Workplace Bullying: Do You Recognize It When You See It?


You spread out the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle without a picture to guide you as to what the completed puzzle should look like.  What factors do you consider as you attempt to fit the pieces together?

A crime is committed in the middle of the day on a busy city street.  The police arrive, secure the scene and begin interviewing witnesses.  The witnesses’ descriptions of the incident vary and even contradict each other.  How do we decide “what happened”?

In each of these scenarios, there is a combination of known, unknown and/or possibly conflicting information.  How do we piece together what we know (or think we know) to create a complete picture?  How do we determine what we don’t know and whether we need more information?  If we need additional information, where and how will we obtain it?

Psychiatrist Carl Jung opined that when our minds are active, we alternate between two functions: 1) taking in information and 2) making decisions about what that information means.

However, between taking information in and making decisions about it, another activity occurs: we make inferences and assumptions.  These inferences and assumptions derive from a myriad of sources including our life experiences, personality type, values, beliefs and needs.  Information we obtain from others is also likely to be based on inferences and assumptions.  If the information doesn’t support our understandings, we may reflect and reconsider our conclusion, or we may reactively disregard any unsupportive information.

Eventually, and in many cases very quickly, we determine “the facts” of a situation by gathering information and relying on inferences and assumptions to fill in any gaps.  We qualify these facts as reality – and respond or react accordingly.  In her book The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, author Jane Wagner wrote “Reality is nothing but a collective hunch.”  Just a humorous thought or is there some truth in it?

Consider this scenario:

A co-worker confides in you and describes an upsetting situation regarding his supervisor, Mary.  The co-worker says: “I just can’t take Mary’s disrespectful and demeaning treatment any longer.  I think she’s trying to sabotage my career with this organization.  I’m not sleeping and I’m having health issues. My doctor says they are related to on-the-job stress.  What should I do?”

What factors may determine your reaction?  Your position in the workplace hierarchy?  Whether you personally know, or have any history with the employees involved?  Do you indicate belief/disbelief of the employee’s description of the incident?  Do you offer support or give advice?  Do you deflect the issue believing “There are always two sides to every story”?  Do you call for an in-depth investigation of the situation based on the company’s zero-tolerance harassment policy?

If you saw signs of workplace bullying, would you recognize them?  What would you do?

Workplace bullying and mental health counseling

Minding the Workplace


Counseling Today devotes an excellent cover story by Laurie Meyers to the effects of bullying behaviors, school, workplace, and online. Jessi Eden Brown, a licensed mental health counselor and coach affiliated with the Workplace Bullying Institute, is a featured interviewee and shares a wealth of important information on workplace bullying and how to work with targets.

Jessi has counseled and coached hundreds of people who have experienced workplace bullying, and her knowledge of this subject is second to none. She includes a bit of her own story in explaining how she works with clients:

Brown began specializing in counseling clients who have experienced workplace bullying after going through the experience herself in two different positions. “Both times were painful and deeply confusing,” she says. “I seriously considered leaving the counseling profession after the second experience.”

However, a friend who was doing web design for WBI introduced her to…

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What the heck is a “fact”?

In their book Crucial Conversations, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler lay out a structure and a process to guide us through difficult conversations – those kinds of conversations that could head south quickly, with or without warning.  The authors suggest that we start with facts.

I tend to think of “facts” as the things you can sense, e.g., touch, hear, see, taste, or smell.  Facts are defined as pieces of true information and things that are true or that really happened (as opposed to things that are imaginary).

However, sensing (relying on what we touch, hear, see, taste, or smell) is only one to take in information.  Carl Jung theorized that while some of us prefer using our senses, others prefer to use our intuition.

And, when it comes to making sense of information, some of us prefer to do so through thinking, while others prefer to use feeling.

So, what exactly are the “facts” for those who are innately intuitive and prefer to make decisions based on feelings?  Can intuition and feelings amount to “facts”?   Or, are intuition and feelings simply imaginary?

Can facts only derive from the information we take in through our senses and use rational thought to make sense of?  Or, are intuition and feelings also a source of fact?

“Just the Facts, Ma’am”??

Are facts just simply facts?  Or are “facts” dependent on a person’s perception and perspective? In other words, can facts exist without human perception and interpretation?

I don’t have the answers to this question. What I do know is that good people can see facts differently – and that this doesn’t necessarily mean one person must be right and the other wrong.

No two people will have the same recollection of an event due to the unique ways each of us takes in and filters information. What can be achieved is an understanding of one another’s perspective. This may not equate to a full understanding and by no means indicates agreement with another’s perspective. It is nothing more than an attempt to see an event through another person’s eyes, brain, and heart. This attempt can precipitate a breakthrough in the type of communication two people (or nations, for that matter) can have. Once we have made the attempt to see from another person’s perspective, we can then begin to make decisions as to whether we will choose to alter our own behavior, perceptions, and even beliefs.

So, rather than insisting that someone stick to the “facts”, maybe we need to ask that person’s perception – and move forward from there.

Effectively Managing Workplace Conflict

Conflict is inherently neutral.  It is simply the time and space where differences meet.

Our reaction to differences determines whether conflict will be constructive and productive – or destructive and damaging.  Destructive conflict drains energy, creativity, and productivity.

How can workplaces stay off the Cycle of Destructive Conflict?  First, it requires a willingness to view conflict through a new and different lens.  And, second, it requires the ability to maintain communication and effectively share information when we perceive conflict.

Are your employees or teams at constant battle and/or avoiding communication?  Have you noticed a decrease in productivity?  Is morale down?  These are signs that your workplace is caught in a Cycle of Destructive Conflict.

The Cycle of Destructive Conflict

Something happens – someone says or does something.

We take in what we perceived to have happened. Because we are each unique, the way we perceive something will also be unique.

Next, we make inferences and assumptions about what happened.

Then we reach a conclusion and form a belief about what happened.

(And, by the way, we do this in a matter of milliseconds.)

Then, based on our belief as to what happened and what it means, we react.

Our reaction sets up what happens next – and, from there, we repeat the process above – over and over and over. . .

How do we get off this self-perpetuating Cycle of Destructive Conflict?

We need to consider what we’re missing. . .

We know what was happening in our own heads, but do we know what the other person was thinking? How can we possibly know?

What we are missing is. . .information. The only information we have is what we are thinking and feeling. How do we get information about what the other person was thinking or feeling?


We must suspend our inferences, assumptions, and judgments and talk to the other person. And, more importantly, we must listen. This is the only way we can begin to understand the another person’s words, actions, thoughts, and feelings.

But how do we initiate communication with someone we may be angry with – or with someone we believe may be angry with us?

Stay tuned.

Fear in the Workplace

Fear is the human emotion designed to signal potential danger to our basic needs. Yet, fear can be an barrier to our ability to communicate effectively. Ineffective communication leads to a culture of distrust – a culture based on inferences and assumptions that may, or may not be, accurate. 

In the workplace, fear surfaces through all sorts of daily interactions. It can be initiated by a comment, an e-mail, a closed door, and even a glance. When the meaning or intent of any of these acts aren’t understood, we rely on our past experiences and/or the experiences of others to make meaning of them. Then, we rely on this meaning to determine how to react/respond.

Why don’t we just simply ask the meaning?


What are we afraid of?

• the fear of seeming ignorant or incompetent;
• the fear of being perceived as insubordinate;
• the fear of being accused of not being a “team player”;
• the fear that our reputation will be damaged; and
• the fear of losing our livelihood and source of income.

Fear perpetuates further mis- or non-communication and the lack of understanding resulting in uncertainty and distrust.

Feeling confident that we can effectively handle a situation is key to overcoming fear. And, this is exactly the type of confidence we tend to lack.

For example, your boss sends you an e-mail that you perceive to be very critical of a decision you’ve made. Is it actually a criticism? How can you be sure? With little, if any, self-reflection, you might:

• shoot off a rude reply;
• leave the e-mail in your inbox unanswered hoping it will go away;
• avoid the boss as much as possible;
• re-read the e-mail fifty times attempting to decipher its “real” meaning;
• share the e-mail with a trusted co-worker for his or her interpretation;
• keep telling yourself to “let it go” when the truth is you can’t, and it’s impacting your ability to do your best work;
• make negative comments about your boss to anyone who’ll listen; and/or
• deliberately fail to provide important information your boss needs to know.

Why don’t we just approach the boss and ask about the e-mail? Although any of the fears outlined above may prevent us from doing so, our single greatest fear is that we don’t know how to approach the situation without making things worse. 

What would it take to have the confidence to know that you can effectively approach a difficult situation at work?  

Your thoughts?

Healy Conflict Management Services


Does workplace incivility matter?

According to research conducted by Pearson and Porath, workplace incivility includes the following interpersonal behaviors:

Talking down to others

Belittling others

Making demeaning or derogatory remarks to or about others

Spreading rumors about colleagues

Withholding information

Excluding colleagues

It would be one thing if workplace incivility had no impact  – but experience and research shows that these types of behaviors have a profoundly negative impact on both individuals and organizations.

Join me for engaging topics and discussions as we drill down to understand the causes and impact of disrespectful behavior in today’s workplaces.

It’s time for change.