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?

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About Debra Healy
Conflict Consultant Specializing in Employment and Workplace Conflict Mediation/Facilitation/Conflict Coaching/Conflict Training

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