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Dealing with mobbing at work
How can we stand against colleagues who talk behind our back, isolate us, sway others’ opinions and cause our self-esteem to be so eroded that we see no alternative but to quit our job?
Competition and power games at work are not always obvious: an emotional outburst or an aggressive gesture is easier to classify; It is more difficult to deal with covert forms of manipulation because they happen in the background and cause damage over time.
The fact that you might be perceived as better, more competent, more popular, or you are behaving differently or support different ideas than the rest, can quickly turn an apparently friendly work relationship into the opposite, bullying.
Colleagues gossip behind your back and if until recently you were entrusted with interesting projects, now you are only asked to carry out meaningless tasks.
Information no longer reaches you; you are deliberately misled.
Colleagues start ignoring you and your contribution because someone has spread malicious rumours, undermining you.
A highly demanding and competitive environment is often the breeding ground for mobbers that start plotting in the attempt to distinguish themselves at the expense of others. And it is not always about someone picking on the weak like often experienced in schools among children. (Read also https://www.kampfkunstzuerich.ch/news/kampfkunst-news-mobbing).
At work, a person’s strengths can also make the bully feel threatened and trigger their scheming behaviour. HR professionals are often the point of contact for employees who report, directly or indirectly, cases of abuse and intimidation, so do not be ashamed to tell what’s going on.
Bullying can make working life miserable and eventually victims end up feeling isolated and helpless –in the process, they begin to doubt their skills, they lose motivation and confidence. Bullying can also lead to illness and depression.
Challenge bullying: What can you do?
Don’t get involved in power games
If provoked, try to remain calm, even if you are seething inside. Keep in control, stay respectful, focusing rather on attending your tasks.
The bully mean or personal remarks have nothing to do with your abilities; they are just meant to intimidate and control you.
In fact, bullies like to provoke strong reactions that they can use as evidence of your alleged wrongdoings in the eyes of others. The bully would use your “inappropriate” reaction to prove to supervisors and co-workers that there is something wrong with you.
Bullies push until the victim responds emotionally, but if you control yourself, their plan will fail. Getting overwhelmed by clouding emotions is actually counterproductive in any argument.
Rather try to establish a sort of inner distance and meet the other person with a neutral attitude. Be self-confident and assertive.
Admit your mistakes when they happen
You are competent and professional in your job; sometimes mistakes are part of it. So don’t cover up your mistakes nor ask anyone to cover up for you. A bully would take that as the perfect chance to expose you and shed a bad light about you among boss or colleagues.
If you own your mistakes and accept your responsibility however, the situation can be defused immediately.
Once bullies realize that you are not an easy target after all and have no power over you, they usually stop attacking.
Talk and exchange ideas with colleagues you trust
It may turn out that they are experiencing the same situation. In any case, it is always advisable to maintain good, friendly relationships; if you’re standing and reputation within the team grows, the bully’s attempts to isolate you will fail.
Openness and honesty make it harder for schemers to spread false facts behind your back. Even more if your performance is good and what you deliver speaks for itself.
Deal with the situation, speak up
Make your boundaries clear. If you realize that something is going on behind your back, confront the bully with the help of a mediator and seek for clarification. State objectively what you have found out – only the facts – and ask for an explanation. Bullies normally retreat from people who stand up to them.
Involve supervisors and HR managers
Ask your boss for an open discussion and describe the situation from your side. Again, the emphasis here is on facts that you can present well documented, assumptions or ill-feelings aside.
If you are not sure who is behind the scheming, you can say something like: «I’ve found out that someone is telling stories behind my back that do not reflect the truth and you were given wrong information regarding my project XY. Before you get misled, I’d like to talk to you personally and let you know what’s going on. Here are some facts.”
⚠️ Companies take the issue of bullying very seriously: many have procedures in place as well as anonymous reporting tools or help-desks. Some even have bullying prevention programs. Employees must also adhere to a code of conduct and respect certain rules which are part of the contractual framework. Violations lead to consequences.
⚠️ If you are a victim of bullying and were not able to solve the problem informally, seek for help in a timely manner and address the matter according to employer’s grievance procedure or involving external institutions. Bullying is punishable and you should not tolerate any abuse. (https://www.stadt-zuerich.ch/pd/de/index/stadtpolizei_zuerich/praevention/kriminalpraevention/jeder-kann-h-e-h-/mobbing.html)
Learning assertiveness and strengthening your self-confidence is going to help you stand up for yourself before getting cornered.
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