Sunday, August 1, 2010

Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise*

I was astonished by the level of interest in my last blog (Bully for you?) and I can't thank enough everyone who took the time to share their views and experiences.

Sadly, the number and examples provided - through blog comments, twitter & email - highlighted the extent of this insidious problem. Bullying is widespread, from childhood through to adulthood, and the variety among your responses indicates that it is not limited to a particular demographic.

Common themes emerged from your responses: apples not falling far from the tree; the flow of behaviour from the schoolyard to the workplace; the importance of leadership; and, above all, the importance of leading by example.

There were also many references to our propensity to ignore the problem when we see it, allowing others to suffer the indignity of being bullied while we look the other way or stick our heads in the sand.

If you refer back to my opening comments within 'Bully for you?' regarding bystanders – I put the question to you: is an adult who ignores a colleague being bullied at work really any different to those kids who sit on the sidelines and upload videos to the internet of other students being bashed? The answer is no.

Just as ignorance of the law is not an excuse, neither is affected ignorance a defence against allowing a colleague, friend or, worse still, a child to be subjected to bullying - so as to ensure the bully's attention remains firmly fixed on others.

I agree with the view put forward that jealousy plays a significant role in the psyche of the bully. I'm sure many would consider this aspect to have been discussed ad nauseum over the years so I won't join the fray. Suffice it to say: with any kind of insecurity comes an inherent instinct to attack those we see as a threat. It's a primal instinct. Sadly, however, there are those among us who have yet to evolve. Until they do, zero-tolerance is the only answer.

Pondering all this has drawn me to the 'character' factor. So, rather than belabouring the bully issue further, I'd rather encourage reflection upon the positive: that is, what type of person does not bully and will not tolerate bullying.

Consider how we gravitate towards good people in our lives, the friends we choose and why we choose them, consciously or otherwise. I think it's fair to say that the good among us seek out other good folk to share our journey, based on some kind of shared set of values, likes, dislikes and so on. We may look for people with similar values and morals, or gravitate to those who belong to the same 'tribe' as us, or perhaps it's a geographical thing. Whatever the qualifier, within our own social and professional circles resides the strength to stand up for what is right.

Bullies gather their power from the reticence of others to stand up to them. They thrive because spectators allow them to, leaving the victims to fend for themselves. Again, survival is a primal instinct but with evolution comes enlightenment and there are many things that enlightened individuals can resolve without resorting to or exposing themselves and others to confrontation.

In response to the many requests for an 'answer' to bullying - I don't have the silver bullet, but in my view the power resides with the spectators to not provide the environment within which the bully may thrive. While it's impossible to prescribe an absolute template that will achieve this - because every situation is different - there are basic things that can be done to curtail this type of behaviour:

  • report it to the appropriate manager, senior person or HR/IR representative - not always ideal but in those places where management do not tolerate bullies you will at least be heard;
  • if a colleague has found the courage to report a bully, then support them - there's nothing worse for the victim than to make a stand only to be thrown to the wolves by supposedly empathetic colleagues who desert them at the crucial moment;
  • don't engage in or encourage gossiping about others - gossip only leads to individuals being ostracised and attacked;
  • don't do business with bullies - this is particularly effective in the small to medium enterprise environment. So, if you come across them actively spread the word, it'll eventually come home to bite them on the bottom line; and,
  • if you're strong enough, stand up to the bully either on your own behalf or on behalf of a victim.

In essence, don't be one of the adult versions of those rotten kids on the sidelines who upload video of a victim being bashed senseless in the schoolyard.

Remember, bullies are cowards and without the right set of conditions they have no power.

All the best,

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* Thomas Gray from the poem 'Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College'.


  1. Another great post!
    Could not agreem more about 'primal instinct' with many not yet 'evolving'.

    I am so proud to have evolved and realise that the person I am in competition with is myself. I will not do business with bullies and fully agree, zero-tolerance is the only answer.

    The only person we can control is ourselves, so simple really. Control yourself and respect others and their path.

    Sound Advice Chris.

  2. Bullying, bitching, gossiping - all character failings that are a sad indictment on the abuser who usually has nothing of substance to offer instead.

  3. Hear hear. Zero tolerance to bullies is the approach I actively practise these days - to my benefit and all those I work with. And I must say it's satisfying, saying 'no' to these types of people - shuts them down immediately!

    It's a much happier place, in business and private life, without nasty, snarky, jealous bullies to contend with!