We hear about Bullying all the time, but we seem to think of it only from the perspective of children and teens bullying their peers. However, bullying occurs as much among adults, and it is a social ill; adults bully adults. This is a conversation yearning to begin, and should be dealt with by those in positions to make a difference, such as in institutions and organizations who can bring the behaviour to light so that the perpetrators can look into themselves and question themselves, recognizing that people are aware, and that victims are afforded the opportunity to speak out, and not suffer in silence. Human Resource Professionals and officials in Relevant Government Institutions such as Ministries of Social Development and Education and Human Resources, even the Media ought also to play a part in effecting the needed conversation.
An Everyday Occurrence
Adult Bullying is an everyday happening in our workplaces, in our institutions, in our community groups, and even in our churches. It is a sad occurrence. What makes it so sad is that many adults who are being bullied are not even aware of it, or it is given a different name, so they cannot begin to address it. They may simply think that someone is “targeting” them, or that someone doesn’t like them.
Unwanted Aggressive Behaviour
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived threat to one’s status, position or self esteem. It’s like someone taking in front to defend themselves by attacking first. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both those who are bullied and those who bully others may have serious, lasting problems, which could affect the productivity and effectiveness of organizations. Thus, this is an issue that should be talked about more in our Media, and dealt with by relevant institutions to bring to people’s awareness that adult bullying exists and the kind of behaviours to look out for.
Adult Bullies are people who have got to have things their way, and so they ensure that their “target” feels belittled, lacking in confidence and self esteem, inferior in some way, or think that they are doing something wrong.
All of what a bully does is for self aggrandizement. It’s all about him/ herself, not the institution or organization that he/she works with, or the people he/ she should be serving.
The Adult Bully uses his/her position, superior strength, influence or ability to speak, to intimidate their victims to force them to do what they want, and to give themselves the sense of esteem and power they crave.
Bullying In the Workplace
One of the main places where adult bullying occurs is in the workplace. It might be given the name of harassment, and spoken about superficially, as if to say “stop it, it will not be tolerated”. But there is no understanding of what it is, or the forms of behaviour involved; and often an employee who complains of unpleasant and or unfair treatment or describes behaviour against him/her that is actually bullying behaviour, discrimination, or victimization, may be told “stop being petty” or “a cry baby” or “a misfit”. But do Human Resource Professionals really understand what bullying is and what demoralizing damage it could do to their workplace environment. Often the Bullies are rewarded because they’re loud, outspoken and aggressive, and the victims are more passive, so they can be easily labeled as cry babies.
An adult who is different in whatever way or who is more qualified than others on the job, (or vice versa, less qualified), may be made to feel he/ she does not belong. Some people may be physically, or otherwise different, and made to feel inferior. And some adults go out of their way to belittle them, to talk about them in their hearing, to leave them out of social activities, or make them to feel lesser in various ways. These are forms of bullying.
If, as a Supervisor or superior, you have a worker who comes to you about feeling belittled and being embarrassed by another worker, be objective and lend a listening ear, you might be harbouring an Adult Bully and it is time to take action. Such a person should be spoken to about their behaviour and treatment of others. It is time to sit that person down and help them look inwards at themselves, and what they are doing to others, and how they may be damaging the work environment. There may be a need also to give them warning letters.
I have had many persons confide in me (as a seminar/ workshop facilitator) about how they are made to feel on their jobs, and how they do not relish the thought of going to work when they wake in the morning, or how they look forward to the weekend. One victim told me she battled with thoughts of her incompetence for years as she could do nothing right in the eyes of her Supervisor before realizing that she was not the problem.
As an HR professional it is your job to do all in your power to foster a harmonious work environment where your employees can feel comfortable, willing to be productive, and excited about what they do. No one can be very effective if they are made to feel fearful, hesitant or intimidated on their job.
The Superiors or Supervisors as Bullies
Some Superiors belittle their juniors because they feel insecure. They feel that this person has the qualities, qualification or character to replace them. So they do all they can to make that person feel insignificant, or to get fed up and start looking for another job.
Sometimes, a Supervisor could be the Bully. Some victims have been made to feel unsuitable by a Supervisor who may want to find some way to exercise authority over the reportee or to punish him her for not “sucking up” to him/ her or supporting his/ her behavior. Some victims who may have seen wrong doing among supervisors or peers and do not support it, have been victimized in various ways.
Victimization is a Form of Bullying
Victimization by those in authority is a form of bullying. It is a way of seeking to punish someone, to pin faults of the organization on them, to make them feel insignificant on their job, and if possible to make them leave. This has happened to many, even when they are working very meticulously to be their best. The Supervisor will find a fault, and provide them with a negative performance appraisal, while providing others not working as hard or sincerely with a positive appraisal, in order to avoid disagreement. In Government institutions some have even been transferred from the areas they trained for to positions where they are actually “square pegs in round holes.”
Bullying In Churches
Apart from workplaces, churches are also places where Adult Bullying takes place. The adult who bullies at church may not even be conscious that he/she is bullying others, but he exhibits repeated behavior that makes people feel that he knows more than they do. Adult Bullies at church give the impression that they are more spiritual, know more about the scriptures, have a closer relationship with God, and lift their hands higher in worship, among other behaviours. They may even use convincing language just to get others to see them as well meaning.
Despite their seeming spirituality, Adult Bullies at church have very little tolerance for others, and when they give their opinion, the impression is that it is the one and only right way, and must be accepted. When their suggestions are not accepted they can become very aggressive, unhesitatingly exhibiting negative behaviours, showing their intolerance, not accepting others, ill-speaking those who do not agree with them, loudly putting others down, even in church meetings, discarding the suggestions and ideas of others, and could be seemingly brutal when their ideas are not implemented. They may even go to the extent of confronting their victims privately or in front of others.
People get bullied even in their neighbourhoods too. I learnt about a person who was bullying his neighbor just because he was buying up properties in the area and wanted her to sell her property so he could purchase it.
Bullies in Politics
Some leaders, even in politics, can be bullies. Some of them bully people to support them. They use all sorts of strategies to belittle their competition, and compel others to see their competitors as incompetent, rather than featuring their plans and abilities. Many dictators are adult bullies.
Divisions Caused as a Result of Adult Bullying
Adult Bullies are not afraid of making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and insisting that others are wrong. It is a way of forcing others to go along with them, or be embarrassed. As a result of this kind of behaviour, a lot of well-meaning community groups, churches and other organizations have broken apart.
Adults who are being bullied struggle with thoughts just like children who are being bullied. They feel as though they are not good enough, as if something is wrong with them. They review the incidents, subtle or overt over and over in their minds, and they question themselves over and over. They feel fearful and intimidated, they tend to suffer with feelings of inferiority. They wish they didn’t have to go to work or church or the group meeting, wherever the bullying takes place. They may tend to be loners, always running away quickly, not wanting anyone to know how they feel. One victim told me she spends her weekends in bed, physically exhausted from the emotional stress of being bullied during the past week and conserving energy for the week ahead.
Some victims may become aggressive in response in attempting to defend themselves, and then it becomes a vicious cycle.
Persons who realize they are being bullied should make every effort to strengthen their resolve to be the best they can be at whatever they do. They should involve themselves in various activities where they could use their energies, skills and talents and feel accomplished.
If you are a victim and it is happening to you at work on a job that you love, determine to be focused, and keep working to be your best. If possible, let the Bully know in pleasant words that you recognize that they’re trying to do, find someone on the job you can confide your suspicions to. Let them notice what the Bully is trying to do or say about you. They may be able to stand up for you in those instances. Speak positive words to yourself. Develop your skills and talents, and rise above it. Don’t allow what they say and do to keep going over and over in your mind, to cause you to slump down into depression, or to cause you to become ill. Getting ill would give them the greatest satisfaction. Practise switching off by going to do something else. Further, do not engage in gossip or backbiting. Feed yourself on positive thoughts, positive music, do things that make you feel good, whether it is your hobbies, gardening, exercising, watching a movie, serving in your church or volunteering with a community group. Your last resort should be to leave your job, church or wherever you are being bullied.
Remember the world is a circle. Situations and fortunes change. Nothing lasts forever. I’ve heard of persons who were bullied as children because of their race, colour, looks, parental situation, or other differences, and who later on in life became celebrities or landed more influential jobs than those who bullied them. So while being bullied stay positive. Stay positive and create positive environment for yourself when you can.
Children Will Do What They See Adults Do
When children and young people witness this kind of behaviour, they automatically adopt the same mindset and follow suit in their environments of play and school. If a child lives in a home where bullying behaviour is prevalent among adults, where they hear their parents or older siblings talking ill of other adults they work with, about their teachers, or saying what they will do to them, and how small they made them feel, among other things, they will go out into their schools, play grounds and wherever else they interact and readily do the same almost automatically to their peers. Children pattern adults.
Well meaning leaders in institutions sometimes remain quiet in the face of an adult who exhibits this kind of behaviour, afraid to get caught up in the “mélée”, or pretending that what they are seeing is only perceived, because these persons can be very aggressive. But Adult Bullying is a personal illness, and people who recognize it in others should not support or encourage them.
Despite this, I strongly believe that the issue of Adult Bullying should be spoken of more in our society. Victims should be encouraged to speak out. Even churches should address it. Just as we have a public conversation going about sexual molestation, lobbying children and parents to speak out, and bring the perpetrators to justice, we need to have a conversation about Adult Bullying. In the process, we may very well find the solution for children bullying their peers.