Learning Points: A helping hand to confront bullying in the workplace

My work life has become unbearable. My boss has an issue with me. He treats me differently than my colleagues. He never listens when I have a suggestion and often ridicules me. He has a very derogatory name he calls me; my colleagues are uncomfortable with it, but they never say anything.

Recently, I’ve started to avoid work. I have a lot of responsibilities, with bills and children, so I cannot afford to miss work. I feel isolated and I’m worried I’m going to lose my job. I was bullied when I was in school and this is bringing all that back up for me.

My wife tells me to stand up to him, but I don’t know how I can. How can I stand up to my boss? I really need help.

Picture: iStock
Picture: iStock

Thank you for your letter. You are having a difficult time. Firstly, I am very sorry that you were bullied when you were growing up. Being bullied can stay with you for a lifetime. But it can also make you strong.

You survived it. So, you are resilient and you are strong. A lot stronger than you give yourself credit for.

When we become targeted by a bully, we so often blame ourselves. We internalise it and say something like, ‘they must have spotted that I was weak’ or ‘it’s my fault: I stood out’. This gives the bully far more power than they ever had.

Being bullied doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you; it means there is something wrong with the bully.

They might have seen something in you that they wished they had and that is why they targeted you. I was talking with a client recently, who bullied his classmates because he wanted them to feel how his dad made him feel.

There was such terrible shame and sadness in the room, as he delineated all the pain he had brought into his classmates’ lives.

How important it would be for those children who were bullied to hear this, because they are probably blaming themselves. And, of course, it is not about them. It is never really about the person being targeted.

You were bullied as a child and now you find yourself in the presence of another bully. You are not that child anymore. It’s about time you realised that. It’s about time you valued yourself, and, yes, you can stand up to your boss. Just because he is your boss does not give him the right to treat you this way.

You are only a victim as long as you view yourself as a victim. What advice would you give to your younger self, if he were sitting in front of you? More than likely, you would tell that child to stand up for himself, not to allow anyone diminish him, and to hang in there, because it will all work out.

People treat us how we allow them to treat us. That’s not about blame, but about understanding that when we value ourselves, people see that and interact with us accordingly.

When a bully sees that someone has a poor sense of self, they target them, because they reflect something back about themselves that they don’t like.

Anyone who has a positive sense of self does not engage in bullying behaviour. Therefore, bullies are weak.

Knowing that should shift how you see your boss. He is weak and obviously should not be in a position of power.

That said: what are you going to do about it? Are you going to avoid work and let him position you like that? You are a father now. What will you tell your children about handling bullies. We all meet them: so what will you say? Run away from them?

It is about time you shook off your childhood experiences: you are not a child anymore.

    This just might be the time you found the strength you have to deal with this situation:
  • 1. Build your case. Record every incident that occurs
  • 2. When he calls you the name that is designed to diminish you, tell him, in front of your colleagues, ‘please stop calling me that, it’s childish and inappropriate’. By staying silent, you are complicit. Never give a bully that power. When you call a bully out on their behaviour, they generally never do it again. Because they know they cannot get away with it.
  • 3. If his behaviour continues, talk to HR, and explain what is happening to you
  • 4. I would speak with your boss and calmly explain how you have experienced him in work. Make a record of the conversation. He is not untouchable. I’d imagine you are not the first person who has experienced him in this way. You might be the last, if he knows he cannot get away with it

Remember, it is the bully that has a problem, not the person they target. The more you suffer in silence, the more power you are giving him.

A bully exists in those silent spaces. Take that from him, show your colleagues you are no longer going to accept his behaviour, and show that child in you that you are someone to be valued and respected.

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