Sunday, 29 September 2013

Adult bullying

I'm very fortunate that I have not been subject to bullying very often in my life. I have recollections of a girl in high school who used to threaten to beat me up. She was neither in my social, sporting or academic circles so we had little contact outside of geography class. She wasn't a concern.

A few years ago I ended up in full-time employment at a marketing company. There I was bullied by a grumpy man who thought he was the business. Unfortunately I was required to work with him (loosely, fortunately) on projects and the company did little to help. They even moved me to sit next to him! And HR wouldn't move me away despite repeated request. It would have made things far more pleasant had I not been sitting next to this dark-storm-cloud of a person. My heart would sink when I'd arrive at the office and see his car parked outside.

The thing is, he never directly said a nasty word but his actions, behaviour and demeanour towards me were designed to dominate. After a few weeks I remember calling a meeting with him to ask, "Why are you so nasty to me?". This didn't stop the problem. He was a a chunk of a bigger reason why I didn't stay there for very long. The relief I felt when I resigned was incredible.

image from Huffington Post -

The past half-dozen weeks have been very trying. I've found myself in a situation where I've been bullied.

Articles online about adult bullying focus on the workplace but they're appropriate here too. They say that adult bullying disrupts productivity, creates a hostile work environment and reduces morale. Adult bullies are described as people in a set pattern. They're interested in power and domination and they're not interested in compromise or working things out. They want to feel important and preferred and they accomplish this by bringing others down. This has a heavy impact on physical and mental health.

The one problem with adult bullying is that it tends to be verbal - the use of sarcastic and demeaning language that is difficult to document and yet it has emotional and psychological impacts.

Words that describe what I've been dealing with over the past number of weeks include: threatened, patronised, berated, chastised and then demonstrations of eye rolling, throwing their hands up in 'exasperation' or turning their back, huffing and walking away. All to show displeasure and to dominate.

I've spent hours running through incidents and asking, "Is it me? What have I done wrong?". Fortunately I'm not alone in this. I have a classmate who is treated the same way. And then I'm thinking, "I'm an adult woman; how can this be happening?".

I've arrived for every class with an open mind and aiming for a 'clean slate' and hoping that this one will be better than the last. But, it has been getting worse. To the point where I haven't wanted to go to class and I don't see the point in putting in dozens of hours every week. What for? Yet, I've paid hard-earned money to be doing this, something I was very excited about. I've been in survival mode for weeks.

After a really challenging session on Thursday and a supportive chat with a friend whilst driving home, I decided that this needed to be dealt with head-on; the only way to deal with a bully who wields power over you because they have something you want (a pass mark, in this case).

Yesterday morning we had an 'intervention'. We both brought our parents along as witnesses and support and we went through our expectations, what we came to this course for, how we've been treated and the changes we expect to see made so that we can get through the next five weeks in a more positive environment that is supportive and conducive to learning.

I really don't see myself as a confrontational person. I prefer to just not have people like this in my life. But, I'm trapped and something had to be done because I was emotional distressed, on the verge of tears all the time, and at the point where I couldn't see any light at the end of the tunnel. None at all.

Adults are not immune to being bullied. Dealing with it is the hard part - and, depending on the situation, the only way is to be confrontational (or to leave). Bring in witnesses, record conversations and strive for a workable outcome.

All things said, the intervention went well, the communication channels are open and we had a far more productive lesson yesterday. I'm hoping that the rest of the course progresses in this vein - it will be beneficial to us all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Every bully has a vulnerability and is by nature not completely self-confident. You need to find it and in a subtle way threaten to exploit it if the bullying doesn't stop. It could be reputation i.e. bad press (you are prime positioned to write something), it could be with-holding payment, fear of prosecution. There's always a lever somewhere.

If there are others being bullied by the same bully, then step 1 is to join forces and ensure the bully knows this.