How To Outsmart A Workplace Bully

bullying at workBy Donna Fuscaldo

Bullying doesn't end on the playground. Workplace bullying is more common than you might think. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 35 percent of all adults in the U.S. experienced bullying at work in 2010.

While bullies in elementary school and high school prey on perceived weaknesses, it's often the star performers that are targets of bullying at work.

"Workplace bullies often choose targets based on real or perceived strength," says William F. Badzmierowski, director of Instructor Services at CPI, an international training organization. "Targets may appear to be highly competent and to excel at their jobs, be respected by management or co-workers, may be popular and well liked, be admired for their integrity, or may be unique in some way that is threatening to the adult bully."

According to Gary Namie, Ph.D, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, most bullying in the workplace is between a boss and an employee, although it can also be between co-workers. The problem is more prevalent these days because, in a tight job market, people are more willing to take the abuse out of fear of not finding another job, and bullying bosses know that.

Types Of Bullying

Workplace bullying isn't easy to define, but many agree it involves persistent and ongoing activities of harassment and incivility. "It's not about office politics, it's not about awkward glances or raised eyebrows, its serious interpersonal destruction," says Namie.

According to Badzmierowski a few examples of workplace bullying include when a boss or co-worker takes credit for someone else's work, repeated belittling by a boss or co-worker, failing to invite someone to an important meeting, ignoring an employee or co-worker with the aim of harming or controlling them, and when the boss engages in ongoing passive-aggressive behavior in which the words and actions appear harmless, but are intended to control or harm.

Signs Of Bullying

Unfortunately, people who are the target of bullying often are the last to realize that they are being bullied. That's why it's important to know the signs.

According to Namie, the No. 1 indication is stress and how the body reacts to that stress. That may mean high blood pressure, throwing up or dreading Sundays because it means you will be back at work on Monday.

Other signs include depression, becoming withdrawn, suffering from anxiety and insomnia, and obsessing over the wrongdoings at work. "People who detect the bullying aren't the targets," says Namie. "The physician catches the blood pressure and the family is really getting upset and tired of the obsessions over work."

How To Fight Back

If you are the target of workplace bullying, there are things you can do to protect yourself and at the very least keep your pride and self-respect.

If you think you are being bullied, it's important not to react defensively and engage in activities that could appear to be bullying in and of themselves. That means you have to respond in a respectfully assertive manner, whenever possible, says Badzmierowski. If you aren't in a situation where you fear that you could be physically harmed you can approach your bully and inform him or her that the behavior is unwelcome, adds Badzmierowski.

Keep a detailed log of each and every bullying event and, if at all possible, seek out help from human resources or the person in charge of handling workplace incidents. That may help curb the workplace bullying.

Your immediate urge may be to quit, but Namie says not to do that right away. He says that if the organization is large enough, move up the ladder and complain to someone higher up that doesn't have direct interaction with the bully. "You have to show them how expensive the bully is to the company," says Namie. "You have to play the business consultant and document the cost of turnover, absenteeism and lawsuits." At that point, if nothing changes and you get fired or the bullying continues unabated, at least you can leave with your pride intact.

"If you leave quietly you might believe the lies," says Namie. "If you leave with your tail between your legs in silent shame, you will never recover."

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