Four Types of Bullying and How to Respond
Bullying is a serious and complex issue, that if not dealt with can have lasting effects. One strategy we’ve highlighted is creating a Speak-Up Culture which empowers people to speak up and share their bullying experiences without retribution. It also encourages people to stand up for one another. Organizations that have a zero-tolerance guideline within their Child Protection Policy, and aren’t afraid to deal with bullying directly, see bad behavior eliminated more quickly than those without a strong stance.
What do you do when you are targeted instead of being the leader who sets policy? Whether you hold a paid position or act in a volunteer capacity, statistics indicate you may experience bullying at some point. Regarding targets of workplace bullying, according to the National Workplace Bullying Coalition (NWBC), “highly skilled workers who value integrity, ethics, and honesty both inside and outside the workplace are many times singled out because they are different in some way, even if the difference is positive and adds value.”
Bullies come from all walks of life and regularly exhibit narcissism, insecurity, and feeling threatened. Some types of bullying are easy to spot, while others are more difficult to see.
Here are four types of bullies and how to respond to them.
1. The Leader
When someone is in a leadership role, or part of the community you serve, and engages in bullying, it can feel confusing and challenging to figure out. This type of behavior is referred to as an abuse of power. These bullies routinely compare themselves to others and directly attack personality traits that pose the greatest threat to holding onto their power and control.
Abuse of power can be in the form of isolating the victim from others in the organization, taking credit for work the victim has done, treating a victim differently from other team members, making the work environment so intolerable it forces someone to quit, answering a victim’s questions in a condescending tone, displaying negative body language, assigning impossible workloads, or having unattainable expectations.
2. The Two-Faced Team Member
We have all experienced a passive-aggressive team member who acts one way, then turns around and acts completely differently from others. Be aware, this is a warning sign not to overshare work-related or personal information because you don’t always know if you are sharing something with someone that has bad intentions.
The nature of these types of bullies means their interactions with you can be sarcastic and backstabbing, including underhanded insults or inappropriate comments; all designed to make you doubt yourself and believe you are the problem. It could be that a person doesn’t like you, or they are jealous of your role or position and have something to gain by putting you down.
3. The Mob
Bullies seek out others who support their position and are like them. A situation that starts with one may increase to many. If a bully decides to target you, they may fuel the fire by spreading rumors, emphasizing your differences, sabotaging your efforts, or minimizing your contributions. When approached, they will make excuses or act like they don’t know what you are talking about. This tactic is called “mobbing”. It’s meant to make you feel isolated and unconnected from others, insecure about your position, or inferior about your knowledge, experience, or contribution. Sometimes targets or victims experience fear, terror, and even trauma.
4. The Organization
Organizations are supposed to create a culture that welcomes workers and volunteers, promotes safety, and makes people feel supported. However, if they don’t deal with bullying head-on and take preventative actions, the environment can become toxic, which adds to the problem.
Unfortunately, these types of organizations justify their efforts that support bullying by claiming to be loyal to long-term workers, honoring established connections, and crediting a person’s position or status.
How to Respond to Bullying
The situations above are tricky because they are targeted and have a direct impact. It’s essential to understand how to navigate the ins and outs when dealing with people you provide a service, work alongside, or report to. When dealing with any of these situations, keep in mind what’s important:
- Delivering your best work.
- Being proud of your contributions.
- Enjoying time with your team and the families you serve.
Try to remain calm and don’t let the stress of the situation get you down. Be professional and respond politely and rationally. If you feel confident, ask for a private meeting, let them know how you feel, and that you are aware of their bullying. Sometimes, the direct approach can rebalance the situation, create a mutual understanding, and help you feel more in control.
If you are uncomfortable with speaking face-to-face, reach out by email. Try not to be accusatory. Start with, “I know you have a lot on your plate right now”, or “I understand how busy you are these days, and I’m sure you didn’t mean to, but when you did or said (X) this is how I interpreted your actions. For clarity, I would like to discuss the situation.”
Know that it’s okay to ask for help. Contact someone you trust or seek human resource support in or outside your organization. It’s also important to document any evidence of bullying in case you need to take further action. Create a case file, keep screenshots of text messages, archive all pertinent email or voice mail messages, note the date and times of any incidents, and pay attention to those witnessing your situation.
Lastly, if you like the work and the organization, and have tried to resolve the situation or made a formal complaint, and the situation is still not resolved, stand your ground, and don’t feel you have to leave. Leaving gives the bully exactly what they want and will only empower them.
Bullying someone is never justified, and remember, the issue lies with the bully, not the victim.
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