How is Bullying Different from Teasing?

Bullies frequently call their actions “just teasing.”

The main difference between teasing and bullying is that truly good-natured teasing is enjoying by everyone in the conversation and teasing is allowed in all directions. It isn’t teasing if everyone isn’t allowed to tease back without retaliation or if there’s discomfort with the give-and-take. Teasing can easily cross the line into harassment or bullying.

Work place bullying can also take the form of social snubbing, withholding of crucial information or the spreading lies and gossip.

Are You a Bully?

Check to see if the person you are teasing is “smiling with their eyes” rather than just pretending to laugh. If they are not completely enjoying your comments you have crossed the line. Do you find yourself saying things like, “I was just kidding,’ “Can’t you take a joke?” or “You’re too sensitive.” If you’ve said any one of these or similar phrases more that once a month you might benefit from coaching to find other, better ways to connect with others.

Signs of Bullying

Is bullying taking place in your organization? If so, your company is not as productive as it needs to be to meet today’s marketplace challenges.

Look for these clues:

  • Those with power and influence use derogatory nicknames. Derogatory nicknames are used behind people’s backs. For example, “Glad you could join us, Princess!” “Here comes Mr. Perfect.”
  • Blame is assigned to individuals without evidence or clear communication. For example, ” I bet Joe didn’t turn on the alarm system again.”
  • Rumor is presented as fact. Innuendo is allowed to effect a person’s reputation. For example, “Bill had red eyes again after lunch. I bet he’s on drugs. I don’t think he can handle that promotion.”
  • People are called “overly sensitive.”
  • Employees get away with yelling, sarcasm and intimidation because they fill a special role, perhaps as a particularly effective salesperson, friend of the owner or holder of technical expertise. This behavior might be excused as “just being too rough.” The employee who is the roughest bully sets the tone for your entire organization or department.
  • Practical jokes being played on a particular person or group on a consistent basis.
  • Social gatherings that regularly exclude some employees.
  • When emails are circulated with a blind cc among your employees, is the purpose to isolate, humiliate, and undermine particular staff?

If these signs are present in your organization you have a culture that’s negatively affecting your team. You are at risk to lose dedicated and talented employees and are building a staff of bullies and targets. It is time to bring in outside help that is percived as truly neutral to assist in you in the necessary culture change.

When You are Bullied

Sometimes bullying can come up so gradually that you might not think of yourself as being bullied. You know the old story about the frog in the pot of water, complacent as the temperature slowly rises; is the water boiling around you?

Signs you are being bullied:

  • You are regularly yelled at.
  • Your boss or coworkers talk to you with dismissive tones and looks (eye rolling). “Whatever.” “What do you expect me to do about it?”
  • You have been given an unflattering “nickname.”
  • You are often asked questions in a challenging tone that puts you on the defensive. “Where the hell were you?” “Do you even know what you are doing?”
  • You are denied access to information or contacts you need to do your job yet are blamed for poor results. “You don’t seem to know what the clients need anymore!”
  • You dread interacting with your boss and/or coworkers.

Take steps to take to eliminate bulling.

Step 1 – Reflection

Try to figure out what’s motivating the bully. Is it to consolidate or obtain power? Is it to enforce some group norm that they feel you are challenging? Are they pointing out your mistakes because they are jealous of some advantage you have such as youth, education, talent or connections? Determine the need is the bully trying to meet by their behavior. Is it a need for equality, autonomy or some other reason?

Step 2 – Evaluate the Potential of a Direct Discussion

Knowing the bully’s motivation, determine if a direct conversation from you could help change the situation.

How will this person respond to an open honest discussion from you? Is it possible that if they knew their behavior was having a negative impact they would change it?

Thoughtful preparation for this discussion can be very helpful to clarify your thinking. Being assertive without being aggressive can effectively communicate your resolve to end the bullying without fostering defensiveness in the other person. Working with an objective coach can help you to practice your approach.

Step 3 – Direct Discussion

Speak to the bully if you believe they can be open to listening to you. This is your best opportunity to end the conflict with the least amount of damage to your reputation.

In your discussion, use specific examples rather than general accusations. Explain how these examples represent a pattern you wish to change. Speak about the different behavior you seek rather than just a list of your complaints.

“At staff meetings, you refer to me as “Princess.” This makes me feel angry because it sounds as if you think I consider myself entitled to special privileges. In the future, please refer to me by my name.”

If the bully justifies their behavior, try to find another way they can get their needs met without bullying you.

Be prepared to listen to complaints about your behavior and consider if these changes will bring an end to the bullying. Are they excuses or genuine feedback expressed in an inappropriate manner?

“So, when I’m given permission to leave early to pick up my child you think that’s unfair because you aren’t allowed to leave early? I can see how you could find that frustrating.”

Step 4 – Prepare for Future Action

Monitor and record behavior in a written record with details on incidents of bullying with dates, times, and what happened. Note other people who witnessed the event. Be as clear and objective in your recording as possible. Present the facts with a minimum of emotion. If there is a repeat of the behavior you may wish to take your complaints to a higher authority or remove yourself from the bully’s influence.

Step 5 – Seeking Allies

If you decide to take further steps, your written record will be a valuable record of the pattern of bullying.

When you meet with management or the human resources department it can be helpful if you can communicate any larger pattern that might be happening. Have other employees left the company because of the bully? How is this effecting the business in the market place? When you present your case, it is possible they might dismiss your concerns or might side with the bully. You strengthen your case if you can communicate from both a business perspective and a moral perspective.

If the bully’s actions violate the law, investigate the appropriate authority with which to file your complaint.

Step 6 – Make a Strategic Retreat

If the first five steps do not end the bullying you will need to make a strategic retreat. Everyone who leaves an abusive situation says they wish they had acted sooner. Don’t believe you deserve to be bullied.

If the bullying won’t stop and workplace culture continues to be poisonous, protect your health and reputation by finding another job elsewhere, even if it means a position with less money or prestige. Take steps to build an escape plan and enact it.

When you leave the company, document your reasons for leaving to management or HR. Leaving a trail of how you were affected may help the next person who is victimized.

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