When we’re trying to change things about our life, often the first step is to identify patterns and common denominators.What do all of these undesirable situations have in common? If you have found yourself repeatedly targeted by workplace bullies you might think “Gee. It looks like I’m the common denominator.” And you would be right. That seems harsh, but let’s back up and take a look at the characteristics most often seen in targets (not “victims”) of workplace bullying.
1)They’re independent, intelligent and highly skilled.
In other words, the bully perceives them as a threat.
2) They’re honest, ethical and fair.
Oh no how awful, right? Bullies don’t rank real high when it comes to ethics, so it should come as no surprise that their targets do. This type of person threatens their MO at work by “making them look bad” or just generally making them nervous that their dishonest behavior might come under fire.
3) They’re nice and well liked.
Again, really horrible attributes, right? These characteristics are targeted for two reasons- if you are well liked, you are a threat. And also sadly, they perceive your kindness as weakness. They will take advantage of your collaborative nature by dumping their projects on you and taking credit for the work that you do.
4) They’re introverts and often outside of the workplace clique.
Bullies are cowards and will choose easy marks. Someone who is not loud and/or not part of the inner circle is a natural target. They feel that they can target you not only without fear of retribution but also with the support of their cronies.
5) They are different in some way.
This can be a physical disability, skin tone or even something as minor as red hair. As mentioned before “different” can also mean being outside of the office culture or workplace clique. If you have failed to participate in office gossip or engage in 2 hour long “lunches” while the boss is away, you could become a prime target.
In other words-they’re good people. They’re not weak, meek or even necessarily soft spoken. Quite the contrary, it is often their strength and competence that enrages the bully.
We’ve known since grade school that bullies are not happy people. If they were they wouldn’t be bullies. Therefore they don’t like to see anyone else happy or successful. Their self esteem and status are on shaky ground based on a warped interpretation of power. So naturally they target individuals they find threatening. They select individuals that are already outside of the workplace clique or that they can push out by turning others against them. Their cowardice makes them more apt to go after people with a mature and professional demeanor that is less likely to confront them back.
But if honesty, integrity, strength, kindness and competence makes you a target for workplace bullying what should you do? Change? Hide these attributes? Absolutely not. Do not ever dim your light for someone else. While they’re not foolproof, there are a few safeguards that you can put in place to curtail current workplace bullying and prevent becoming a target in the future.
If you are already experiencing workplace bullying, save every hostile email and belligerent text. Forward them to your own personal account. Write down dates and times along with exact quotes and detailed accounts of what occured.
Make your boss aware. She’s not supportive? Go above her head. Do this via email so that no one can claim ignorance as to what was going on. Be specific and call it what it is- workplace bullying. Don’t make it about you but rather the toll that this behavior is having on productivity as well as the potential long-term cost for the company. Let’s be real- money talks.
This can often be a laborious and frustrating process. But if you don’t play their game they can fault you on a technicality. “Oh golly, if only you would’ve filled out this form, we could’ve handled this months ago!” You and I both know that form isn’t going to change jack squat but do it anyway to head off any bureaucratic tail covering.
Maintain your sense of calm.
Take time to meditate so that you can find your center. Surround yourself with quotes and positive affirmations. Keep coming back to who you are- a good person. A kind person. If you want to be taken seriously (and hopefully oust your bully) you have to remain unemotional.
In the future…
Interview the company.
Really. When you are being interviewed for a potential position, have questions prepared. Ask why the last person left. Ask to tour the office. Take note of the vibe. Look at people’s face. Read between the lines. If you get a bad feeling, don’t talk yourself out of it. Jobs taken out of desperation often end just as relationships taken the same way-badly and with an undercurrent of abuse.
The next time you get a whiff of someone targeting you, speak up immediately. It may be uncomfortable, but will be far less uncomfortable than dealing with the pervasive abuse of a bully. Confront and ask questions. “I noticed that you seemed to take issue with something I said in the meeting. Can you help me understand that?” This is usually enough to catch them by surprise and send the message that you will not take their abuse quietly.
Do not engage.
If confrontation doesn’t work and they continue to poke and peck, ignore. Document, but ignore. They do not honor logic, truth or decency, so unless you want to stoop to their level(you don’t) this is not a game you have any interest in playing.
Seventy five percent of all workers will experience workplace bullying in their lifetime. But you can take your power back. Know yourself, know your worth, and maintain your calm.