Workplace Bullies Are Running Amok

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If you're the target of a workplace bully, you are hardly alone. A new survey concludes that 96 percent of people have experienced bullying behavior at work.

Sadly, the bully usually "wins." That is, the victims quit their jobs, while the bully remains behind, reigning supreme over new targets.

Needless to say, this is not good for business.

The latest study of bullying and its impact on people and the workplace was conducted by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, business strategists and co-authors of the books Crucial Conversations and Influencer.

Their survey covered the full range of bullying behavior. It found that 62 percent had witnessed or experienced sabotaging of work or reputations. More than half saw browbeating, threats or intimidation. About four percent even saw physical intimidation or assault in the workplace.

Who are these people?

Notably, the bully isn't necessarily the boss. A peer is almost as likely to belittle, sabotage, intimidate and abuse co-workers.

A 2012 study by CareerBuilder found that half of the victims never confront the bully, and most incidents remain unreported.

The list of reported horrors in this survey also is extensive: Victims reported being pointedly ignored, picked on for their personal attributes, belittled in public, constantly criticized and falsely accused of errors. They've been gossiped about, purposely excluded, and denied credit for their work.

Only about half reported the incident to Human Resources, and more than half of those said nothing came of reporting it.

So, it's quite possible that you're on your own in dealing with this.

Here's one important thing to remember: In kindergarten or in the office, the behavior of a bully is about as primitive as human behavior gets.

In a blog for Psychology Today, Preston Ni, who coaches professionals on personal effectiveness, says most bullies are cowards who pick on people they perceive as weaker, and inevitably back down when challenged.

He advises people to "stand tall," literally and figuratively, in the face of bullying. But also seek witnesses, and keep a paper trail of the abuse directed at you.

Most of all, keep your own emotions and actions in check. It will help keep the temperature down.

After all, you don't want to get in a brawl here. Ideally, you want to resolve the problem.

Grenfield and Maxfield offer these tips for seeking a reasonable resolution to a crisis with a bully at work:
  • Speak up. Instead of fearing the risks of taking action, think through the risks of doing nothing.
  • Present the facts. Explain your side of the issue to the bully, avoiding emotion and provocation.
  • Validate the bully's concerns. The bully presumably has a point to make, and is just expressing it inappropriately. Acknowledge that.
  • Clarify the consequences. One person's bullying behavior damages the team and the business. Make sure the bully hears that.
  • Ask the bully to commit to more effective communication.

CareerBuilder also advises victims to talk it out dispassionately with the bully.

After all, there's a good chance that many bullies aren't even aware of the impact they're having.

They may think they're being "passionate" or "intense." They may imagine they're defending themselves against non-existent threats. They may hear any discussion of an issue as argumentative, or insubordinate.

It could be up to you to tell them they're just being bullies.
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