How to deal with workplace bullying

Coach Katerina Gould gives some advice on how to deal with bullying in the workplace.

Workplace bullying can take many forms and can range from direct and targeted words designed to undermine you to more subtle actions, such as team meetings being held on days that you’re not in the office, when you are working part time. However, it is important to recognise that not all unhelpful actions in the workplace are bullying. While it is very easy for a working mum who is making every effort to balance her work commitments with her family to feel undervalued by a careless or throwaway remark, it is essential to retain your perspective and avoid becoming paranoid.

In this article, I will cover both practical actions you can take to help yourself if you are being bulled and how to protect yourself emotionally.

Practical steps

There is a lot that is written and known about bullying. For example, it thrives on secrecy and bullies often back down when they are confronted, so it can be helpful for you to talk about what is happening and to find ways of telling the ‘bully’ to stop. If your workplace has a union, this can often be a source of support.

Specific things to do:

1. Make a list of each and every incident, however trivial it seems at the time. Often bullying can take place over weeks or months and it is the build-up of events that is so hard to deal with. You need to keep a note of the date, time, location and any witnesses as well as details of the incident itself.

2. Talk to someone objective and trustworthy. While friends and family are great for support and comfort, they may not always be objective enough to tell you if you might be over-reacting. However, it is more important not to feel isolated, so being able to talk to someone, even if they are not objective, is better than keeping your feelings all to yourself.

3. You also need to inform someone in seniority in your organisation (e.g. a line manager or someone in HR) that you are being bullied. This is to ensure that you are following the formal procedures.

4. If you feel able to, you need to tell the ‘bully’ to stop doing whatever it is that disturbs you. It might be possible that the ‘bully’ is simply an insensitive person who has no intention of harming you, but does not realise the effect on you of what they are doing or saying. If they are acting intentionally then they also need to be made aware of the distress they are causing and be given a chance to stop, before any formal action can be taken. It can be easier to address the ‘bully’ if you have a trusted supporter with you. The way to deliver the message is by describing the behaviour (as factually as possible) and then stating its impact on you.

For example, “when you hold team meetings on my days off, I feel excluded from the team”.

Emotional aspects

On the emotional side, the common feelings that result from being bullied are fear of the bully and shame about being treated in this way. The shame and fear can also prevent you from speaking about your experiences and so you can become isolated, as well. This is why it is so important to speak about your experiences and seek support, as described above.

There is no shame in being bullied. The shame belongs to the bully for behaving the way they do. Try to keep this in mind as part of your self-protection. If your confidence is undermined it is essential to surround yourself with people who believe in you and respect you. They can help you to re-build your self-belief and strength to face up to the bully. This is where friends and family have a key role to play.

If you have any specific questions related to this topic, please get in touch with me via [email protected] and I will respond to your individual situation.

Katerina Gould [pictured] is founder of the executive coach and career consultancy business Thinking Potential. This is one of a series of articles by Katerina on returning to work, which cover everything from interviews to building up confidence. Katerina will be leading seminars on returning to work at Workingmums LIVE event in Manchester on 8th November.

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