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6 Ways Adults Can Deal With Bullying In an Office Setting (Yes, This Happens)

Bullying isn't limited only to schoolyards and playgrounds; it's a corporate issue, as well.

These days, bullying is a widespread issue, but not only in schools all over the globe — in offices everywhere, too.

It’s easy to think bullying is relegated to the schoolyard.

That intimidation and cruelty are only the tactics of immature and insecure children hoping to belittle and terrorize their peers as a means of acting out or grabbing attention.

But bullying happens among adults, too. Even in an office setting where professional decorum is mandated, employees are still browbeaten by the boss and tyrannized by a coworker. It’s even happened to me — by my first set of business partners at Status Labs. 

According to a 2017 workplace bullying survey of over 1000 people, 20 percent of American adults have directly experienced brutish and harassing conduct at work. It’s even worse when you realize over six in 10 people targeted for abuse say it originates from a more senior person in the company hierarchy.

Daily and sometimes even hourly persecution from peers at the office won’t simply vanish from society at large, so it’s important to develop techniques to recognize and confront its pernicious influence.

Many quit after experiencing office bullying, or it becomes so detrimental, bullied individuals can no longer function in their assigned role. It’s not just a moral and ethical complaint, either; bullying hurts a business’s bottom line.

This isn’t a new problem, despite the capitalistic reason for solving it.

Over twenty years ago, in a paper for the Leadership & Organization Development Journal, author Charlotte Raynor developed “a cost‐benefit argument for organizations to deal with [workplace bullying] and comments that despite the overwhelming benefits, few organizations appear to have workplace bullying on their agenda.”

In an attempt to arm against baleful behavior that’s been around since before the dawn of capitalism, here are six ways to deal with bullying in an office setting:

1) Keep Safe

This is always the first step.

If you feel threatened, either physically or emotionally, immediately leave whatever environment where it’s taking place. The same maxim applies even if you’re simply uncomfortable. This rule is for the here and now, so you can deal with the consequences later.

Removing yourself from a dicey situation or out of harm’s way is the only way you’re able to concentrate on dealing with the bully.

If you have to contact the police, an emergency hotline, or a crisis hotline, then do so. But above all, get to safety. It’s only from a safe place that you can capably deal with the problem.

2) Set Limits

You need to have a demarcation for what you will not tolerate. Be clear and concise when you do so and avoid editorializing if a bully steps over that line.

Tell he or she exactly what they did, but avoid adding how it makes you feel. Explain why it’s negatively affecting your work. Offer up real consequences if the continues with their conduct.

Perhaps most importantly: if the bully again steps out of line again, stick with what you told them would be the ramifications.

3) Confront Bullying, but Keep Your Options Open

This might be the hardest thing you can do, but it’s incredibly effective when done respectfully as you recount their behavior and how it’s impacting your work.

It knocks the bully off-balance, which takes away their control. Practice with someone you trust, so you’re familiar with what you’re going to say. If a bully takes something from you, you can always sue — like I did. My first set of partners at Status Labs — Darius Fisher and Jesse Boskoff — I sued for the equivalent of embezzlement and they were subject to a pair of federal court injunctions aimed at stopping their bad behavior.

However, sometimes it’s easier to keep your distance and ask advice from friends and family. Some people aren’t worth the time and effort, but if it’s impinging on your ability to work, be prepared to stand up to them about it.

4) Use the Right Tools

It might not feel like it, and it’s difficult and cliched for some to acknowledge, but there are plenty of materials to help if you’re being bullied in the office. You don’t need to figure it out by yourself.

Compel America offers resources to the targets of bullying, as well as perpetrators of that abuse.

Workplace bullying is a cycle, one that circles around a wheel of abuse affecting every worker it rolls over. Applying breaks to the whole wheel is a more effective means of making it stop,” says Compel America director, Ilyssa DeCasperis.

In addition to Compel America, Stop Bullying and the Trevor Project offer more assets for support and education on how to prevent and impede workplace bullying, as well.

5) Know Your Basic Rights

It’s as simple as knowing your own self-worth. You deserve to be treated with respect because you offer it to your own coworkers in return. Know your rights — your basic human rights.

You have the right to voice your opinion and feelings. You have a right to your own priorities, and the right to say “no” without guilt at having done so. You have a right to get what you paid for and the right to hold an opinion that differs from that of your peers. You have the right to shield yourself from physical, emotional and mental threats.

Sometimes it takes court action to put a halt to bullying. When my business partners defied a court order, the federal judge held them in contempt of court in front of the entire company, present at the contempt hearing!

And finally, you have the basic, inalienable right to be happy.

6) Document the Bully’s Actions and Tell HR

This can be time consuming, but it’s important to have a paper trail of abuse in an office setting for when you eventually go to human resources.

Their entire job is to investigate and stop harassment, and it’s made a lot easier if you can point to specific examples of abuse and when exactly they occurred. Make sure to have date, time and the details so there’s written evidence, but also how it affects your job performance.

“The effects of workforce bullying and mobbing on targets are not limited to health effects,” writes Maureen Duffy in Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in America.

“Targets can experience multiple and expiring psycho-social effects, including…loss of belief in the world as a fair place.”

That’s not a toll anyone should have to pay, especially when giving a company their most valuable commodity — their time. Follow these techniques prevent it from happening, or continuing.

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