Monday, July 12, 2010

Bully for you?

You know, when I heard recently that school bullying had resulted in yet one more poor kid resorting to suicide, I was shocked, really shocked.

Unlike my school days in the 70's, kids now not only have to suffer the degradation of being filmed while being bashed senseless in the school yard - but they're forced to relive it all over again (and again and again...) due to the pathetic bystanders, sitting on the sidelines like jackals, who upload the victim's humiliation straight to the internet. I find myself wondering what sort of an environment these kids come from and what their parents must be like. But that's a Pandora's Box that I'm not about to open today.

[As you read on, please feel free to delete the word 'bully' and insert the word 'coward'].

Sadly, the bully virus continues to infect a certain type of individual from childhood through to adulthood. Some carry the disease without showing any obvious signs of their condition until they spray their vile contagion upon an unsuspecting colleague/s. Typically, those poor unfortunates targeted for contamination by these creatures are maligned if they dare attempt to report the symptoms.

Bullying of any kind is abhorrent to me. It appears within the workplace under many guises. The classic is the top-down bully usually associated with an overbearing, physically intimidating male manager or supervisor - the embodiment of the schoolyard bully who never grew out of it. There's also 'upwards' bullying where individual supervisors or managers are targeted by a 'mob' type mentality amongst a group of, usually well-organised, disgruntled staff. But it doesn't end there. There are plenty of less obvious derivations.

In recent years I've learned that there is an alarming tendency for women to be bullied by other women, one–on-one, in the workplace. Based on the examples discussed with me, victims are usually bright, motivated, energetic and, above all, friendly women who find themselves suddenly dropped within the sphere of control or influence of a woman/or women (because, yes, some travel in packs - often referred to as a coven) with absolutely no regard for new arrivals, preferring instead to suffocate their victims rather than welcoming or encouraging them.

I can name at least half a dozen amongst our closest friends who at some point have been targeted like this. The usual treatment, I'm told, includes outright abuse, derision, intimidation, obstruction, humiliation - the list goes on. In every case it was relentless and no amount of remonstration made the slightest difference at all.

If anything, singling out the bully only made things worse. Some victims were prescribed medication to help them cope. Others were forced to take leave, before going back in to confront the antagonist once and for all... no matter what the cost. However, in every case, the situation became so untenable that the only option was resignation, without any acknowledgement by management of the treatment they'd been subjected to or even a commitment to actually addressing the issue and extracting said bully from their position of influence.

So, bullying isn't always found at the end of a fist. There are many other malicious blows that can be thrown by adults in the workplace.

No matter what form it takes, bullying is ugly, cowardly and totally unacceptable and every one of us has a moral obligation to ensure that it is not tolerated.

So what are your views on bullying? Have you been targeted by a bully? Or, have you been able to take a stand and do something about it?

All the best,


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  1. I'm pleased and proud that you have taken this topic of adult bullying on, often it seems to be the elephant in the room that no one is brave enough to address.

    This is a topic close to my heart, but as with all tough life experiences, you learn a lot in the process.

    Never again will I allow any behaviour that even faintly resembles bullying. I refuse to deal with people who behave in such a degraded manner, whether towards me or anyone else.

    Secondly, I have made a conscious decision to foster any new talent I come across and help to provide them opportunities for growth as well as confidence in their abilities.

    I'll be interested to see any other perspectives and comments on this topic...

    Sar x

  2. Taboo topic, Chris but I am all for airing it. Thanks for this frank blog!

    Females do have a nasty habit of becoming overly competitive if you place too many in a room/workplace/school together, which is a shame and tends to mean somehow bullying can and does happen when it fact, us women should be on the same team.

    Personally, I have had a few short-lived but upsetting experiences at the hand of overbearing bullies, including at an all girl's boarding school in the early 1990s. Little was done by my peers, older students nor the staff to handle the bullies, whose wealthy families weilded powers beyond the verbal taunts and random "pranks" played out by their daughters to me and a few younger girls. The experience was definitely one I would rather forget!

    After uni, my early career went from a mostly male newsroom as a journalist to a 99% female workplace in PR. What a shock to my system - the cattiness, physical jibes, and ongoing sense you had to watch your back was far truer than I could ever imagined.

    To this day, I prefer a mixed gender or mostly male dominant work environment to be honest. In fact I would advocate for more mixed gender private schools in this country. Based on my husband's different but equally scathing accounts of 16 years at an elite all boys school, won't be sending my son to any of those snooty "old school tie" establishments for his education.

    I don't have the silver bullet on how we better manage/reduce bullying, but the world is full on stories like mine and far worse, so we know we need to tackle it head on. If not, the bullies will just win.

    For me, carving my own successful life has been my personal victory over those bullies, some of whom I hear of from time to time. And to make sure I never bully anyone else has been my commitment.

    Love to hear who else has given this topic any thought!


  3. Female bullies travel and recruit in a pack - my nine year old daughter is often the subject of ostracism with one canny girl leading the fray. "no-one can play with x today is the pronouncement". Such a wicked little power base of fear the protagonist has built herself that my child's day is evaluated often on whether or not X has spoken to her kindly or banned her from playing with the other girls who don't dare cross X.

    Chilling to hear that the little witch in question operates on a level usually only found in the psych ops area of secret military installations.

    I often wonder where these girls learn such devious and callous behaviour, but then again, the apple perhaps, doesn't fall far from the tree; and kids do learn by example.

  4. Heartily agree that this is a topic which is a society taboo.

    My children attended an all-girls, private school which prided itself in having an anti-bullying policy. The reality was that bullying didn't exist because few were prepared to admit the problem existed let alone deal with the matter when specific instances were brought to the attention of the class teacher or principal - ostrich sydnrome prevailed. This was one reason I urged my wife to take the kids from the 1st term my older child first started.

    My observation was that the instigators were more often from privilidged, versus underprivileged backgrounds, more often taunting children who had less than they - which prompted thoughts that their parents instilled a different value base in their children than I would wish for mine.

    As a Eurasian teenager in Australia in the early 60s, I was bullied as a result of the yellow-peril fear of the time.

    Bullying out of ignorance or false societal values demonstrates a baseless air of superiority. Sadly whatever the cause it is allowed to prevail because noone cares enough to address the reality, neither the parents taking responsibility for that part of their child's education nor school teachers being open to admit and then deal with it.

  5. Jac,

    I totally agree with your comment "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" - until we can bring adult bullies under control, what hope could their children have in learning how to be kind to others?

  6. Chris, like Sarah, I am pleased you have discussed the topic of adult bullying. It is a revolting form a behaviour that is allowed - and even encouraged sometimes - far too often.

    I have seen it happen before me and have been the victim of it myself, bearing it for 18 agonising months before I threw in the towel and resigned, moving on to a better position and better career opportunity. I still remember her barbs like yesterday, however it was 15 years ago.

    Thank you for talking about something which is so often swept under the workplace industrial carpet. Bravo.


  7. Chris: although I am not a Labour voter, our PM Ms Gillard made a speech which really nails the concept of what we as Australians should aspire to. If all acted in this way, then bullying might disappear also - what think you?

    P.S. Here's the gist of the speech:
    My parents thrived in this egalitarian country with its larrikin embrace of informality because they are egalitarian by instinct. They embraced the sense of opportunity and community they found in Australia and the sense of future possibilities for their children that Australia so clearly offered them.

    They've always taught me that everyone is equal and worthy of respect. It's wrong to view yourself as better than the person who waits on you in a restaurant. It's also wrong to believe that you should defer to anyone simply by dint of them having a title, occupation or background different from your own.

    I was a shy child, who through the nurture of my family found the sense of self to face the world with confidence, to look others in the eye and greet them with a firm shake of the hand. Though my parents never had the chance to go to university, they are to this day avid readers and my father is given to quoting poetry at the dinner table and sometimes to newspaper reporters who ring the house.

    We hear a lot today from commentators that Australians can be sliced and diced into separate tribes with different values, tastes and ambitions, based on how long they stayed in education and where they live. We are not elites, aspirationals and rednecks. We are simply Australian and proud of it so we should be slow to judge and stereotype each other.

  8. Wow this post really resonated with me! Good on you for speaking out on the issue.

    As a nerdy kid who was a bit different I was bullied mercilessly. One thing though, with good leadership from my parents, you can learn some useful skills and self sufficiency.

    But as adults we must fight bullying whenever we see it, both at individual, organisational and national levels.

    It has surprised me that a number of people who bullied me in the past have sought to be friends on Facebook. It's like they don't even realise what they did.

    Also workplace bullying can be just as pernicious as at school. But once you have hostages to fortune moving away from a good job might not be easy. Bullying needs to be resisted & rooted out by those in power.

  9. Although I have experienced workplace bullying to some degree, my sister was a victim of this kind of abuse for three long years. She suffered terribly until she was forced to go on medication in order to cope.

    It is interesting (and extremely disheartening) to note that there is an element at play here of a woman's willingness to put up with this kind of treatment - I think more so than most men. Of course there are exceptions to every rule but it seems that as women, we feel an obligation to please others and therefore, to make people like us- even if someone is undeserving of our attention.

    Also, I have found that when bullying occurs, it is almost always due to some form of envy. When the green-eyed monster rears it's ugly head we are forced to face our worst adversary. The jealous bully feels compelled to tear you down and so begins to chip away at your dignity. Eventually the scenario becomes so all-consuming that it eventually decimates your self-esteem and leads to anxiety, insomnia, depression and a whole host of angst-ridden ills.

    I don't know what the answer is Chris, but thank you for writing this. Bringing to light the issue of psychological harassment is another step forward in combatting offensive behavior in the workplace and in our society.
    Joanne M

  10. Great post, Chris! Being in a sales role for most of my life bullying has been a part of my existence with overbearing micro-managers and number crunching Accountants in every role. I have made budget and not had commissions paid. I have had clients stolen. I have had bullying managers lose sales because they thought that their knowledge could overshadow my relationships built up over years. Unfortunately the answer lies with the HR managers and their ability to deal with these issues correctly.

    In short, however, if the bully signs the cheques, then the only answer is probably

  11. Just another thing - why is it that children who bully often face consequences and adults that bully don't? Like Jac said, if we teach the adults a lesson, surely this will translate to their children?

  12. Thank you for bringing much needed light to this topic.

    I clearly remember when having difficulties at school, my mum would say "let them talk about you sweetie, when they are talking about you, they are leaving someone else alone who is not as strong as you"

    This worked for me and I was never really affected by bullies at school.

    Since becoming a mother, I am shocked at the competitiveness amongst mothers.

    I agree with the comment above re: apple doesn;t fall far from the tree and I think if we want to start eliminating bullying we must start with the parents.

    As for online bullying, this not only takes place amongst teenagers but businesswomen too.

    What is sad is that quite often the perpetrator is in the business of motivating or inspiring women...

    A little authenticity and a lot less competition would go a loooong way.

  13. I like how you've raised adult bullying here. Is it a growing trend? Or has it always been there and not been acknowledged? I think it's interesting too, how you've raised bullying in women... I admit to 'treading on egg shells' sometimes, hoping not to get a backlash... I'd love to hear more.

  14. What an incredible reaction to this blog on bullying. I’ve received numerous comments not only on this blog page (see above), but also via twitter and direct email. Importantly, I am overwhelmed that the subject matter has resonated with so many intelligent, successful women, especially when I thought I ran the risk of being hoist with my own petard as I uploaded it. In my next blog I have decided to explore another angle relating to this issue and will draw on the observations of my contributors. I am particularly keen to encourage discussion on the example we can all set to discourage bullying whenever and wherever we see it. It only takes like-minded people with a commitment to a ‘Zero Tolerance’ attitude towards bullying in any form to make a difference. Thanks everybody for joining in and making such invaluable contributions.