Bullying doesn’t just happen at school. It’s happening in the workplace. Whether it’s in an office or a football field, co-workers are bullying other co-workers. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, approximately “35% of the U.S. workforce (an estimated 53.5 million Americans) reported being bullied at work; an additional 15% witness it”; furthermore, in their latest research they found that “68% of bullies are men, and women bullies target women in 80% of cases” 1
Bullying has to do with power and control. It can manifest itself in the form of mental and/or physical abuse. At work, it’s harder for physical abuse to happen because if there were a physical altercation, then the person would be fired and arrested. Instead, mental abuse tends to be the most prevalent form of bullying that happens at work.
Why does bullying happen? It happens when a person (the bully) believes that he or she has power or control over another person (the bullied). Bullies seek out individuals that they can manipulate and control. They do this by putting their co-workers to the test. These tests are not always obvious.
For example, you can be on a conference call and someone asks you a question but before you can answer, two, three, four more questions are being thrown at you by the same person.
This rapid fire questioning is purposely done to catch you off guard and make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing in front of others. On the surface it looks like the person asking the questions is just being thorough but the fact that the person doesn’t let you answer leads one to question the motivate behind the questioning.
Their goal is to see how far they can push their intended target. If they find that they get push back from the person they are intending to bully, the bully tends to back off; however, if the person does not push back, then the bully has found a new emotional punching bag.
Unlike the school ground, where kids are unable to hide their facial expressions, adult bullies have a better poker face and usually come across as charming and very likable. Bullies are manipulative, self-centered, and, in some cases, sociopaths. This means that many times you may not be aware that you are being bullied until it’s too late.
How do you know if you are being bullied? Bullying can either be in your face or it can grow over time. For example, you come to an agreement with a co-worker that you are going to deliver a project on March 15th even though they really want it on March 1st. Then you find out your co-worker had sent a note to your management thanking you for all your hard work and that you are planning to deliver your project on March 1st. This coercive tactic is an in your face type of bullying.
Your co-worker is getting their way by forcing you to deliver on a timeline you know will be difficult to meet; hence, setting you up to fail. This person has used power to manipulate you to get what he or she wants on the timelines he or she wants it.
A grow over time bullying is much more subtle. On the surface it can perceived that the person is just being bitchy; however, over time, that bitchiness is a tactic to manipulate you to get their way.
For example, let’s say during your weekly team meeting, your boss says, “training for the new template is being held next Monday. I better not hear ‘Uhhh, I don’t know how to complete these templates because no one explained to me what I need to do.’”
In addition to sounding bitchy, the condescending and patronizing tone leads one to believe that your boss doesn’t really think highly of you and your team, and that any complaints on the new process will not be tolerated.
This type of hidden bullying happens all the time. It’s when someone wants you to do something by making you feel guilty or incompetent. It’s harder to detect because it’s hidden behind something that is “supposed” to help you. This becomes a problem when you’re finding yourself avoiding the person because he or she nags you until you do as what he or she wants.
What can you do when you are being bullied at work?
Bullying can happen in many ways: in person, via email, via social networking sites, on the phone, etc. It’s important to know that bullying needs to happen more than two times before taking action. That’s because people sometimes have days that they are not their best. So you will have to give them the benefit of the doubt; however, if it’s a behavior that you’ve noticed is continuous, then you know you have a problem. Let me know what you think. I’m really interested in hearing your story.
Bernardo Tirado, PMP @thePMObox
Bernardo covers leadership and technology for PsychologyToday.com. In addition to being an industrial psychologist, he’s certified as a Six Sigma Blackbelt, Project Management Professional, Body Language Expert, and is a Certified Trainer in Analytical Interviewing.