There is one in every organisation!

Every single organisation I have worked in, or consulted to, has had at least one Bully. There is no demographic for these despicable people. They come in any size, shape, gender, race, religion... you know what I mean. They are ever-present, ready to pounce! They cause havoc in the workplace and cost companies millions of $$$ each year because they waste time and energy and they totally incapacitate their victims.

So how does one cope when a bully attacks? 

I'd like to first clarify what my interpretation of 'bullying' is... In my opinion, it is persistent and prolonged undermining of an individual that is malicious and intentional. We should not trivialize the word, 'bullying' at all.  It is serious and if not addressed, can ultimately result in Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS). The health of the individual, or individuals, targeted, is significantly affected and symptoms such as chronic diarrhea, suppressed immune system, stomach ulcers, headaches, asthma, sexual problems and diabetes often result from the stress of bullying.  It is a very real problem physically, as well as emotionally. Anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, hyper-sensitivity, chronic fatigue syndrome and fear of decision making are all probable with on-going bullying.  Naturally, behavioral signs are a result also and carelessness, poor concentration, memory lapse, negativity, and mental blockages are just some of the ways in which the victim is impacted.

Let me also list some of the ways in which these Bullies attack:

  • verbal / written abuse and violation of personal dignity;
  • instilling fear through abuse of power;
  • character assassination;
  • sexual harassment.

We need to accept that the Bully is a control freak, an exploiter, a skilled opportunist who takes advantage of every opportunity to attack. The Bully's tactics are ruthless.

So HOW does one deal with bullying in the workplace? 

  1. Establish that you are indeed being bullied. Speak to a trusted adviser about the circumstances. 
  2. Remember that this is not a personality issue or a personality clash. This is an infringement of your basic human rights and a denial of your dignity.
  3. Stop your self-doubt...although self-examination is beneficial - note that you are not doing this introspection for the Bully but rather for your own benefit.
  4. Do not feel shame or deny what is happening. You are not the first nor the last person that has had to fight this problem.
  5. Share the situation with family and friends. You need their understanding and support.
  6. Take good care of yourself. The illnesses I mentioned above can be avoided if you are aware that you will be 'worn-down' and exhausted by the 'fight'. Eat correctly and exercise often. Buy a book on managing stress. Read it.
  7. Build your case. Get evidence. Keep emails. Have witnesses. Do whatever you need to do to have sufficient proof of the bullying. Every small incident counts. 
  8. Confront the Bully! The biggest mistake the victim can make is to avoid confrontation. Stand up to the Bully and your fear will disappear. It does! I've done it. Often.  But watch yourself... you need to stay professional, do not use an abusive tone or words, leave your ego at home, be firm but respectful. Very importantly, get your timing right. Do not confront the Bully if you are emotional and/or unprepared. Do not be intimidated by the Bully's insults, threats or position. Use the words: 'BACK OFF". If the Bully does not back off, say, "I am taking this further". 
  9. If the Bully continues after your confrontation, (and is not your CEO), then report him/her to his/her superior. Don't gossip. Use facts. Present your evidence. Be reasonable. Be flexible. 
  10. If the bullying continues, do not let the toxic environment you are in impact your health any further. If you have done everything you can do and there is no way out - get out!  Your health is THE most important and valuable thing you have. Move on. Let go of any bitterness. Know that you have grown and that you will be able to 'Spot the Bully' and deal with the Bully in your next job. You will even be able to empower others who are bullied. Share your truth and your power. 
I acknowledge and thank Dr Susan M Steinman for her insights and advice on coping with bullies. I was privileged to share a speaker slot with her in Pretoria, South Africa in 2007 and have had the knowledge and strength to fight off the bullies ever since.