Let’s Talk About Bullying

By Heather Campbell

“When it’s your turn to get shouted at, you just hang your head and wait until the yelling stops. And, when it isn’t, I’m ashamed to say, you hang your head and thank God it’s someone else’s turn.”

“[Senior leader] meetings are a nightmare every month. [They are] ritual humiliation in front of your peers.”

“I was sobbing hysterically the night before my performance review. I just couldn’t face my boss. The constant blame; the constant undermining. That’s when I realised I’d had enough – it was time to take a package and leave.”

These are comments from senior leaders I’ve worked with over recent months.

All of them were being bullied at work. None of them wanted to think of themselves as ‘bullied’.

And I think that the bosses whose actions they were describing would have been shocked to consider themselves as bullies.

But in talking to leaders across a whole range of organisations, I find ever more evidence of bullying behaviour at every level.

And there are plenty of statistics to support the anecdotal evidence:

I’m not just talking about the bullying that is driven by a desire to humiliate or isolate one particular individual.

And I’m not just talking about bullying that is driven by the needs of those who want to win no matter what the cost to others.

These are, perhaps, the more ‘traditional’ forms – the types that are typical of grown-up leaders who still indulge in playground games.

What I’m talking about is reasonable leaders who are driven to bullying behaviours by unreasonable pressures.

I see more and more evidence of this.

Economic fears, tougher targets, moving goalposts, decreasing margin for error… a perfect breeding ground for one of the last workplace taboos.

It’s not a topic that’s easy to talk about.

In fact, I’ve started to write about bullying several times in the past and then changed topic to something more palatable.

But October is ‘National Bullying Prevention Month’ in the US, with November seeing a week of anti-bullying campaigning in England.

Both are aimed mainly at bullying in schools. But we need to talk about bullying in workplaces too.

Bullying is, by its very nature, demonstrated most commonly through communication. If it’s caused by communication, I believe it can be cured by communication too.

That’s why, at CommsMasters, we have a particular interest in this area, and during October and November we’re going to grasp the nettle and explore this topic.

To help us do so, I’d love to hear from organisations and individuals who are willing to share their experiences about the causes and cures for bullying.

I’ll be sharing more about that in my next blog.

But, if you’re interested in finding out more about our research before then, please just get in touch: email me on heather.campbell@commsmasters.com – all conversations will, of course, be treated in strictest confidence.

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