Are you Being Bullied at Work? - [website] Email Print
Published: 28th of Nov 2019 by: Carolyn Kessler

Most of us think that bullying is confined to the playground. Unfortunately, it’s alive and flourishing in countless workplaces around the country.

Whilst we'd like to believe that, once we've matured and grown into adults, this type of cruel and 'childish' behaviour works its way out of a person's system. Sadly it's my experience, both as a trainer and having been in business for quite some time, that this same dynamic is wreaking havoc in many companies.

Those who were bullies at school can certainly carry this behaviour with them into the workplace without proper intervention. It is essential they address the reasons they succumbed to this self-destructive behaviour in the first place; they need to be able to recognise that it's wrong and can be altered if the will is there.

They tend to choose their victims strategically; often there's a power differential at play which can set the subordinate up for victimhood. Your hardened bully is very adept at sussing out peoples' vulnerabilities and using those to his/her advantage.

Understand this phenomenon is not limited to gender, culture, age range or any other such factors. It's about power- just power.

Interestingly, I have found that those in positions above the bully can be almost as vulnerable as those on the same level or below. Sometimes more so, because they have their authority and credibility challenged in an ongoing basis, often in a sneaky, clandestine way. In essence, very few people are immune to the manipulations of the office bully, unless they have a very solid understanding of themselves and their worth and simply refuse to be cowed.

How to protect yourself:

• Know your worth and refuse to allow someone else to define it for you. If you make a mistake or don’t know something, that’s all it is. What it is not, is a reflection of your worth as a human being.

Learn how to "grey rock" the manipulator. This is a very clever technique which involves you stepping out of an emotionally charged dynamic by simply murmuring things like: "I hear you, however I have decided to try it this way first", or "I hear you- interesting". What this type of phraseology has that’s unique, is the fact that it allows you to remain fully disengaged from any kind of power play. You're saying to yourself and the other person: "This is not a game which I'm prepared to play", without actually using those words. Emotion is what fuels these peoples' cruel behaviour, and your refusal to 'emote' when challenged, is akin to taking on the completely implacable aspects of a grey rock. You’re not rude, you simply don't need to defend your decisions- therefore you remain in control of yourself.

Approach a senior person, where possible, immediately you have ascertained that you’re being targeted. Use specific examples and explain how and why you need the situation to change. Go with an open mind looking for perspective, but ensure you’re heard. I know this is a difficult one because, very often, the bully has been at pains to align herself/himself with those in command.

If none of these options are effective, and the situation starts to undermine your image of yourself and your abilities, you should actively identify and internalise tools essential to removing your victim status. Help can come in various forms, ie: counselling either within the company or externally, training on assertive and other communication skills, debriefing with a friend who’ll be able to give you perspective etc.

Start to internalise these skills by putting them into practise.

Finally, if there is no shift in the situation, consider moving jobs. This sounds drastic, and I didn't suggest it as a first choice because I feel developing the skills to effectively deal with bullies is a priority. Simply moving positions does not guarantee you won't run into another of these difficult people. Gaining the skills will go a long way to ensuring you recognise the behaviour and don’t automatically fall victim to the next bully you meet.

However, if the situation has become untenable, move as soon as you can whilst resolving to learn the skills I have mentioned above, at the earliest opportunity.


Our Assertiveness workshop addresses calm, honest and confident communication- the exact opposite of the manipulative, dishonest forms of communication synonymous with bullying.

Email us at info@StaffTraining.co.za for more info or give us a call at 0861 996 660
Staff Training is a South African soft skills training provider with more than 60 workshops on offer.


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