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Bullying can destroy jobs, relationships, lives and damages the soul of all within the bullying cycle ...

Bullying in the workplace is open or covert abuse of power ...

Obvious ...

...shouting and or threatening verbal or physical... throwing a book down on a desk as a response to something you've said, pushing and shoving, screaming, slamming a door in your face; or it can be

Subtle ...

...a look or sly comment, a reference to some trait you have or something you've said in the past, something to demean or disorient you; or invidious... withholding information so you cannot do your job, spreading rumours, changing workplace practices without consultation, humiliating comments to you in front of other employees, ignoring you when in a group of people. cutting you short in conversations, interrupting and not letting you finish your sentences



More often than not bullying in the workplace is perpetuated by supervisors, managers, executives, business owners... but is not confined to that group. Often colleagues who are pathological (exhibiting behaviour of a nature that is habitual, maladaptive, or compulsive) will play this out in their immediate surroundings.

Where the latter is the case you may take your complaint to your or their supervisor. Sometimes the behaviour of the bully has already been noted and it only takes a word or two from you to make significant changes.

Despair and frustration ...

Where you are being bullied by a supervisor, coach, manager or someone in a superior position a position of authority, the choices become less easy to identify. Sometimes it this fact alone that can cause despair and great frustration for the person being bullied.

If you say something directly to the bully, where she or he is your boss, you will inevitably suffer the wrath of that person. Bullies rarely admit to their behaviour. bullies often take the stance that they are king or queen and will not be thwarted. Often the bullying is a passive aggressive nature and difficult to prove or for people other than the person being bullied to identify.

One thing to remember here is to keep your cool... abusing the bully, even inadvertently, even where it is quite justified, inflames the situation and makes the bully even more determined... often a trait attributed to bullies is that "they will not be thwarted." Once a bully has you in sight their aim is to get you angry so you will react, or make you frustrated and disorientated so your health and wellbeing are affected badly. Bullying can kill.

If you do speak up you may find yourself being further singled out for special treatment and your ability to fulfil your job requirements becomes difficult and your job security is jeopardised.

Singled out ...

Once the cycle of bullying is established it can be difficult to change. Where you feel you are being singled out by the bully the avenues you can take are limited by your organisation's culture —

  • what are the norms of the organisation,
  • is shouting and threatening behaviour (covert and passive-aggressive) part of the organisation's culture,
  • what are the expectations of the organisation,
  • how things operate within the organisation's structures,
  • is there a procedure or process for complaints,
  • has this occurred before, what happened then,
  • is there accountability for each section, manager, the directors.

Bullying is most invidious when your boss whittles away at you by ignoring you, withholding information, attacking you personally, spreading rumours, or generally making things hard for you to do your job... then criticising you for not doing your job.
Your bully may pounce on every minor indiscretion you make... citing it as cause for concern without listening to your side of the story.

Every complaint has a complainer and a "complainee" Without having the chance to answer the complaint the victim of bullying behaviour is stuck... unable to defend him/herself, neutralised, unable to take action (often events have long passed and no one remembers the exact words or actions), and demoralised by this inability to be heard.

This is a dilemma of liberty, freedom to speak, freedom of dissent, freedom to be oneself... often a standard set by institutes or organisations in their statements of ethical behaviour is the principle of equality and fairness in the workplace... giving people the right to state their case, be heard and the right of reply. Bullies frequently don't follow these precepts and often make things come to a head before the bullied can organise a defence.

This quote from On Liberty, by John Stuart Mills in the 1850's are just as applicable today:

". . . however true an opinion may be, if it is not fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as dead dogma, not a living truth."


Unaccountable bosses ... or "who died and made you queen?"
Bullies are frequently high flyers, frustrated CEO's (often the only head of a group and unaccountable) and often covert and secretive in their bullying behaviour. Other people who are not privy to the bully's actions, words and behaviour are mystified when these events are discussed.

A classic bully would criticise you for minor indiscretions, often in front of other people (legitimate but minor mistakes you may have made) and make asides and give sideways glances when you are answering the complaint.

Group bullying ...
Other people under her (or his) control (for instance, if she is the boss who determines who is hired and fired) are actually being bullied as a group. She (or he) will have taken these people aside individually and drawn them into her (or his) culture of enmeshment ("divide and conquer" or "divide and rule" is classic example of this behaviour) and in private discussed "...how Mary is behaving..." and ..."I've heard she was rude to someone..." in order to establish the "deviant behaviour of the bullied as taken for granted... a fait accompli."

Once this idea is accepted people will tend to behave toward that person as the outsider. They will use the fear of reprisal from the bully as an excuse to make things difficult for the bullied just like the boss does. After all, they are just protecting their position.
This is threatening behaviour by the bully to all of the group. If they disagree with the bully they might suffer the same consequences the bullied suffers.

Staff meetings

Bullying behaviour can occur anywhere and at anytime... at the discretion of the person in the superior position. Few bosses understand the full implication of their responsibility to the fair and equitable environment within an organisation. One question to ask you future boss is "How often do you have staff meetings?" When the answer is never or once a quarter or occasionally, you know this organisation is a "divide and rule" workplace.

  • If there is no forum (regular meetings,
  • memos, newsletters) ...
  • where all the workers have "the knowledge"...
  • where no one really knows what is really being said,
  • where no one is responsible for,
  • where no one knows who decides what or why it is decided,
  • where the goals of the organisation are hidden...
  • ...or if things just suddenly change...
  • where unilateral decisions are made without consultation,
  • where the revolving door syndrome occurs and many people just disappear overnight,
  • where work practises are changed after many years of an accepted way of doing things, without discussion,
  • where "we all have to be aware of the mood of the boss" syndrome, because she (or he) might turna nasty way with out notice, snarling and biting remarks if the mood takes her (or him),
  • where the "walking on eggshell" mentality permeates the office culture, causing unreasonable stress...
  • ...where these things are happening there is a clear case for thinking that there is a bully at work who is in control and uses passive aggressive methods to get her (or his) way.

If you see this behaviour happening to someone in your workplace, watch out, because one day it may be you. Bullies think they are invincible, and where they are the boss they often are invincible... my guess is that at some stage their time will come... is it today you ask... maybe.


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Philip Johnson operates the choosingchange clinic at 147 King Street, Sydney CBD.
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