• Gabriella van Rij

How to Deal with Workplace Bullies

Is harassment on the rise in the workplace?

Honestly? It has always been there, but today men and women alike are less afraid and more willing to speak up and report unacceptable behavior to HR. A great example of this is what happened to Matt Lauer of the Today show, a seeming icon, but who was rightfully fired after a colleague stood up and spoke out.

But what about when it happens to you at your workplace? Perhaps not sexual harassment, but a situation where another person is harassing you in the form of insinuations or undermining your work?

Cooperation from all your colleagues in the workplace is essential for a continued positive workflow. Respect is also vital. So when you feel disrespected, it makes it difficult to work productively in that kind of environment.

Here are some key pointers on how to deal with co-workers or individuals who try to undermine you in the workplace.

1. Go to your direct boss for mediation.

Let’s be honest, we often don’t communicate clearly. And everyone likes to think they are in the right and it’s everyone else who is in the wrong.

But when we come from this position, we never solve anything, whether it is in the workplace or at home. Now, by no means am I saying you should roll over and take it. I am saying mediation should be your first option.

We all could use open, honest discussion where you will see how and where the relationship with your colleague derailed.

2. Continue to monitor the situation.

Even if you feel the mediation was successful, if the behavior of the instigator continues and he/she is now focused on another manner or method to cause you pain, then you know this is part of a bigger problem. One of the worst things we can do (and which I am guilty of doing, too) is to hope against hope that it will blow over and go away.

None of us likes confrontation. But we must learn to assert ourselves if we want to work in peace and with respect.

As a woman myself, I know how it is possible to feel undermined by our male colleagues. It can start with a belittling and condescending tone. This, however, is outdated behavior that no longer belongs in the 21st century and definitely not in the workplace.

3. Set boundaries from which to behave and work.

But what do you do when other colleagues say they do not have the same experience with the instigator? And talking about it only makes you feel like a tattle tale, which is frowned upon in most social settings?

So now you feel really stuck… Especially when your livelihood depends on the income you are getting from your job. Be as professional as you can be with that person you are having issues with and set boundaries for yourself. What does that mean?

We need to know what we are willing to accept without making it impossible to do our work. Be clear with yourself and with others about how you will allow yourself to be treated and communicated with.

4. Keep asking for help if the attacks continue.

From my own experience, I know that harassment can escalate so fast, from one thing to another, that you might feel like you can barely stop the avalanche of attacks.

If this happens to you, immediately go to your direct superior and if they cannot help you, go to HR. Explain your case without defending, because then you start off on the wrong foot and nothing will get solved. Only talk about concrete facts, not your interpretation of what has happened.

I often keep a report of what I have accomplished in my work or specific projects and thus, when I was the victim of workplace bullying, I was able to present that as evidence that I did the work required but that due to the instigator I was not able to continue due to the other person’s lack of response and unwillingness to cooperate.

5. Become an active witness for others.

We all hope that our colleagues around us become active witnesses for us. But in my experience, team members often hope that the conflicts they notice between colleagues will magically disappear. Thus, setting themselves up to not become an active witness and put a halt to the situation because it is easier to look the other way. After reading this article, you might now realize that maybe you have been a witness to such situations from your colleagues and did not realize that your kind word or gesture could have helped diffuse a situation.

Becoming an active witness for others is actually easy to do. All it takes is listening to that little voice in your head. And choose to not be afraid. If you don’t help, you might be next!

If you help your colleagues, not only have you helped, but you will be an intricate part of making the workplace a safe and happy environment for all.

Help diffuse the situation and show your colleague that you stand firmly behind them. Show the instigators of harassment and bullying that their behavior is unacceptable in your corporation or team culture.

In summary:

Always ask for help. Never think it will go away by itself. Even when mediation succeeds, make sure the bully continues to hold up their end of the agreement. If your livelihood depends on this job, go back to HR to discuss and see if you can get transferred. Otherwise, quit and do something you love and where you will be able to retain your integrity and self-respect.

Don’t forget we spend more time at work than anywhere else! But without kindness and respect, we cannot work.

Author: Gabriella van Rij

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