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Workplace Bullying: You Want to Tell Your Manager About Workplace Bullying–But Is She Listening?

Some managers don’t trust that just listening, which communicates plain old-fashioned empathy, goes a long way.

• She’s staring into space as you tell her what the workplace bully is doing.
• He’s checking his watch.
• She’s answering an email as you present your facts.

Are these managers listening?

It is likely they are not. That’s a problem for you, because you sense that the manager doesn’t care. It’s a problem for your manager because she’s taking a step closer to losing a valued employee.

Regarding the workplace and bullying, studies show that 75 percent of employees that are being bullied don’t report the bullying to their manager. Now we know why:

• The employee does not feel the manager listens.
• The employee feels the manager will not support them.
• The employee is not clear on what to say. Often, the employee is emotional and unable to speak clearly. (Hint: if this is the case, why not ask your boss to simply listen and not to try and fix the problem or cut you off.) Do you want someone to just empathize with you first? If so, ask for your boss to “lend her ears” to you. Then you can talk resolution later.

Eighty-five percent of employees experiencing workplace bullying will eventually leave. For a manager, these statistics mean one thing: to make sure employees remain loyal to the company, managers must listen when an employee brings information forward about being bullied in the workplace.

Here are several ways to determine if your manager is listening.

• Is the manager giving you her full attention? Staring into space, checking the time and answering email tell you the answer is, “no.” In Western cultures, eye contact between speaker and listener is very important. If the manager isn’t looking at your face for the majority of the time you’re speaking, it’s a pretty good bet she’s not listening.
• Does the manager interrupt as you tell about the workplace bully’s behavior? When the manager interrupts, it’s often because he wants to “hold the floor,” instead of letting you speak. Remember to let your manager know you want to have them hear you out.

Sometimes, however, he’s asking for clarification (for example, “When did this happen?” “Has the person behaved in that way before?”). Learn to take your cue from the manager’s tone. Is he trying to draw you out to learn more? That’s a good thing. Or is he cross-examining you?

• Does the manager quickly jump to a conclusion and give you a solution? Some people feel they have to have a solution to every problem. As we said earlier, they don’t trust that just listening, which communicates plain old fashioned empathy, goes a long way. The solution may come from a discussion between manager and employee. The manager really does not have to have all the answers.
• Is the manager discouraging you from speaking? If the manager is shaking his head to indicate “no” or passively listening with no response, you’re not getting much encouragement to go on. A good listener uses nonverbal behavior, like shaking his head “yes”; encouraging responses like, “go ahead,” “take your time”; and active listening (for example, asking appropriate questions) to encourage others to speak.

Workplace bullying is a sensitive topic that requires a manager to have good listening skills. Knowing a manager cares about a bullying situation that is occurring is a big step toward supporting the employee.

If you would like to help someone listen better, why not share all or part of this article with others to let them know what you want? Say, “I wouldn’t mind your opinion on this,” and see what they tell you!

Valerie Cade, Founder
Bully Free at Work