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When Your Co-workers are Bullies

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Like it wasn’t bad enough when it happened to you as a kid: On the playground, in the school hallways and lunchroom, but now bullying in the workplace? Weren’t the bullies supposed to “find themselves” and fix their evil ways by the time they reached adulthood? Unfortunately, some did not and now they just lurk in your office disguised as your “co-worker” or even worse, “boss”!

How do you deal with a bully when you’re all grown up?  Lorna Blumen wrote the book on that one. She’s the author of  Bullying Epidemic: Not Just Child’s Play and says there's standard tips to remember, like: Keep track of every incident and get help from HR, but if that doesn’t help... you’re going to have to battle the bully yourself. “The reality is, if the problem does not improve almost immediately after you set your boundaries a few times and stand up, the take-away message is that you’re working in an environment that supports bullying and it’s unlikely to change soon. Don’t waste your energy. Bottom line: Get out as fast as possible.”

How do you battle an office bully? Blumen shared 5 tips on how to fight back:

Stop It Early: This is THE crucial point, simple as it seems. It’s much easier to stop bullying early, before it becomes the new normal. Doing nothing is the same as saying “yes”, allowing bullying fertile ground to grow. You may not notice the creep until it’s too late. Then it’s very hard to pull everyone back to a kinder, gentler time. Just don’t go there!

Set Your Boundaries: For example, when someone starts speaking rudely or emotionally unloading on you (raised voice, tirade, swearing, etc), stand up, interrupt and say, “I want to hear what you have to say, but I’m not going to listen to you yell at me.” Walk away. Find another desk to work at until the bully leaves. If it happens often, keep a bag or briefcase with some work in it under your desk or within easy reach to grab and go quickly.

Stand Up For One Another: If you see or hear one of your colleagues being bullied, 2 or 3 colleagues must walk right over and rescue the target (and rescue the bully from him or herself). “Hey guys, time to cool off”. Then to the target, “You come with us” (physically walk the target out of the bully’s range), and to the bully, “Need a breather? Want to go for a quick walk/glass of water/cup of coffee?” Help the bully recover, too. Use your judgment about what to offer. Don’t offer to go for a walk around the block if the bully’s going to unload on you!

Limit The Damage: Even though one part of your life isn’t working well, do your best to keep the bad feelings from “bleeding over” into other relationships and poisoning your whole life. Don’t make your partner, kids, and friends suffer too. These people are your lifeline during tough times – let them prop up your sense of humor and resilience, instead of you dragging them down. Promise yourself that outside of work, you won’t complain about work and you will bring a smile and a positive attitude into these relationships and this time. Laughter produces serotonin and endorphins, happy brain chemicals that will help you survive the parts of life that aren’t so funny. Speaking of collateral damage, prolonged workplace bullying is a terrible example for kids, teaching them to accept bullying as normal in the adult workplace. Solve the problem quickly.

Prepare To Leave: This is not the right answer, but it is the expedient, self-protective, damage-limiting answer in today’s reality. If you’ve not been able to solve the problem yourself, or with the help of colleagues or HR, you’re really out of options. Plan your exit. Protect yourself. Consult a lawyer. Cut way back on spending and start saving in preparation for a few months (or more) of downtime. Start looking for or creating your next job. It’d be great to have your new job lined up before you leave, but saving your physical and emotional health is top priority.

Lorna Blumen is an educational consultant and bullying prevention specialist in Toronto, Canada. Lorna is a co- developer of the Girls’ Respect Groups High School Leadership Training Program and the GRG Middle School Program, an after-school program for middle-school girls, led by high school girls. Lorna also runs workshops on Bullying Prevention for elementary and middle school kids. She works with adults who work with children – teachers, parents, school councils, mental health professionals, coaches, and camp counsellors.

She was also the lead author of Girls’ Respect Groups: An Innovative Program To Empower Young Women & Build Self-Esteem! Both books are available at major booksellers. Connect with Lorna on her blogs: www.BullyingEpidemic.com or www.GirlsRespectGroups.com.

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