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How to Tell If It’s Workplace Bullying Behavior: Protecting Yourself and Moving Forward

By Valerie Cade CSP

Here’s a scenario:

Judy works for a company where Michelle is the receptionist.  Michelle does not directly report to Judy, but Judy does have a higher position in the company. Michelle ignores Judy when Judy says hello when she comes to work.  Michelle “forgets” to handle tasks Judy has asked her to do, and does not include Judy in important emails, thereby holding information back from Judy that she needs in order to get her job done effectively.

What happened:

Judy went to her boss first and her boss’s advice was to be “nice” to Michelle and buy her coffee in the mornings – to reach out.  Judy did this, and nothing changed.  In fact, Michelle said she didn’t even like that brand of coffee.

Then:

Judy attempted to try and influence Michelle by talking directly with her in order to hopefully come to an agreement.  Judy said:

“When you ignore me when I come into work…

“I feel hurt and left out…

“What I’d like is for you to acknowledge me with a hello when I come into work.”

The key: “Can you do this – Yes or No?”

Michelle replied with “Well, if I wasn’t so overloaded…” (excuse:  not wanting to hear Judy).

Judy persisted, and said “I can see you’re busy, but is that a Yes or a No?”

Michelle said “I don’t know what you’re talking about – you’re so sensitive.” (deflection).

Michelle’s responses are discounting and minimize Judy’s feelings.  They are classic techniques bullies use to avoid a healthy dialogue for win-win resolution.  Bullies don’t want resolution; they want control over you.

This is when Judy knew for sure that Michelle’s behavior was bullying behavior:

  • It was deliberate – no one else was treated this way;
  • It was repeated;
  • It was disrespectful and harmed Judy – holding her back from a healthy synergistic relationship that co-workers should have with each another.

Michelle denied the olive branch and failed the test – she chose ‘power over’ by trying to discount and minimize Judy’s requests.

Now What Should Judy Do?

  1. Stop buying coffee and stop trying to rationalize with Michelle – no more fantasizing “Maybe if I bought Michelle another kind of coffee, or brought in homemade cookies…”.  Stop.  This is how you can bullyproof yourself.
  2. Document exactly what happened in detail, and ask for a quiet meeting with her direct boss (who has authority).
  3. If Judy’s boss does not acknowledge the crucial conversation request, Judy should have a Crucial Conversation with Michelle’s boss, who has authoritative power over Michelle.  Judy should ask specifically for what she wants, using the Crucial Conversation planner, and not let the boss brush her off.  She could bring the boss a coffee, if she wants!

    Key: The authoritative power is part of your intervention tool kit.  You need this help to deal with a manipulative “out to get you” bully.

    Valerie Cade, CSP is a Workplace Bullying Expert, Speaker and Author of “Bully Free at Work:  What You Can Do To Stop Workplace Bullying Now!” which has been distributed in over 100 countries worldwide.  For presentations and consulting on workplace bullying prevention and respectful workplace implementation, go to  http://www.bullyfreeatwork.com

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    Topics: Tips | 1 Comment »

    One Response to “How to Tell If It’s Workplace Bullying Behavior: Protecting Yourself and Moving Forward”

    1. Andy Horton Says:
      November 9th, 2011 at 6:48 am

      This is a personality conflict rather than bullying. Some people you like, some you dislike, but most are neutral. I cannot see what can be done about this, but by carefully choosing your staff.

      If the crux came down to it, the receptionist will make claims of bullying/haughtiness against the management.

      I would not employ a “catty” receptionist. They cause too much trouble with the staff that do the real work. As a boss, I would have to analyse the situation much better than you have done.

      I have been through this situation. I left and I wasn’t the receptionist. Some people just do not get on with each other. It is worse with close neighbours.

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