workplace bully, Workplace Bullying Institute

Workers Find Bullies Aren’t Left on the Playground

May 18, 2009 08:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
A recent piece highlighting strife among female workers is one example of how some people don’t grow out of bullying.

Women More Likely to Bully Other Women

The workplace, like the playground, is unfortunately a sphere where bullies flourish. And in times of financial strain, the New York Times reports, “[B]ullies are likely to sharpen their elbows and ratchet up their attacks.”

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 40 percent of bullies are women. However, these women are 70 percent more likely to harass other women, the Times reported.

Bullying entails “acts that are intimidating, humiliating, and isolating and can be verbal or physical, blatant or subtle, active or passive… behavior which you are powerless to stop,” said Bill Eddy of Lipscomb University’s Institute for Conflict Management, citing a 2006 study.

Times writer Mickey Meece asks whether women are acting “overly aggressive” out of a need to compete for the smaller number of positions available to them, or if our society simply expects women to behave more sensitively towards other women.

Whatever the cause, it seems, both national and grass roots organizations are stepping up their attempts to root out the problem.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute’s Legal Campaign, anti-bullying laws have been introduced in 12 states this year and in 16 states since 2003, including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Unfortunately, none of the state legislatures have enacted any workplace anti-bullying laws.

Workplace bullying doesn’t only affect the victims, it impacts the overall company, too. Writing for BNet, Jennifer Alsever explains, “Think higher turnover, lower productivity, more sick days, and more workmen’s compensation claims, just for starters.”

In 2001, the BBC profiled a Growth and Leadership Center program started by Jean Hollands, author of “Same Game Different Rules.” Hollands developed workshops devoted to “Bully Broads,” in other words a “boot camp” for aggressive women.

Some of the strategies she employs include changing their message and its delivery. She suggests “relying on self-deprecating humor to diffuse tense situations” and speaking in a softer tone of voice.

Critics argue firstly that the term “bully broads” is offensive and secondly, that demanding women executives be more sensitive is a mistake. However, a spokesperson for the organization, Ellen Bona, told the BBC, that while the Bully Broads program targets women, 85 percent of clients at the center are men.

She explained that most of the women who come to the executive bootcamp are sent because their behavior is “scaring people.” Bona adds, "We are not teaching these women to be less aggressive, we aren't asking them to change their message, [just the way their message is communicated].”

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Related Topic: “How to Bust the Office Bully”; Common traits of bully victims

Sarah Tracy, director of the Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University, shared her strategies for resolving bully dilemmas with Live Science. The article explains, “[T]o fuel any change around the office, a bully victim needs to relay the often ‘undercover’ incidents with those who can make workplace changes.”

Tracey recommends making a timeline of events, practicing telling your story in a calm voice, and to stave off an emotional display, pretend you’re talking about someone else. She cautions, “Don’t dwell on outrageous events.” It is more important that your story is credible and plausible. Emphasize your own achievements in the office and ways in which the bully has been an obstacle to your performance.

BNet’s article also offers advice for managers who need to identify and confront a bully and establish a peaceful working environment. The article states, “It’s not hard to identify a bully if you’re getting complaints of screaming, tantrums, public humiliation, sabotage, and verbal abuse.” However bullies may not always be so blatant, they are also individuals who take credit from others, talk over others, and insult them in a joking manner.

A 2008 study from Canada found that victims of bullies share similar personal histories and traits, such as aggressive behavior in early childhood, overly stern parents, and low socioeconomic status.

Dr. Mara Brendgen, a psychologist and author of the study, explained to the Globe & Mail, "It's not … the more cold-blooded aggression you find in the bullies. It's really this hyper-reactivity ... It might be fun for the bullies to upset the victim.”

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