Senior leadership has the challenge of creating workplace resilience to encourage staff to protect themselves against bullying.
Professor Michael Bernard
While getting rid of bullying behaviour is everyone’s responsibility, senior leaders also need to go through educational programs to fly the flag that says that within each of us resides great power to cope with adverse events, including bullying and other forms of anti-social behaviour. We need to increase workplace resilience to ensure that we’re helping all members of our society grow the self-acceptance, self-confidence and self-belief that are essential elements of coping with adversity.
In our society, we’re somehow disempowering people of all ages because of the belief that not only is bullying bad, but it is something awful and terrible, and, therefore, we have no choice but to feel devastated.
Whether at work or at home, bullying is bad—in whatever form it takes, physical, verbal, social exclusionary or cyber-bullying. And bullying has the potential to greatly wound victims. When someone who is more powerful says derogatory things, applies pressure to do something against your values or wishes, or excludes or physically harms you, it is normal for emotions to be greatly affected, including feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, depression, helplessness, anxiety or rage.
Constructive and protective action
By feeling less wounded and in emotional turmoil, it is easier to stand up to bullying and take constructive and protective action.
“Workplace risk management procedures are important to decrease the incidence of bullying. So, too, is restorative justice and measures where offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and to repair the harm they’ve done.”
The importance of workplace resilience
However, just as bullying has the potential for significant emotional harm, so, too, do individuals have the potential to be less vulnerable and more resilient against bullying. What is now abundantly clear is that your mindset about bullying largely determines the impact of the bullying on your emotional and behavioural response.
Research shows that a major contributing factor to the helplessness, despair, depression and rage of people who’ve been bullied is their tendency to take bullying behaviour personally: ‘Because I’m being picked on, there must be something wrong with me. This is awful, I can’t cope.’ This self-talk reflects an attitude of self-depreciation. The blame should be placed on the bully, not the bullied.
In contrast, people of all ages who have not been wounded by bullying have a strong amount of self-acceptance. They protect themselves emotionally by thinking, ‘While it stinks to be bullied, I’m still a worthwhile person. I can cope.’
Let’s recall what Epictetus wrote over 2000 years ago; namely, ‘people are not affected by events but by their view of events’ and Shakespeare said that ‘Things are neither good nor bad, but thinking makes them so.’
Resilience: a case study
John has just been hired by a large electronic firm to chase up unpaid accounts and to provide regular updates and progress reports. His manager has sworn at and abused him for being late in the delivery of this month’s summary. This is not the first time his manager has bullied him. John is managing the emotional impact of his abusive encounters with his superior. He refuses to take the abuse personally. John reminds himself that while the abuse is unacceptable, he can and will cope with it. His calmness in the line of fire not only helps maintain his mental health, it also gives him the breathing space to see what, if anything, he can also do to get his manager to change the way she communicates—or to find a different job.
While state government departments have published useful guides for helping employees deal with workplace bullying (e.g., keep a record, seek advice, follow grievous complaint procedures), the ability of individuals to cope with bullying should be underlined and illustrated.
Employees at all levels in your organisation need to know the importance of talking to someone to gain support, including exploring ways to get the person to stop bullying.
So, when we think about ways to help people to combat bullying, let’s make sure that we teach that it’s our mindset that’s important and that we have a choice in the mindset we bring to the act of bullying.