The Target in the Bull(y)’s Eye

* This is a guest post from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.

I used to be really happy at work and looked forward to going into my office every day.  Most of the projects I worked on were challenging-in a good way-and engaged my interest and curiosity, I had a great bunch of colleagues, and we were even able to laugh when Murphy’s Law would strike with a vengeance!  Things started to change about six years ago when  a new director was parachuted into the position, despite the fact that it was supposed to have been posted as an open competition:  Therein marked the beginning of the end of the positive, upbeat morale and warm atmosphere that characterized our department.

It became pretty clear, fairly quickly, that this boss’s management style and interpersonal skills were going to be a challenge for all of us at times.  Specifically, we started seeing some “interesting” approaches to anger/stress/frustration management and increasing tendencies to back-bite others in the organization, as well as a reluctance to deal with an occupational health issue on more than one occasion, and periodic bullying of various staff members by our boss. (For the record, I encouraged these individuals to document and report their experiences but they were reluctant to do so, for whatever reasons.)

The Tipping Point

I have a pretty good sense of the tipping point that triggered the Kafka-esque nightmare that has unfolded over the last year, but I may never know for absolute certain (and frankly don’t really care at this point) what twisted perceptions and logic prompted my boss to perceive me as a threat and decide to make me the Target (1) of bullying.  Yes, I did say “perceived as a threat.” I know pop culture and the mush media of sitcoms and most movies poke fun at Targets of bullying by portraying them as nerdy losers, but the reality is quite different in the work place.  The Targets of bullies are usually greatly esteemed by their colleagues (or were before the bully thoroughly poisoned the well), highly skilled,competent, successful, courteous, considerate and pleasant people.  A good site to learn more about this issue is http://www.bullybusters.org.

Over the last year I have experienced various kinds of exclusionary behaviors (being kept out of important information loops, ignored, socially isolated) from my colleagues and my boss, and endured numerous instances of verbal abuse (there are a whole range of actions that go beyond merely yelling, insulting and swearing), crazy making behaviors, unfair practices and a lack of clarity in communications from my boss.  (I counted 24 separate incidents in an eight month period.)

Mistakes

I was fortunate in that I recognized the bullying behaviors for what they were, so I didn’t waste a lot of energy wondering what I’d done “wrong” or blaming myself for what was going on, but I wish I’d started researching more about workplace bullying and, more importantly, how to bully-proof myself MUCH earlier in the process.  Not having those strategies cost me dearly in some ways because, among other things, I made some classic mistakes in how I was responding to the bully.

The second mistake I made was to take my concerns to someone in our H.R. department.  I soon found out, as was later confirmed for me in Gary and Ruth Namie’s book The The Bully at Work that HR people are actually not a resource when it comes to bullied employees; they are there for the employers.

The third mistake that I made, because I was trying to be reasonable and look for a win-win solution, was to agree to a mediated discussion instead of going straight to making a formal complaint and directing it to the president of the organization.  (I’m keeping that option as a backup in case the mediation doesn’t work.)

Finding Help

I’m happy to say that I had also managed to intuitively do a lot of things correctly in this whole process.  As indicated, I recognized the situation for what it was (bullying) so I was able to depersonalize the experience a bit-and meticulously document the incidents, with dates and approximate times.  I had a fabulous support network of loved ones, family and friends who stood by me unequivocally and provided tea, sympathy and hugs as requested.  I also found myself a really good counsellor who uses EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) for reducing the trauma of the experience, as well as a counsellor who specializes in helping Targets to bullyproof themselves and teaching them some effective bullybusting strategies.  The rest of the healing involved taking good care of myself, spending more time meditating and planning how to move on and set up my own small business and being grateful for all that is good in my life.

I would say that in the case of workplace bullying, the sooner one recognizes what is going on in the workplace, and calls it for what it is, the sooner one can accept that about the only way to heal and regain the ability to be happy at work is to get out of the place as soon as is feasible-and in the meantime bullyproof yourself and ruthlessly bullybust as and when required.  I know our western culture is big on promoting the ideals of “toughing it out” and “not giving up”, etc, but those cultural commands will kill your soul–assuming the stress doesn’t literally kill you or make you very ill–if you stay too long in a toxic or abusive workplace.  No job is worth your health and happiness.


(1) Researchers and counsellors who work in the area of bully-busting seem to prefer to use the term “Target” rather than “victim” to describe those on the receiving end of work place bullying behaviors.

Note from Karl: Bullying in the work place is a very serious issue; I went through it. I love how this reader never took the situation personally and was proactive in seeking help. If you are being bullied at your job, please find help.

Comments

  1. Fascinating article. I’ve never seen anything like this, but it probably is because I haven’t looked. Thanks for the enlightening information.

  2. Wow. I thought bullying was just for high school. This sounds terrible, and I feel awful for anyone who has to go through this. This is a great article on the subject and I’m glad you shared it!

  3. I enjoyed reading this article very much.I will be back for more.

  4. Wow.... says:

    This is kind of sad….blame yourself. You can only be the victim if you admit defeat. Shame….instead of crying about it in a blog, why don’t you grow a set and do something about it. Oh….your precious career would be over….wouldn’t it? What a small price to pay in the stead of you losing your pride and dignity. Yes…I know…what an asshole I am…right? No…I don’t belive so…Peace and pacifism is for the women…and the weak. Thank your lucky little stars, that as much as you despise me, that people like me are a part of this world. I’m the one who fight’s your war’s and defend’s your country, therefore, letting you live your failed and useless life as the pathetic little waste you are. You make me sick…hopefully your a women…at least it’s a resonable excuse.

  5. Hi Wow, I published your comment to show that bullies are every where. Even readers of this blog. It’s sad to see that you think so little of women and their contributions to our society.

    Fighting fire with fire will only burn both parties.

    I think the writer showed restraint and compassion instead of attacking back. If more people did this there would be more happiness and productivity instead of tearing each other down.

  6. DudleyDoesRight says:

    Wow’s post just sent us back to the stone age! And judging by the spelling and punctuation he uses, that’s probably where he feels comfortable.

  7. Hi Karl,
    Thanks so much for sharing this story, and bringing it out into the open. My guess is that this can be an easy topic to “hide” – not wanting to face any stigmatisms associated with the accusations, especially when coming from someone in a higher position in the organization. Everyone does have a right to be treated fairly no matter what the situation. And to the writer – thank you for sharing this openly – it will most certainly help others when faced with a situation like this.

  8. Damn Karl, you are right. This reader really has it together. I can’t imagine having that mature of a perspective. I can imagine going postal. That’s probably why I work for myself and champion self-employment. Life is way too short for this rubbish.

  9. Karen Swim says:

    I applaud your guest poster on documenting and sharing the experience. Too often we are complacent about bullying and the results can be tragic. Bullying of any kind whether you are a child or adult is an issue that needs to be taken seriously and resolved. Thank goodness the guest author recognized the behavior and depersonalized it but many do not. I hope that we can all work together to bust bully behavior, we should all have a zero tolerance for it period.

  10. I was definitely one of many who were bullied verbally in my last corporate job – it’s the reason I (and many of the others!) quit. Certainly not a case of giving up, because nothing is worth more than my health – mentally and physically!

    This is a common problem of late, and a real shame. Thanks for bringing it to life and making it real. Because it is, for men and women.

  11. I can definitely relate to what this reader is going through. I had a similar situation of being in a great work environment and then having everything change when a new boss came in. It’s amazing how one incompetent person who should never have been put in a management position can completely destroy the morale of a workplace that was working fine before he got there. Fortunately I’m not there anymore, but I did put up a fight for much longer than I should have, and got nothing out of it.

  12. Target turned tigress says:

    Hi everyone,

    I am the author of this article and I’d really like to thank all of you readers who found the time to write such thoughtful comments and share their experiences. I found it rather interesting that even in a very small sample of 12 individuals (including Karl and myself)1/3 of us have experienced bullying at work at some point during our working lives. That’s pretty close to the figures reported in a recent study (37%)on the extent of workplace bullying. You can find more on the results of that study at this url: http://www.workplacebullying.org/research/WBI-Zogby2007Survey.html

    I’d like to thank Karl for encouraging me to share my experiences–and for being so open about his own experiences with being bullied at work.

    I just wanted to let you all know that while going through the process (and recuperating from the stress related illnesses triggered by the incidents) I certainly had my dark days and low moments, so it did take some time and effort to get to the point where I can discuss the process from a fairly dispassionate perspective.

    Anyway here are my responses to each of you:

    @Stephen–Glad you found the information enlightening. I’m not really surprised that you’ve not come across the topic much–it isn’t exactly a hot, glamorous topic. (I do seem to recall reading on another site that not so long ago the mainstream snooze, er news,picked up on the proportion of “female to female” bullying in the workplace and immediately put a trashy–and inaccurate–“cat fight” spin on the whole story).

    @Positively Present–I suspect the same kids who were bullies or mean girls in elementary and secondary school probably went on to become work place bullies. Work place bullying takes a somewhat different form than school yard bullying in that it usually stops short of physical violence, but the dynamic and the harm caused is just as traumatic–for the witnesses as well as the Target.

    @BunnygotBlog–Glad to hear you found the article interesting. Karl has some great articles and insights on his site, so I hope you do revisit his blog frequently.

    @Wow–Gosh, you talk about peace and pacifism as if they were bad things! I guess it’s a good thing Gandhi wasn’t dissuaded by such opinions when he set out to gain India’s freedom and independence more than 60 years ago, eh? By the way, all the blustery tough talk and wildly erroneous conclusions to which you gleefully jumped in your response merely highlighted a whole lot of underlying defensiveness. As inappropriate as most of your comments were, it seems you are more in need of compassion than contempt. Good luck and much inner peace to you.

    @DudleyDoesRight–Thanks for the support. Don’t worry–it didn’t look to me like anyone else was catapulted back to the stone age.

    @Lance–Thanks for your feedback. I really hope that this piece will help others who find themselves in the same situation. It’s not a subject that many Targets are willing to talk about. There is a certain amount of stigma that Targets wrongly attach to themselves, when in fact it’s the bullies who ought to be ashamed of shamed for their behavior. Maybe all workplace bullies ought to have a big red “B” painted on their foreheads, so it makes it very difficult for them to get employment elsewhere.

    @Tom–Thanks for your kind words. As indicated at the beginning of my responses, I had days early in the process where I decidedly did NOT have it together, but I got through them. I’m human, so I indulged in the occasional bitchy thoughts about my boss, and I do confess to taking great delight and amusement in writing a humorous poem with a wickedly sharp edge about my boss’s less endearing behaviors. It was great therapy, a safe release for the anger I was feeling at the time, and a good workout for the creativity. Ah,the fine art of the eloquent vent.

    @Stacey–I’m sorry to hear that you, too, had to deal with a bully, but I’m glad you got out of that situation. It sounds as though a whole group of you left. Were you all targeted by the same bully and if so were you able to file a complaint as a group? That would certainly have had a lot more clout than one individual’s complaint. Knowing when to bail in the interests of protecting one’s well-being is a smart move! I hope you received lots of support and understanding while you were dealing with the bully; having good support makes a huge difference.

    @Karen–Thanks for your support. Yes I hope that more people can work together to push for zero tolerance on bullying in our society; whether in families, at schools or at work. I think some of the bully-busting has to be in the form of political lobbying and some has to be focused on educating various sectors in our societies (sports and entertainment come to mind)that seem to celebrate bullies and ridicule Targets. From what I understand, European countries are way ahead of Canada and the U.S. in terms of bringing in anti-bullying legislation for the work place. Two provinces in Canada (Saskatchewan and Quebec) have workplace anti-bullying legislation, and the Canadian federal government has also introduced anti-bullying legislation into all of its departments, although apparently senior managers are being a bit slow about publicizing it to workers. There is a place on the bullybusters website for people who want to get involved with lobbying to get anti-bullying legislation passed in their states or provinces.

    @Marelisa–I’m sorry to hear that your workplace was also ruined by an incompetent boss, but I’m really glad to hear you’ve moved on–hopefully to much happier and more fulfilling experiences. You may not have received much or anything in the way of compensation, but what you did get was probably greatly increased peace of mind, better health, more energy, and a huge sense of relief when it was all over and done with.

  13. this is a great article! luckily this has never happened to me, but i have a friend who is going through this exact situation at her job. hope she gets some use out of it and is able to turn the situation around. thanks!

  14. Target turned tigress says:

    @kydavidson–Thanks for the feedback; I’m glad to hear you found the article helpful. If your friend has access to a really good counsellor (preferably not through her company’s Employee Assistance Program) who specializes in helping people who have been bullied at work, I’d really encourage her to invest the time and money into getting that support. Alternatively, I highly recommend Gary Namie and Ruth Namie’s book “The Bully at Work”–they have some great strategies for overcoming the trauma, bully-proofing one’s self and bullybusting. They also have a website (referred to in the article) and an e-newsletter that is sent to subscribers about once or twice a month. Your friend might want to go to this website and check out some of the podcasts that provide targets with some bully busting strategies: http://www.workplacebullying.org/ Also please encourage your friend to document every incident.

    Depending on who is giving her a bad time (a peer versus a supervisor), if she has some good strategies to employ, she may be able to turn the situation around. I sincerely wish the best of outcomes for her.

  15. I’m a little late to the party on this post, but a wise man once said that you don’t quit the organization, you quit the boss. Just to echo everyone else, it’s amazing how one person can spoil a whole team.

  16. Target turned tigress says:

    Hi Scott. Thanks for adding your views. I’d be inclined to agree with you that often it probably is smarter to quit the boss rather than the organization–if it’s just one individual spoiling one team (As if that isn’t bad enough!), and the rest of the organization is fairly healthy. If the entire organization has been tainted by toxic management from the top down, well it’s anyone’s guess as to whether it might not be better to just quit the entire organization. I’d be inclined to say that one’s energy levels, happiness and general well-being are better served by getting out earlier rather than later.

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