Monday, August 25, 2014

Workplace Bullying/Abuse: Why confronting the bully and asking him/her to stop fails

Right: "The Old Man of Storr" on the Isle of Skye in Scotland

I started this post yesterday and was tending to focus solely on the aspect of isolation and exclusion in the workplace as one indicator of workplace bullying/abuse as this was the behaviour directed at me.  But, me being me, I decided to look up indications of workplace bullying on the net.  There is a wealth of information out there.  More than there was six years ago in 2009 when I first perceived that I might, maybe, perhaps being bullied in the workplace and found, to my chagrin, that I was right on.  I WAS being bullied.

Even then, though, there were still plenty of articles and resources to go to on the net ... for both the bullied worker and those in management and HR.  There have also been programs about workplace bullying on radio.  I am thinking specifically of CBC and their morning program "The Current".  I listened to some of their programs about bullying and suggested to my current manager that she listen to them too to get a broader understanding about workplace bullying, what it is, how it happened, etc.  I even had the URL links to give her to access the specific program I was thinking of. Her response:  "I wouldn't get the same things out of it that you do."  Sigh.

I think her response is true in one sense, but that it is also short-sighted in another.  As a manager, she's not going to see it the same way as I, the target sitting in the all-too-confining trenches, do.  BUT ....  But there is also the possibility that listening to these programs would give her a different viewpoint, a different perspective on workplace bullying.  For instance, that it is real.  That it is a real concern.  Some of the dynamics involved.  And that it might, perhaps, maybe be happening in her own office with employees under her.

One thing that really struck home in one of these programs was that often HR facilitates the bullying process by asking the target to ask the bully to stop the behaviour.  This might sound reasonable ... for a reasonable person that is.  But workplace bullying is not about being reasonable.  It's not about resolving the issue and backing off or changing.  It's about maintaining the status quo.  It's about power and control

For instance, my workplace asked me to respond to my aggressors with "When you ... I feel" each time something happened so that they would know that these behaviours were offensive to me.  Finally, I was given the direction to confront the individual(s) involved and ask them to stop the behaviour.

I learned the hard way from experience that this is the worst thing the target can do IF the bully is truly intending to target one employee.  If this behaviour is not intentional, then the individual involved will likely back off immediately.  However, if the behaviour is intentional, the worker will turn on the target ... and gain more power.

This is what happened to me in the workplace.  This was also verbalized in a "The Current" broadcast while I was still employed.  At least the part about it being the worst thing a target can do as bullying is about power and control, and the target will always lose another slice of control over the situation.

In my situation, when I confronted one of the people, alone in the office because I felt it would be very disrespectful to broach this issue in the open office, she turned on me.  She told me I was being very confrontational in that I kept telling her the "when you ... I feel" scenario.  She took that as confrontational because it was saying something negative about her behaviour.  Then she demanded that I stop being "confrontational" i.e. I stop saying anything not complimentary about her behaviour.  Being a non-confrontational person by nature, I was at a loss as how to respond, how to proceed.  I badly needed someone there to help me out - and there was no one.  I told her that I'd been told to do this.  She demanded to know by whom.  I refused to divulge that information as it had been HR, and I figured that was going to bring the confrontation to a whole new level.  Her eyes were expressionless.  Her tone, I felt, was threatening.  She said in what I consider a dark, threatening tone of voice, "That person better mind their own business."

I was shaking.  I was scared.  I perceived that if this individual felt that her job was threatened, she could get violent.    I admit it was a perception but it was based on the sensory data I was receiving at the time ... and also past experience.  As a university student, I'd had a former roommate come at me intent on  what?  strangling me?  I'll never know for sure; however, this I do know, she had found out that I'd revealed she was smoking pot in our dorm room.  I had inadvertently threatened her by revealing this.  I was in someone else's room and that person got the door shut and locked in time.  It was one of the most frightening incidents of my life.  You don't forget something like that - even more than 40 years later.

The intimation was clear - at least to me:  "Back off.  Now.  Or. I. Will. Get. Even. With. You. And. Those. Who. Support. You."

Yes, I admit this was my perception and my assumption.  However, it was based on the sensory data I was receiving at that time ... what I call a "dark" tone of voice, low, threatening; the words themselves that the person who was advising me had better mind their own business which I perceived by the tone of voice as being threatening.  The dead gaze.

I was shaking so badly from the encounter that I was unable to resume my work.  Have you ever tried to input numerical data onto a spreadsheet via keyboard that has to be 100% accurate, no margin for error when your fingers are shaking so badly they feel like they have a mind of their own?  Let me tell you from experience, it doesn't work.  After three tries, I finally gave up and had to ask the person coming in to take over my shift to do it for me.

From that moment on, not only did the behaviours continue on even stronger than before but I. Felt. Fear.  Constantly.  I could no longer perceive of my workplace as a safe place nor my co-workers as safe people.

Workers on top a water tower on South Padre Island, Texas - a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico

And this, my dear reader, is just the pinnacle of the iceberg of workplace bullying/abuse.

Until tomorrow ....

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