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Sticks and stones

may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Totally untrue, says Gary Namie, co-author of “The Bully at Work” and co-founder of the national nonprofit Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, WA.

Bullying is in Iowa headlines because there’s a legislative bill to ban bullying in schools. That, combined with the recent training on discrimination and harassment makes me ask…What about bullying in the workplace?

The institute defines workplace bullying as
Repeated, health impairing mistreatment comprised of one or more of the following:
1. verbal abuse
2. threatening, intimidating conduct
3. work interference

Consider the research.
• Bullying is three times more prevalent than illegal, discriminatory harassment.
• Women harassing women constitutes 50% of the bullying.
• One in six employees directly experience workplace bullying.
• 71% of bullies are bosses.
• Seven out of ten who are bullied will leave their jobs or be forced out of jobs they love.

Bullying is far worse than incivility or rudeness.
Namie says the industries most prone to bullying are health care and education. Why? There’s cut-throat competition and the workplaces are political.

Giovinella Gonthier, author of “Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace”, says bullies thrive on creating fear. They engage in hostile behavior such as criticizing the work and accomplishments of others, threatening job loss, yelling and screaming and making derogatory remarks.

Why do bullies bully? Namie says it’s a simple list.
1. Workers are pitted against workers; one way to advance is to exploit others.
2. Ambitious, zealous, Machiavellian types who manipulate others to reach their own goals are tolerated. It may be the definition of success.
3. The employer supports aggression with promotions and rewards.

Who is the target of bullying in the workplace?
The self-starter who is feisty and independent
A person who is technically more skilled than the bully
The target is more emotionally intelligent and socially adept than the bully; the target is well-liked
The target is ethical and honest to a fault
The target is not a confrontational person. He or she does not respond. Frankly, the target is stunned and bewildered. The target is convinced he or she can overcome this. It’s all shame-based; the target feels shame. The target comes to believe he or she is incompetent. It’s a disassembly of the target’s personality.

Don’t worry about the bully’s motives. Take action.
1. Name it bullying. It’s not discrimination of a protected class. There’s no law against cruelty. There’s a person that is the source of the bullying.
2. Take time off to do four things.
a. Check your physical health; often it’s a physician that will name bullying—you have high blood pressure, clinical depression, panic attacks or shingles.
b. Check your mental health.
c. See if there’s recourse within the company; consult a legal professional.
d. Build the business case that the bully is too expensive to keep. What is the financial impact to the company? Document the cost of turnover, absenteeism, health care needed. Bullying interferes with productivity. It causes a serious disruption to the flow of work.
3. Expose the bully. Take your documented business case to the highest level in the organization you can.

Be assertive.
While you’re working on the three steps, Namie says relieve stress by changing the work environment. Ask to transfer jobs or tap the power of your coworker group. You need the social support of your family and coworkers. Coworkers abandon the target because they’re really glad it’s not them. Ask for their support; ask “did you see what happened to me?” Bullies are narcissistic. A bully is insecure and afraid of confrontation by a group of coworkers or peers. Nurses in an operating suite encircle the bully surgeon and demand an apology.

Workplace bullying is a lot like domestic violence. The bully creates a toxic environment. In other countries bullying is the subject of workplace policies. The United States needs to take a lesson.

Workplace Bullying Institute, http://www.bullyinginstitute.org/focus.html
Workplace Bullying from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workplace_bullying
Bullying in the Workplace on Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/bullying.html
Bullying in the Workplace - An acceptable cost? Dissertation by Andy Ellis, Ruskin College, Oxford, UK, http://www.workplacebullying.co.uk/aethesis.html

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and injustice."
--Robert F. Kennedy, U.S. attorney general and senator (1925-1968)


powerful stuff here, Lynette.

I think we've all experienced this sort of aggressive behavior, or witnessed it. The challenge is for each of us to put forth the effort (personal risk) to stop it in the moment, even when we are not the bullied ourselves.