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.
- Is the negative conflict, confrontations or interpersonal abuse becoming persistent, consistent, or regular? Or is it a one off, or highly unusual behaviour?
- 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?).
- Do I feel increasingly defenceless to protect myself due to some sort of power imbalance between me and the other person or group?
- Is this behaviour making me feel unsafe when I’m at work?
- Is the behaviour eroding or damaging my ability to do my job, or undercutting my self-confidence?
- Is it starting to damage my professional reputation or credibility?
- Is the behaviour causing me to feel embarrassed, immobilised, isolated and lonely at work?
- 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’?
- 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).
- 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.
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