Let’s Talk

Bravery in Today’s Culture – Part 3

What About the Workplace?


Q. Would you please talk more about staying brave when people are bullying you in the workplace: both co-workers and your boss?

A. Let’s Talk! This is a hard one! Bullying in the workplace is akin to bullying in families—very sensitive and difficult to talk about—but talk we will do. Talking is brave! We are not in the business of trying to change or control others (actually bullies do that), but information can change us. This is what we can do:

A first aspect of workplace bullying is that it is alarmingly accepted and sometimes admired as “toughness.” Aggression and assertion in the workplace get twisted and are hard to separate at times. Assertion when appropriate is a good thing; aggression is not a good thing when it belittles or disrespects another. Our culture has become pretty aggressive, so this already sounds counter-cultural. Proof that aggression is not respectful is the uh-oh feeling in the pit of your stomach when it happens to you. Listen to that red flag. I bet you have a story or two or more.

There is also the issue of an imbalance of power. When someone in authority over you bullies you, there are a number of options. You can choose to ignore it, but as we talked about last week, that is not a healthy choice emotionally. In addition to your own resulting issues, you “enable” these toxic behaviors in the bully when you pretend the behaviors are not present. You can choose to change jobs, although in this economy, that might not be practical. However, could God be calling you to another situation and using this pressure to move you forward in your current work?

Another choice is a conversation. Remember the suggested line from my last column, “We have a problem. What do you think we need to do to make things better?” This is certainly respectful enough to say to a boss or another co-worker and is the start of a dialogue. You can also ask that a third person, such as a Human Resources rep, help the two of you work through this problem. Your part is the establishment of a boundary. It is never acceptable for someone to intimidate or to choose any of the other bullying behaviors we have discussed. It makes for a toxic workplace when bullying is accepted behavior. There is also the choice to go to a higher authority in the workplace if your boss is not open to getting help. It is not advisable to go over your boss’ head before first speaking with your boss, if possible.

If the bullying is sexual harassment , this is a legal issue and needs to be reported to a legal authority and not ignored or dismissed. There are countless other categories of bullying in the workplace, but the common denominator is for the victim to be BRAVE and set a boundary. This may mean talking about the discomfort and the disrespect. This is not easy, but it is appropriate and certainly a basic right to protect oneself: your heart, mind, and body.

As a summary: your main focus is to protect YOU, not changing the bully. If the words you speak to set that limit or boundary actually stop the bullying—great. But if the bully doesn’t change, you were proactive and brave. Next week we will talk about family bullying, but today choose to think about Ephesians 6:13 “having done all to stand.” We do what is right and all we should do—and then we stand.

At this point I need to make a disclaimer. Please prayerfully consider your situation because it is unique to you and vital to address. None of what I have mentioned above may be what you need to do to resolve your workplace bullying situation(s). My hope is to raise your awareness and help to clarify what you are experiencing. The Lord alone has the answers. Call unto Him!

For Deeper Reflection

Jeremiah 33:3  “Call to me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things which you do not know . . . .”

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.