When you were a kid, you probably were aware of bullying. Perhaps you even were a bully. By adulthood, most people have grown out of it. Unfortunately, some never do. The truth is that bullying is a problem in schools and in the office. There are lots of school anti-bullying campaigns and organizations, but there are workplace versions, too.
Sometimes office bullies are obvious: They're aggressive, domineering, and mean. They have a bad attitude and seem stunningly immune to the consequences. Other office bullies, however, are more subtle. They aren't publicly rude, perhaps saving their cruelty for email or the water cooler, and they select their victims carefully, sensing who is most vulnerable. Their personalities have a slowly toxic effect on their environments.
The consequences can't be understated. If an employee is feeling victimized, they're unlikely to perform at their best. If others see it happening, they may shy away from opportunities that involve the bully, or feel they can't offer feedback on what the bully has produced. And if they feel that the company isn't doing anything, their loyalty could falter. Bullying absolutely impacts your company's bottom line.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Here are a few things you can do to eliminate bullying in your office:
1. Don't be a bystander.
When you see bullying, don't just stand there. Distract the perpetrator, or at least change the subject. Tell the victim you need their help with something, or remind the bully of the appointment they're late for. If you feel comfortable, come to the victim's defense or tell the perpetrator to knock it off, but don't be dramatic about it. They will appreciate your subtle intervention. Once in private, see if there's anything you can do to help the victim or prevent a repeat event. Building a bridge with the victim makes you valuable and trustworthy in their eyes, and may open an opportunity for a successful working relationship with them.
2. Shut it down.
A bully is unlikely to stop without some sort of intervention. If you're in a position of authority, you have a responsibility to your team, individually and collectively, and to your company to nip bullying in the bud as soon as you see it. Anything less could make you seem unconcerned with the welfare of your employees and the culture in your company. People could also perceive you as untrustworthy, and may be less willing to come to you with other problems. If you're on the same level as or lower than the bully, you may need to proceed with more caution. Still, don't do nothing.
3. Neutralize it with humor, or kill them with kindness.
Using humor is disarming to the bully, and puts them off their game. You're letting them know you're onto them, without attacking or provoking them. Just make sure the humor doesn't come at the expense of the victim or provide an audience to the bully. It's also OK if the humor is a little sharp toward the bully, or if it's not a great one-line shutdown. Just the fact that you're intervening at all could stun the bully into silence. Another option is to give the offender some positive attention and praise. It's possible they're just looking for some kindness, too, but don't know how to go about it.
4. Watch your own behavior.
Make sure your company's culture doesn't turn a blind eye, or worse, encourage it. Further, make sure you don't behave like a bully toward your own colleagues. Try to view your own behavior as an outside observer, remembering that even unintentional bullying can damage a workplace. Further, bullies at work probably don't aim their attitude toward just their co-workers. It's very possible their bad behavior extends to their interactions with clients and outside colleagues. They can leave a stain on your company that's hard to wash off. Plus, when employees feel safe and supported, they are more dedicated to their companies and willing to work harder to see it succeed.