Thursday, April 28, 2011

X. The 'X' factor - why some people act with integrity and others don't - Workplace bullying

The 'X' factor

Why some people go to ground and others act with strength integrity and support the target.

Those who so stand up to bullies, whether by surviving the assault, as whistle blowers or by adding evidence to the growing file against the serial bully are showing courage, determination and integrity. Their motives are as varied as the people. Some say "It's wrong, I have no choice" others " I'm not  prepared to compromise my own values and watch this wrongdoing, I don't want to, but it's necessary", others "If I don't do something, who will?" and on workplace sexual predators "I want people like this ousted so my daughters never have to put up with this evil".  One client said "Management have allowed this to go on for over ten years. Most people stay a maximum of a couple of months then leave. I'm going to fight it." Some simply want the world to be a better, more harmonious place.
East Side Gallery. Berlin. 2009
Too few onlookers have the courage and strength to stand up against bullying, harassment and corruption. Many otherwise good people turn a blind eye in the presence of an aggressor, particularly a devious, manipulative and possibly charming one. They may feel vulnerable themselves, and are relieved that they have been spared the trauma and are glad they can sit back and watch the unfolding drama. Some may even feel guilty for being complicit in the charade of protecting a serial bully. To speak out may force them to face their own inadequacies.

Understanding of bullying is improving, but too many uninvolved onlookers still state the target should have been stronger and stood up for themselves. I've often heard the phrase: "if you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen", or "that person was so weak they left".

Some colleagues will say "I didn't know what to do" (so they don't do anything) or deny having been present when the bullying occurred. Turning a blind eye is less stressful, and at least it keeps the focus off them. They choose not to see what is happening.

Others will refuse to assist in providing supportive evidence when invited, possibly adding to an "us and them" culture and creating divisions in the department that are may be difficult to heal.  I recently heard the statement: "I was curious to see how the new person would handle x" (x being the department bully) much the same as if this was a bit of a game. This same person enjoyed being an onlooker at school when there were fights, and appeared to get some pleasure from the exchanges.  It reminded me of the descriptions of the Roman Circus where people were fed to the lions in front of thousands of enthusiastic spectators or when watching a hanging was considered a fine form of entertainment.

In instances of sexual predators, some colleagues will try to normalise the bullying attacks as "Oh you must have misunderstood, I'm sure he didn't mean it", or "He's a sad and lonely man, I feel sorry for him"  and by implication you should too. No, a serial bully should be exposed and held to account no matter what prestigious position they hold. Normalising the behaviour encourages the bully to continue unabated and immune from censure. Silence equals consent in the eyes of the bully, and when there is a perceived power differential, they'll use this for their own end, confident that the weaker person will remain silent. Co workers can be a life line for the target.

In environments where the bullying is deeply entrenched, it may be regarded as "normal" behaviour. Where employees have not experienced a genuinely normal work environment, they are conned into believing this is how all workplaces operate. When they eventually leave they express astonishment at how much stress they were under and how they had come to accept the bullying as something that happened in all workplaces.

Unless you have experienced serial bullying yourself, or know someone who has, it may be incomprehensible to understand the level of torment dished out relentlessly and maliciously day after day, month after month. If you're in a workplace where a bully operates, think about what small contribution you could make either to expose the bullying behaviour, or to support the target. Sharing stories, supporting the target, kind words and networking with other like minded people - the smallest effort is so much better than choosing to condone behaviour which is completely unacceptable.
These words on part of the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery
are also appropriate in tackling workplace bullying.
Why else do onlookers stand against bullying?
What other support can they give a bullied colleague of friend?

Here tomorrow Y: You. What you can do?

There are many outstanding resources on line. A couple I find useful are Bullying. No way! an Australian resource for teachers and students, and a UK site Bully On Line. eBossWatch on Facebook has links to current articles and discussion. This is in no way an exhaustive list, and each country will no doubt have equally good or more relevant websites. If you're being bullied please seek advice from a professional health care practitioner experienced in this area.

Over at jumpingaground I'm spending the month Drabbling using alliteration.



AllMyPosts said...

Bullying can be irritating!!

I didn't have these problems at my workplace. This is one good a article (but a little lenghty). Thanks for posting

with warm regards
CatchyTips for Writers

nutschell said...

a thought provoking post. bullying should be taken more seriously in schools--bec. thats where it all starts.
Great meeting you through the A-Z!


sue said...

AMP, you're very fortunate. Remember to be on the lookout for others who may not be so lucky.
nutschell. You've got it in one! As a society we all need to encourage schools to incorporate the best programmes to nip it in the bud.