Sunday, March 30, 2008

You are not a helpless victim, contrary to popular belief

The ABC News segment that aired the other morning, Battling Bullies in the Workplace, further confirmed my frustration with the literature and advice out there on dealing with a workplace bully, so much so that I literally just hopped out of the shower, only half scrubbed, to write. Words were pouring out of my head and onto the surrounding tile where they’d slip down the drain along with the water, and be of no use to me. Thanks ABC, you’ve succeeded in lighting a fire underneath me, and I am officially starting the blog I’ve been thinking of writing for months.

The segment featured Ruth Namie, PhD, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute (which she runs with her husband, Gary Namie, PhD), an organization that recently released a very well-received and oft-quoted research study, indicating that some 57 million Americans, or four in ten people, are bullied at work. Namie indicated that her interest in bullying sparked from her own horrific experience being victimized by a bully, as did mine. The piece also featured Tory Johnson, ABC’s regularly appearing workplace correspondent, who provided advice, or tips on dealing with workplace bullies.

You see, any interaction between two people, whether one of love, friendship, immorality, or degradation, is, by nature, between two people. That means whether it’s a kiss from your lover at a romantic restaurant or a co-worker degrading your work in front of others, the context, and the two parties involved, are all very much a part of the occurrence. There are no innocent bystanders in communication interactions.

The question isn’t what to do; it’s how to do it. How does someone "confront" the bully? Where do they learn the skills?
Victims of workplace bullying are victims of workplace bullying because of past events and personality traits. That means victims were likely bullied as a child in school, and are shy, lack confidence, lack conflict management skills, or are unable to communicate their side of a debate, allowing the bully the ability to “push” on them without fighting back.

In exactly the same way, workplace bullies are workplace bullies because of past events and personality traits. They were bullies as children in school, and they learned it from their parents, who also bullied them or other adults. Bullies also have a high threshold for negativity, so they don’t see their actions as negative, and have been identified as narcissists, Type A personalities, lacking in the ability to make their point in an argument, motivated by aggression, and socially excluded individuals seeking revenge. My most recent research also indicated they bully because the organizational environment seems to permit it.

My point here is that it seems the trend in the workplace bullying discourse is to tell victims they are helpless. “It’s okay you poor pathetic victim,” it says, “It’s not your fault.” Well bull shit. Victims aren’t victims; they are people that can change their situation by learning how to do just that.

We are a result of the choices we make, life doesn’t just pass us by, and we are active participants in it. Reactions and reactive thinking, instead of conscious action and choice making, are what perpetuate the paradigm currently ruling the literature out there on workplace bullying. I am making my pledge, here and now, to bring to light some of the real, actual, and attainable tips to communicating with competence, passion and leadership, the key to ending your victimization. I will provide readers with exercises, success stories, and real information they can use to beat the bully - and we will call this “Strategic Resistance."

Remember that you are not an innocent bystander who happened to be in the way of a tyrannical co-worker or manager as he barreled down the hall like the WB’s Tasmanian Devil cartoon character. Communication is a two-way-street, making the likelihood that you are a helpless victim very small. You are a communicator because you are a human, and I’m going to teach you how to understand your situation, and communicate appropriately within it. From there, it’s up to you to be pro-active, rather than reactive, and tame that ridiculous and self-worth seeking wild beast running around your office. You are not a helpless victim, you are a person with choices and the courage to overcome abuse.