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« The Dignity Of Discretion | Main | »

November 17, 2009


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Phoenix Dentist

I dealt with bullies twice in my childhood. Fortunately, to my knowledge, my children never had to experience it.

Linda Curtis

I'm sorry you had to deal with that. Bullying is horrible because a bully attacks who you are. Bullied people feel a sense of hopelessness about the situation. The effect lasts much longer than the individual event.


Serious, systematic workplace bullying is notoriously badly handled, even by well meaning employers who are actually trying to solve the problem. The wrong strategy can often make things worse, because once the bullying issue is out in the open, if it's not completely stamped out it can lead to more abuse. Bullies are very manipulative people, they can be very subversive in the way they bully, and will do anything to undermine and discredit their victim. While it sounds good to think that the person bullied should speak up for themselves and stand up to the bully, (and that certainly would be great as an ultimate goal) in most cases this is not going to happen in the first instance. If the bullied person could speak up for themselves they wouldnt have been bullied in the first place.

People who are bullied are people pleasers, people who absorb and suffer bad treatment over a period of time in order to keep the peace and make sure they are not causing trouble. By the time you hear about the bullying they have usually been putting up with it for a long period, and finally they can't take it any more. One thing the bullied person knows is how difficult it might be to show how they've been bullied. They are concerned about being believed, and very aware that in isolation some things might sound petty, and that some things are hard to explain or describe. They dont want anything done unless they are sure the bullying is going to be stamped out completely, as they are so afraid of the bully. Bringing it up and handling it badly is only going to expose the bullied person to even more subtle bullying as revenge, and allow the bully to denegrate their victim by pointing to poor work performance and other grievances. Abusers always have a long list of grievances about their victims, and bullies ARE abusers. The waters can so easily be muddied and before you know it, the whole issue can be dealt with as a "personality clash", or something where there is "fault on both sides".

Systematic workplace bullying is something that needs a detailed, well researched workplace policy about appropriate behaviour, preventive measures, procedures to follow if you feel you've been bullied, procedure for handling bullying complaints, and preferably a "zero tolerance" approach to the issue. All of management must be on board with methods of dealing with bullying issues, and support the policies to the letter. When an organisation can show that they can reocgnise bullying, protect the person bullied, and stamp out the bullying completely, that is when those bullied will feel more empowered to speak up.

I could go on - maybe I should start my own blog!

Thanks Linda for writing this article, it is a subject that requires a lot of examination.

Linda Curtis

Mindful, you say you've been bullied in the past and it's obviously given you some very deep insights. Successful bullying depends on a perfect storm. It takes one insecure, angry person to be the bully, and another insecure person who may have lost hope to be bullied.
Here's another angle, what about the person who is bullied by the boss? I've been there in the past and once it got to a certain point it seemed impossible to get out of the situation. When one person abuses their authority over another, the relationship becomes convoluted and the insensible seems sane and the insane seems reasonable.
Bullying continues to affect us long after we are out of the bullying situation. Even though I have a boss that wouldn't dream of bullying me, the scars are there. I find myself looking for signs that in the past meant a tirade would be coming. Time and patience help, but it's rare to find someone who wants to deal with the fallout of someone else's trauma.


Thanks for that Linda. Yes, the person who is bullied by the boss may feel they have even less options. There's not much in the way of recourse there. As you say, like any abuse, people can become trapped and lose their sense of reality, or sanity. And yes, post-traumatic stress is a recognised side effect. Counselling can help with this, but really the ultimate solution is for organisations and those in management to increase their body of knowledge about the issue and to improve their ways of handling it. As for me saying I've been bullied in the past - I don't think I said that, I was commenting from a professional perspective, although my life experience has also taught me many things. Your subject was pertinent to me as I have recently had a significant and classic case reported to me by a staff member. It just reminded me of how important it was to get it right when coming up with a solution, and of how complex bullying issues can be.

Linda Curtis

You're right, I'm sorry, it was a previous poster who said they were bullied as a child. Your staff is lucky that you are willing to get involved and take it seriously. Often a manager or dentist will put it down to female dynamics and refuse to get involved. That, of course, gives the bully unlimited freedom to persecute.

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