• Fri, Mar 23 2012

Bullish: Getting Bullish on Bullies

"The One With the Bullies"

According to HowToDealWithBullies.com (I wonder what that website could possibly be about?):

The first action you can take to stop this type of bullying is to inform the manager of your feelings.  If you belong to a union, or have an employee representative available, you may want to take them with you.  Practice what you will say with a family member or trusted friend first to be sure you are staying professional.  When dealing with an abusive boss, you should follow the proper channels as much as possible.

According to CIO.com (which also, interestingly, reports that bullies are 50% male and 50% female, but that 84% of victims are women):

Don’t try and enlist the help of your HR department. HR can be the chilliest place any employee can visit, and also one of the most dangerous. HR’s allegiance is to the employer—and its goal is protecting the employer from legal claims. Approach rarely, with caution, and only when fully prepared.

And, as Dawn reported, different bullies respond to different things. Some HR departments are helpful and some are staffed by evil minions. Sometimes, confrontation stops bullying, and sometimes it makes it worse. I’m sure it also makes a difference whether the bullying is obvious to everyone, whether others are also being bullied, and whether the bully is a boss or a peer.

In fact, Kidshealth.org gives two very different motivations that your bully may have:

Although most bullies think they’re hot stuff and have the right to push people around, others are actually insecure. They put other people down to make themselves feel more interesting or powerful. And some bullies act the way they do because they’ve been hurt by bullies in the past — maybe even a bullying figure in their own family, like a parent or other adult.

Some bullies actually have personality disorders that don’t allow them to understand normal social emotions like guilt, empathy, compassion, or remorse. These people need help from a mental health professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Oh, good! Maybe your bully is just insecure! And a victim of another bully, thus creating a daisy-chain of bullies that you may be tempted to perpetuate when someone even more vulnerable came along! (Dear first-grade classmate Jack: I’m sorry for making fun of your dozens and dozens of warts. I was also miserable! I hope you are rich and handsome now.)

But maybe your bully is actually a serial killer.

So, what can we say about bullying overall, other than that there’s no easy answer? (Blah.)

Here’s my thought: Where does bullying happen?

At school, of course. At work. In jail.

That is, bullying on a continued basis requires a captive audience.

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  • Valarie

    So, I work at a mid size non profit. I am bullied by my supervisor. she is the operations manager, and also, our HR person. How do I handle this?

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  • HTompkins

    I have never been bullied – EVER – by anyone other than my father. The strange benefit of child abuse, for me, was that there was nothing anyone could do that would be worse than what I was already experiencing. At home, I knew I was powerless (if I wanted to stay alive) but out in the world I knew I could stand up for myself.

    The key is knowing who you are and being able to set boundaries fucking IMMEDIATELY and be willing to tolerate absolutely NOTHING you do not deserve. Believe me, others can feel that kind of conviction.

    For example, on one of the first dates my now-husband and I went on, he made a crack about my weight. I gave him a ‘look’ and then sat there and aggressively ignored him – no conversation or even eye contact – for the rest of the meal. I was, of course, excessively polite to our waiter. He apologized. And then paid.

    On the flip side, there is a woman at the legal office I work at now who never takes lunch. Apparently, on her first day 20 years ago, the attorney handed her an assignment right when she was out on her way to lunch and she stayed and finished it…without subsequently taking a lunch. She seems baffled that other people who work with this guy ‘get to take lunch’.

    The fact of the matter is that if you are more afraid of confrontation than you are of protecting your space, mental or physical, then you will get bullied.

    Sometimes people, especially women, confuse being assertive with being aggressive. They make the mistake of thinking that the opposite of being non-confrontational/passive is confrontational/aggressive because, in their minds, aggressive = bad but the truth is that it is more of a sliding scale.

    Everyone needs a little bit of Rambo in their constitution.

  • HTompkins

    Whoops! Sorry for the crazy comment length.

  • IMC

    I know this isn’t helpful, or at least isn’t helpful unless I start freelancing as an occult practitioner. I used to work for a large university. The office secretary was *horrible* to me. Rude. Abusive. Selectively deaf. She was my boss’s secretary and there were really only a few jobs on which we needed to interact. She still found opportunities to treat me like gum on the bottom of her shoe. My boss did nothing whatsoever about it, though I made her aware of the problem. I used to wish that the secretary would be hit by a truck.

    I left that job, and one day several years later I got an email from a colleague who still worked for that university. A university maintenance truck had backed into the horrible secretary. She wasn’t badly hurt–just bruised, and took a few days off to recuperate.

    I was beyond gleeful. I have since permanently solved the bullying problem by going freelance, but I am still happy every time I think about this. I hear the truck’s backing-up noise in my head, and I smile. Beep…beep…beep….

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