What can I do about these bullies I work with?

I received a request from a reader (let’s call him Daniel) to give my input on a bully situation he was dealing with in his work within an organized hockey environment. He explained to me that his role within the sports organization was to uphold rules, ensure governance, and maintain fairness. While Daniel supported the organization’s recent shift in thinking and decision to “clean up the sport” by re-committing to established rules, some of his colleagues were opposed, quite vehemently, to this paradigm shift. Daniel became a victim of what he called “bully mobbing” involving a group of colleagues acting with malice and ganging up against him. He asked me for my thoughts on the topic and for my suggestions on what he could do about it. Here’s my response to Daniel.

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Hi Daniel, Thank you for your email. It is an extremely unfortunate situation you’ve described to me and I want to tell you, unequivocally, that the bullying behaviour that you have described is not ok!  You deserve protection from bully behaviour, and you have a right as a human being to perform your work tasks free of bullying—regardless of the work environment.

Admittedly I have very limited knowledge of, and experience with, organized hockey ….and uhh let’s keep that between the two of us Daniel. As you know, I am Canadian and I’ve heard it through the grapevine that our beloved national sport and favourite pastime is indeed the good ol’ hockey game. Even with a complete lack of hockey aptitude, I can certainly share my thoughts with you on what you can do about bullying at work.

The way I see it is that whether bully behaviours are playing out in a corporate work environment (where my expertise lies), in a school yard, or in a hockey arena…. Bullying is bullying. Bullying is unacceptable. It’s damaging. Bullying often leads victims to feel shame and humiliation, and sometimes anger, resentment, and an intense sense of injustice. Bullying is inappropriate. And it doesn’t tend to stop without intervention.

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You don’t deserve to be bullied, and you do not have to put up with it.

Bullying, as you have experienced, is not necessarily always overt or out in the open with verbal threats or clenched fists pumped in your face like that of the schoolyard bully.  Today’s grown up bullying can be much more subtle, covert, and “off the radar” with tactics like innuendo, exclusion, labelling, hate mongering, defamation, and intimidation. From what you’ve described to me, it sounds like your colleagues are applying an unsavoury brand of group-think pressure for you to conform to their expectations–or else! Sadly, these elusive bully behaviours are also often difficult to “prove.”

The unfortunate reality is that many bullies have been bullies for a long time and it is very unlikely that a bully will stop his/her bullying behaviour without a good reason to stop (like getting fired for example). Psychology 101 and pure common sense tell us that a bully bullies because he/she is getting something out of it, there is some kind of reward inherent in their bullying behaviour.

So you have to take care of you, and here are my suggestions for your consideration: (1) Educate yourself about anti-bullying policies in your area (2) Get support (3) Report it.

You will notice I have not made the suggestion to you to sit down with the bullies and talk it out. Here’s why. A bullying scenario is quite different from a conflict situation.  In a conflict situation, both parties share power, albeit not always equally.  However, in a bullying situation, the bully holds all or most of the power, and the bully victim can feel powerless and sometimes hopeless. In a conflict situation, I would encourage folks to sit down together to talk it out, to collaborate, and to share feelings; in a bully situation I think talking it out is ill-advised and highly impractical, even precarious, due to the inequity of power. In your case, there is a “mob” of bullies—and the distribution of power is skewed sharply (not in your favour Daniel).

(1)  Educate yourself on the policies or codes of conduct that exist to protect you and enable you to safely report the bullying. Different jurisdictions will have different policies to protect its citizens. You have a right as a human being to expect to go into a bully-free work or sports environment. Are there anti-bullying or anti-harassment policies that are applicable for you at the National level? Is there anti-bullying legislation in place at your State level? Does your hockey work fall under any bullying-related clauses in a collective agreement? Is there a sanctioning body that governs hockey protocol that would be able to address behaviours like this?

(2)  Get support and lean on those you trust in your support network—be it family members, friends, colleagues, counsellors, or community members, to process all that is happening for you. Talk it out with them; get reinforcement, insights, suggestions, and validation from them. Bullies can get in your head and make you doubt yourself. So getting positive and supportive messages from those who care about you can help to balance out the negative stuff coming at you from the bullies.

Explaining the bully situation to your support network will also help you recall the various bully incidents and scenarios so you can document them, and communicate them clearly and effectively, if and when you are ready to report the bullying behaviour.

(3)  Report the bully behaviour to a rational nonpartisan person who has the power to intervene—when you are ready to do so. Again, is there someone at the National level? State level?  Regional level? Or a governing body? A Steward? A Hockey Ombudsperson that you can report this to? Is there a formal complaints procedure you can follow or legal action you can take related to the bullying?

I wish you all the very best and swift relief to your situation.  I hope my response has been helpful to you.  And again Daniel thanks for reaching out.

Kind regards,

Dale

About Dale Burt, MA Psych: Dale is a Conflict Management Consultant based in the Toronto, Ontario area. As an experienced mediator and trainer, she helps to resolve and prevent conflict in the workplace. Helping your workplace work better ~ one employee relationship at a time. Follow Dale on Twitter or, LinkedIn, or call her at 905-903-0951 with your conflict question.

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