Respect Goes to Work

In a recent press conference, a reporter tried to rile Oscar winner Charlize Theron by asking her why the character depicted by Theron in her upcoming movie could not just walk away from the harassment situation. Theron kept her calm and explained that it wasn’t always straightforward. That struck a chord with me. I often hear young children strategize how they would run away or hit out at a baddie, and not let themselves be afflicted, unlike the unfortunate characters they see on screen. It is always easier for us to evaluate past choices than at the time we have to make the choice. As a well-known proverb goes: hindsight is better than foresight.  Perhaps you may have experienced or witnessed uncomfortable situations yourself, but you could not single out what was wrong or did not know how to react.

Workplace bullying is a social phenomenon. The initial step is to understand how to spot it when it is happening Are you well-informed? Let’s start by addressing three workplace bullying myths:

Myth 1: There is a typical perpetrator persona and victim persona

The image of a loud and brash manager versus the quietly spoken worker is misleading. Anyone can be a target of workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination. It can occur between co-workers, between the employer and employee. It can also come from external sources such as members of the public, clients or competitors.

It also extends to online activities. This includes text messages, email, social networks and other websites.

It can be both directed towards someone, some group or not directed towards anyone. The latter creates a toxic workplace culture.

Myth 2: Only victims are impacted

Workplace bullying, harassment and discriminationdoes not only affect the individuals directly involved. The effects can be pervasive. Witnessing such offensive conduct has similar effects to being bullied, harassed and/or discriminated. Witnesses are less likely to be satisfied with their job or proud of their organization. They are more likely to think about leaving their organization.

Myth 3: Conflict, tough bosses, and workplace bullying are similar

In a LinkedIn Learning course entitled “What To Do When You Are Bullied at Work”, Catherine Mattice Zundel, an internationally recognized expert in workplace bullying, shares more about the major differences. Conflict is a normal part of any relationship. It arises from differences and occurs whenever people disagree over values, motivations, perceptions, ideas etc. A key distinction between conflict and bullying is that in conflict, both people have a voice, although they may not listen to what the other person has to say. However, in bullying, one person’s voice is frequently drowned out. The power is evenly distributed between the two parties in conflict. In workplace bullying, one person has power over the other through abuse. One person’s dominating position leaves the other feeling helpless and voiceless.

Catherine shares that a tough boss coaches, rewards, gives employees credit for good work, communicated with employees often about what was happening. He/she does not target individual/s in order to make them feel inadequate or small. In contrast, a bully belittles rather than coaches them, takes credit for employees’ work, withholds important communication, and perpetuates negative behavior. While a tough boss might lead individuals through challenging situations sometimes, employees feel empowered by this toughness because they are nudged to achieve things that they might not otherwise have achieved.

In summary, we need each other because we are vulnerable. Organizations must go pass compliance trainings that simply outline behaviour expectations, to culture-building initiatives that promote psychological safety. What I advocate is setting our sights beyond creating environment that speaks out against workplace bullying, to the other end of the spectrum of promoting well-being and inclusiveness in our workplaces.