Workplace Bullying: Ineffective Responses
Defining ineffective options is really difficult because there is not a lot of research evidence to guide people about what are effective and ineffective responses to workplace harassment and bullying in context (Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, 2000: 35).
Obviously becoming mentally ill and suicidal should be considered as ineffective responses and a person severely affected clearly requires urgent medical and mental health care attention. Some people argue that the victim should stand up, speak out and fight, but this is unlikely given the person’s low or shattered self-esteem, fear and so on, and is more likely to worsen their stress levels, sense of dread and being a victim personality.
According to Field ([2002-2004, Web site (accessed 21/08/06): http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/amibeing.htm based on his 1996 book):
“Bullies also rely on the denial of others and the fact that when their target reports the abuse they will be disbelieved (“are your sure this is really going on?”, “I find it hard to believe — are you sure you’re not imagining it?”). Frequently targets are asked why they didn’t report the abuse before, and they will usually reply “because I didn’t think anyone would believe me.” Sadly they are often right in this assessment. Because of the Jekyll & Hyde nature, compulsive lying, and plausibility, no-one can — or wants — to believe it.”
This is a major source of frustration and anxiety for a person being bullied, as they can be easily picked off by others as being a troublemaker, ‘deadwood’, or sick.
Field ([2002-2004, Web site (accessed 21/08/06):
http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/amibeing.htm provides further interesting insights into the bully personality as follows:
“When called to account for the way they have chosen to behave, the bully instinctively exhibits this recognisable behavioural response:
a) Denial: the bully denies everything. Variations include Trivialization (“This is so trivial it’s not worth talking about?”) and the Fresh Start tactic (“I don’t know why you’re so intent on dwelling on the past” and “Look, what’s past is past, I’ll overlook your behaviour and we’ll start afresh”) — this is an abdication of responsibility by the bully and an attempt to divert and distract attention by using false conciliation. Imagine if this line of defence were available to all criminals (“Look I know I’ve just murdered 12 people but that’s all in the past, we can’t change the past, let’s put it behind us, concentrate on the future so we can all get on with our lives” — this would do wonders for prison overcrowding).
b) Retaliation: the bully counterattacks. The bully quickly and seamlessly follows the denial with an aggressive counter-attack of counter-criticism or counter-allegation, often based on distortion or fabrication. Lying, deception, duplicity, hypocrisy and blame are the hallmarks of this stage. The purpose is to avoid answering the question and thus avoid accepting responsibility for their behaviour. Often the target is tempted — or coerced — into giving another long explanation to prove the bully’s allegation false; by the time the explanation is complete, everybody has forgotten the original question.
Both a) and b) are delivered with aggression in the guise of assertiveness; in fact there is no assertiveness (which is about recognising and respecting the rights of oneself and others) at all. Note that explanation — of the original question — is conspicuous by its absence.
c) Feigning victimhood: in the unlikely event of denial and counter-attack being insufficient, the bully feigns victimhood or feigns persecution by manipulating people through their emotions, especially guilt. This commonly takes the form of bursting into tears, which most people cannot handle. Variations include indulgent self-pity, feigning indignation, pretending to be “devastated”, claiming they’re the one being bullied or harassed, claiming to be “deeply offended”, melodrama, martyrdom (“If it wasn’t for me?”) and a poor-me drama (“You don’t know how hard it is for me ? blah blah blah ?” and “I’m the one who always has to?”, “You think you’re having a hard time ?”, “I’m the one being bullied?”). Other tactics include manipulating people’s perceptions to portray themselves as the injured party and the target as the villain of the piece. Or presenting as a false victim. Sometimes the bully will suddenly claim to be suffering “stress” and go off on long-term sick leave, although no-one can quite establish why. Alleged ill-health can also be a useful vehicle for gaining attention and sympathy.”
Often a bully over a lengthy period of time can agitate the victim so much that they provoke an outburst against the bully. However, this is like winning lotto for the bully who casts the victim as the villain and an aggressor (when in fact this was a total manipulation by the bully). The bully will play this card for all its worth in order to destroy any credibility the victim may have had.
Field also questions the process of mediation in grievance proceedings, which for the bully is a means in which to further deny and validate the victim’s lack of credibility. Field states, ([2002-2004, Web site (accessed 21/08/06):
http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/amibeing.htm based on his 1996 book):
“Mediation with this type of individual is inappropriate. Serial bullies regard mediation (and arbitration, conciliation, negotiation etc) as appeasement, which they ruthlessly exploit; it allows them to give the impression in public that they are negotiating and being conciliatory, whilst in private they continue the bullying. The lesson of the twentieth century is that you do not appease aggressors.”
It is difficult in the case of bullying to decide what actions are effective and what are not.
Certainly it is not advisable to confront the bully alone. They will be most likely aggressive, rude, patronising and will use anything you say against you in the future. Serial bullies are well adept to diarising after meetings and manipulating the facts of the event to suit there own purposes. Getting to know the behaviour pattern of the bully may help understanding how you might defend yourself against them.
It is advisable not to bottle up your emotions and do nothing in the hope that the bullying and the distress will just go away. The facts are that the bully will be relentless and ruthless until they achieve whatever their goal is. Not seeking help, counselling and advice is an ineffective option and you may end up suffering from anxiety, major depression and be at risk of suicide. If you feel a need go on extended sick or stress leave or workers compensation. There are some negatives to doing this — people may say you are mentally ill and therefore not fit for work or the job. Worker’s compensation holds a stigma in some workplaces and with many employers. Your future work prospects may be adversely tainted by employers’ perceptions of you. However it is your life we are talking about here and being bullied can cause major physical and mental health problems and you should protect your health at all costs and seek help and time away from the harassing or bullying workplace.
Basing your complaint against a bully, when required (e.g., in grievance meetings), simply on your memories of situations is bound for failure. The bully will most likely be extremely organised and keep a comprehensive paper trail of everything they can about you so that they can destroy your credibility with so-called facts of poor performance (usually trivial but the sheer weight of so much ‘evidence’ can ensure that these trivialities are easily blown out of proportion by the bully and believed by others).
Losing faith or belief in yourself and your abilities is not effective or healthy. The bully wants you to feel this way so that you will crumble and the bully derives great pleasure and power from this. Don’t let this predator get away with that — again seek help such as professional counselling to help you to validate your strengths and abilities. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT for short is a very useful and successful approach to enabling this to happen.