Saturday, June 16, 2012

A tiny amount of effort can make the world of difference.

Imagine for a moment that you're in a workplace, and there have been a few veiled comments that someone you know, but aren't particularly close to is being bullied. Let's for the moment call her Sheila, but it could as easily be Chip, Ahn, Stephan, Narasimha or Lee.

What's it to you? After all Sheila has friends, you've seen them going for a walk, chatting over lunch and you know they sometimes go out for a drink after work some Fridays.

But Sheila looks dreadful, she seems weighed down and no longer makes witty quips to her friends. The spring has gone from her step and you've heard she no longer goes out for lunchtime walks or to the Pub after work. She has become hesitant, nervous, wary and on edge, sometimes snapping for no apparent reason.

What comes as a surprise to many people is that whilst they know the target of a bully needs support it's rare for that person to be receiving the level of support they desperately need. I'm not referring to assistance from HR or legal options. I'm talking about the little everyday things that help make life bearable, so that the target doesn't feel so dreadfully, painfully alone.

Clearly, something is wrong with Sheila. Perhaps it's more than a temporarily grumpy boss, and she is being systematically hounded, harassed, mobbed or bullied.

a) you don't know what to do
b) you think someone else is helping/supporting - she's got lots of friends, right?
c) you think that what you have to offer is too minimal to make a difference

It's so easy to assume that someone else is helping. But there are all sorts of reasons this may not happen: One person may be struggling with their own issues and not notice, another may be concerned that if they're seen to support they will become the next target, and many others think "Surely her closer friends are helping. I'm not really that important to her." (More on this here)

Time and time again, I've had people say to me: "I felt so alone, it's like no-one noticed or cared."

My request to you is to show you care. Never assume the target has allies. The bully regularly has cronies, they can be powerful, nasty, vicious and unrelenting in their subtle and not so subtle undermining ways. The target rarely has the same level of support.

The simplest of things can make all the difference and let the target know they're not alone. In all sorts of unobtrusive ways you can show you care. A "thinking of you" text or email. A stick-it note with a smiley face or amateurish sketch of a bunch of flowers or clown. A kind word. An offer to have a coffee together. An email with a beautiful/inspiring/amusing photo attached. You don't really need to say much or commit to deep involvement. A variety of support is important, and your role may not need to be more than this.

Tactful support is mostly welcome; ask if you're unsure. Remember, you may be the only person to show you care. 

Here's a link to a post describing a situation I've witnessed far too many times - the tell tale signs of abuse and the debilitating suffering and legacy of unrelenting bullying.
Examples of artistic creativity might give the target hope
and remind them there is beauty in the world.
There's more information that could support the target here, here and here, and a book review on "Working with Mean Girls" by Meredith Fuller (which is equally relevant to men!)



Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. great post - we just don't know what's going on behind facades do we ... and bullying starts so early in life ..

We just need to be kind and compassionate to everyone .. giving others a chance to respond so they feel support - that can be developed out if necessary.

Cheers Hilary

Liza said...

Never assume the target has allies is a huge phrase.

sue said...

Thankyou Hilary. I think your words - be compassionate to everyone is really the crux of it. You never know what a facade is hiding, or when a kind gesture will be most welcome.

Liza, It's so easy to think someone has supportive friends - yet they don't and so suffer in silence. said...

So true, Sue. Those little acts of kindness can make all the difference. And if one person is bullied in a workplace, they're often not actually alone. Right? It's my experience that once coworkers start talking, they realize they have shared stories.

Thanks for this post.

Thanks for commiserating about the droner too. Your story is funny, but I'm sorry you went through it.


sue said...

Robyn, that's so true. It can be incredibly hard to begin the conversation, but what it unearths can be mindblowing.

Re droners - thankyou ;)