Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bullying in the Workplace and Elsewhere

You’re on the road driving to where you need to get to and suddenly there’s someone in a hurry behind you. Your attention is drawn from the things in front of you to those in your rear view mirror. You’re getting nervous as the driver of the car behind yours is visibly frustrated and upset, motioning with annoyed hand signals for you to get out of his or her way. Sound familiar? I don’t know about you, but this occurs to me occasionally (I drive probably 20+ hours per week)—and I religiously stick to the posted speed limits. (Perhaps that’s the problem?)

This situation highlights a deeper, more insidious problem. It’s bullying of course—the paradoxical aggression of rampant, hidden fear in the aggressor.

We all dealt with this in the school yard many years ago and we deal with it today via our kids (in their own school experience) and we hear about it everywhere:

“A new survey’s found bullying is rife in AUSTRALIAN workplaces...

“Half of workers quizzed say they witnessed bullying... with silence... isolation... insults and sarcasm the most common taunts in the office...

“Psychologist Evelyn Field says many businesses aren’t addressing the issue properly...

‘The fact is, is that where there is bullying, it’s a sign of poor management, and a toxic culture, and everyone is affected, including the bottom line.’[1]

I suppose it’s not only business that’s struggling with the nemesis that bullying is.

The key concern here is, ‘What sets up the circumstances that lend themselves to bullying.’ I propose it’s fear. Aggression usually follows rank and file behind fear.

Think about this issue from the side of the bully.

“No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its power of acting and reasoning as fear.” –Edmund Burke.

We should remember what it’s like to be absolutely controlled by fear—it’s no easy street—we’ve all experienced the sort of fear a bully experiences. It’s the time we’ve been rejected. The bully wasn’t/isn’t loved and he or she suffers as a result.

But what can we really do about it other than empathise with what drives the bully?

We can choose not to be intimidated by them. And if that doesn’t work, we use another form of courage after warning them to stop; that is, we tell on them. We make a report. But it’s important for us to stick to the facts of what was said and/or done and how it made us feel.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

[1] Jarod Warwick, News Presentation (8am Edition, 8 September 2009) on 98.5 Sonshine FM www.sonshinefm.ws. This survey was conducted by the group Drake International and if you Google “bullying in the workplace” and search through news items, you can find more detailed information on this topic.

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