gain the cooperation, understanding, approval or help from another.
Someone who feels bullied by someone else feels disempowered to deal with the behaviour in order to achieve a positive outcome, and/or has an unconscious fear they are not good enough.
A denial of the possibility of caring for each other
Caring about each other is our natural state. Whenever we are not caring about other people we are in disassociation or denial about who we really are at our core. Bullying and being bullied are opposite dynamics of our natural inner urge to care about each other.
Often a bullying dynamic occurs because both” perpetrator and victim” don’t believe in the possibility of another caring enough about them to hear the other.
A dynamic of blame
When bullying behaviour surfaces; it is as a result of an inability to have the courage to take personal responsibility. The perpetrator is either consciously or unconsciously trying to change or intimidate the victim. The person on the receiving end inevitably feels no choice but to see the behaviour as an attack on them. Rather than see the fear or lack of awareness in the person displaying the behaviour.
Whenever either real or alleged bullying behaviour occurs it is always unacceptable. It is always ugly to watch because there is always an impact. Claims of bullying can arise from experiencing assertive behaviour. In those situations, getting into the “who is right and who is wrong” debate is futile.
Bullying in the workplace must never be ignored, and there should always be a zero tolerance approach to such behaviour. Tackling bullying should be implicit in all leadership and management learning programmes.