Author Bio ▼

Dr Flis has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and is passionate about helping people who lead and work in organisations create better workplace experiences and improving work cultures. Get free resources and tactics on appropriately dealing with negative online and offline workplace behaviours at or contact Dr Flis at[email protected] or  LinkedIn. You can also follow Dr Flis on her blog Twitter or Facebook.
April 19, 2017

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When dealing with workplace bullying, knowledge is power: a mental health strategy

By Dr Felicity Lawrence

‘Knowledge is power.’

So said Sir Francis Bacon way back in 1597 in his Meditationes Sacrae.

When it comes to dealing with workplace bullies, and to avoid inadvertently harming your wellbeing and mental health, it’s incredibly important to familiarise yourself with some salient facts before planning your remedial action.

First of all, be crystal clear about what exactly you’re experiencing. This may sound like a no brainer, however you could be dealing with someone with unusually awkward (even incompetent) social skills who may be unconsciously blunt, consistently talks over you, and is completely oblivious to the reaction they’re receiving.

Or, you could be dealing with a tough boss, or a clueless co-worker, or an incompetent stakeholder or client. Some of the behaviours associated with these ‘types’ can be surprisingly similar to bullying. I’ve written in depth about recognising these different ‘types’ in a previous SHP article on bosses or bullies.

However, given that, could I offer a rule of thumb for your consideration?

Firstly, it might be useful to consciously observe your boss (or co-worker, client etc.) over a period of time. This isn’t supposed to be a hostile activity – simply home in on what’s happening and the consistent elements of their behaviour with you and others.

Secondly, analyse the content, context and outcome of their behaviour. Are they consistently seeking results, but walking over everyone to reach it? You may be dealing with a tough boss (or a psychopath – there are differences as I noted in this SHP article!).

To clarify, workplace bullying is generally defined as persistent face-to-face behaviour that hurts or defames a target(s), by a more senior or influential, and therefore more powerful, individual or group, against whom the target feels powerless to defend themselves.

It’s critical to note the power imbalance between the bully and target. Generally, the bully either holds a more senior position to the target, or is perceived by the target as more powerful, thereby making the target feel powerless to defend themselves. This is why mediation generally exacerbates bullying although mediation can be helpful in resolving conflict or confrontation between equals.

Workplace cyberbullying is the ability of sometimes anonymous, abusive text, images or video content to follow targets from work to home (or job to job), be rapidly broadcast across different media feeds, and impact their professional reputation and career.

It can also be extremely difficult to completely remove. Interestingly, most workplace social media and anti-bullying policies, or codes of conduct laws, ignores this ability.  Possibly, policy makers and legislators are struggling to find an effective response measure.

Why am I banging on about all this? Well, I have a theory.

My theory is premised on the notion that, the more educated we all are in recognising negative workplaces behaviours, and how and why they manifest, the more likely we can catch it early before it turns into really toxic behaviours, like mobbing, bullying, or harassment. I believe this will greatly improve our chances of reducing extensive injury to our mental health, happiness and workplace performance.

Am I dealing with workplace bullying or cyberbullying?  10 simple questions.

  1. Is the negative conflict, confrontations or interpersonal abuse becoming persistent, consistent, or regular? Or is it a one off, or highly unusual behaviour?
  2. Am I dealing with negative face-to-face behaviour, or online behaviour? Or is it a mix of both? (i.e., can you get away from it when you leave work?).
  3. Do I feel increasingly defenceless to protect myself due to some sort of power imbalance  between me and the other person or group?
  4. Is this behaviour making me feel unsafe when I’m at work?
  5. Is the behaviour eroding or damaging my ability to do my job, or undercutting my self-confidence?
  6. Is it starting to damage my professional reputation or credibility?
  7. Is the behaviour causing me to feel embarrassed, immobilised, isolated and lonely at work?
  8. Is the behaviour being accepted or excused by others in your team or group, perhaps because of the person’s position, or because ‘That’s just the way xx delivers results’?
  9. Am I sweating, do I have a faster heartbeat, feel ill, dizzy and headachy, or experiencing sudden and unexplained pains in my arms, chest or back? (If so, seek immediate advice from a health expert such as your local doctor).
  10. Is it becoming harder to think and motivate myself to complete my tasks?

This is just a brief overview, but if you want a personalised toolkit with tactics that helps control negative behaviours BEFORE they develop into bullying or cyberbullying, then check out my eCourse HERE that I’ve created around the same topic. It’s currently a free trial, because I’m seeking your feedback (in a super fast 2 minute survey) on how to make it even better for you.

Dr Felicity (Flis) Lawrence has a PhD in organisational social psychology from the Faculty of Education, QUT (+BA SSc & Dip PM), with 25 years in private, military and government workplaces. She uses a mixed adult education, academic-evidenced approach to help people leading & working in organisations create respectful, safer work cultures by preventing bullying, fostering new insights, and diagnosing organisational problems. Email [email protected], LinkedIn or follow her blog Twitter or Facebook.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.

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Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
6 years ago

For sure the constant drip, drip, drip of any perceived “approval deprivation” of the pedant or intrusive micro-manager will break down even the most resilient of us raising work stress levels often exacerbated by unmitigated CVS / Screen Fatigue debilitating symptoms increasing error rates, frustration and risk of performance anxiety. Takes you back to school days when no one praised you for a job, task or whatever “well done” but, went out of their way to find a million ways to knit-pick and complain……….. It is rarely the big things that drag you down it is almost always the minutia,… Read more »

6 years ago

Thanks for a useful article. I’d like to add a nuance that didnt really come across regarding power imbalance. Bullying can come from people with a lower position in the hierarchy, but who gain power from playing politics, running an individual down behind their back (leading to mobbing), openly behaving as though they dont care what the bullied individual thinks or feels (leading to hostile, threatening work environments). Clear anti-bullying policies, well-communicated, discussed and understood (to your theory), and enforced by leaders are essential. Sometimes the bully is useful to the organization through the work they deliver, meaning that leaders… Read more »