Dealing with workplace harassment, bullying and discrimination to create a respectful workplace

 WORKPLACE  BULLYING

Addressing workplace bullying is a relatively new phenomenon, but the bully at work is nothing new. While there is plenty of legislation to protect sexual harassment and other forms of human rights harassment at work, protecting employees from workplace bullying is not universal throughout Canada and even where there are protections from bullying, provinces differ on their approach.

 

You see, harassment outside the “human rights” realm has various labels. There’s psychological harassment, personal harassment, general harassment and just plain bullying. All amount to the same thing: an employee gets certain behaviours or attention that causes unwarranted distress, not because of something they deserve, but because another person is abusing their workplace power and/or relationship.

 

This form of workplace bullying can come from a supervisor, a fellow employee, and even occasionally from an employee to a supervisor. It can come in the form of verbal threats or shouting and it can even come from some kind of physical intimidation or worse. Short of school yard mobbing, everything that happened at school can happen at work.

 

Quebec became the first jurisdiction in North America to legislate psychological harassment and while it's not going to cure every issue, the approach is a good one.  They say:

 

Psychological harassment at work is vexatious* behaviour in the form of repeated conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures:

✔︎  that are hostile or unwanted

✔︎  that affect the employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity

✔︎  that make the work environment harmful.

 

(*vexatious means troublesome or annoying)

 

Take note that while the behaviour must be “repeated conduct” they also say that a single incident may also be psychological harassment if it “produces a lasting harmful effect on the employee.”

 

Since Quebec first introduced these protections, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia have instituted similar protections against bullying, through various health and safety legislation. Workplace bullying or harassing behaviour can even enter the world of law in the form of a civil wrong, or a tort. However, we have to ask ourselves, do we want to spend time in court and other legal proceedings, or do we want to find practical ways to get a positive result?

 

For example, Canadian Justice Allen Linden, in his well-used law textbook Canadian Tort Law (I used his text when I was in law school) wrote this:

 

The courts cannot protect us from every practical joke or unkind comment. It is not yet tortuous to embarrass or swear at another person, even if it upsets that person. Free speech requires that individuals be permitted to express unflattering opinions about one another. It is better for humans to develop tougher hides than to seek damages for every insult.

 

But keep in mind you can make a case for workplace bullying that you might not for a tort case. In other words, embarrassment and swearing might be a perfect example of the bully at work and therefore you shouldn’t put up with it. But again, do you want to spend your time in formal and legal proceedings, or do you want to deal with the issues and get back to work?

 

Here’s the interesting thing. Many people tell me about a workplace bullying situation that is happening to them and they ask me, “do you think that’s bullying” or “harassment” or “sexual harassment” or something else that is weird or unpleasant? Sometimes it is and sometimes it’s not. When it’s not an obvious form of harassment or bullying, people will say, “it’s kind of hard to explain.” Or “you see, it’s sort of subtle and I’m not sure how I’d say anything.”

 

My reply is this: “If you can explain your situation to me, you can just as easily explain the situation to the bully directly.” In other words, don’t wait until you have the evidence that would stand up in an episode of Law & Order in their fictitious New York Court of Appeal. Or don’t wait until you have post-traumatic stress. You don’t need that. What you need, is to lay out what is bothering you, get some understanding why that is a problem and then what does it take to resolve it. If it sounds simple, it is.

 

All this information about workplace bullying is designed to help an employee who may be dealing with a bully, or a manager or supervisor who is looking to resolve a workplace bully issue.  If you want more information on how to educate your employees about these issues and how to deal with them, click here to learn about Canada’s more comprehensive training manual, where you do the training in-house.

 

Don’t get me wrong – not every person, bully or otherwise, is going to accept what you say

and change the behaviour, but if you start with the simple formula as just noted, then you’re

on your way to resolving the issue and getting the change in behaviour you seek.

Here are some tips:

Don’t wait for comfort ‘cause it won’t come

As a species, we stink at conflict. Ok, we’re good at starting conflict, but lousy at resolving it.

 So just accept that what you’re trying to do will be uncomfortable. You’re not bad or weak

 because you don’t feel good about confronting a bully, or potential bully.

 

Don’t assume the worst

We often think the other person will fly off the handle, or won’t give us the response we’re

looking for. Don’t assume that. This person may have no idea you’re having a problem, and

even if the behaviour is obvious, this might just be the most natural way of saying or doing

things and no one has ever told them it’s a problem. Not every bully knows he or she is a bully.

 

Communicate Directly

Dealing with conflict or any bully, and communicating directly are like hand-in-glove. While everyone should feel they can get assistance, the best way usually involves talking directly with a person and letting him/her know how you feel.

 

However, we’re afraid of what the person will say or think of us. Or we don’t want to rock the boat or ruin an otherwise good working relationship. So we don’t say anything directly to the bully, but we will talk about the bully to others behind their back. Or we take out our frustrations on persons close to us, or worse, we try to run down an innocent squirrel while driving home from work.

 

There are many approaches to communication when dealing with a problem or any workplace bully, but so much depends on your style, relationship with the person and the type of problem to address. For example:

 

Talk about specifics. Don’t say, “You always do…” Instead say, “when you rolled your eyes at yesterday’s meeting…”

Stay away from red-flag language that is easy to refute and gets people’s backs up. Calling someone a “bigot” or even a bully won’t go over well, but telling him/her to stop with jokes about Aboriginals or Catholics doesn’t leave room for doubt or debate.

Correct behaviours and leave attitudes to the person. An attitude is hard to pin down and even define. But behaviours are relatively easy to describe, even to a bully.

Stick to the issue and don’t get sidetracked.

Let a person know how it affects you, using “I” statements. “When you say women are token employees, I feel insulted.”

If you can’t communicate directly to the person, don’t feel you’ve failed.

It’s a good route, but not the only one. Talk to others to get assistance –

which might just give you the tools to talk directly.

 

There are plenty of people who feel bullied. You’ re not alone. But if you let the other person persist, then you’ll feel completely alone.

 

TAKING ON THE WORKPLACE BULLY

 

When someone at work has said something noticeably objectionable, it’s time to speak up.

 

Caught off guard is ok

Don’t worry about being caught off guard. If words don’t come to you immediately, collect your thoughts and find a way to say them later. If, however, someone else speaks up on the spot, support that person. You know what it took for him or her to say something, especially to a workplace bully.

 

Never too late

Don't be afraid to return to the issue; it’s never too late, even if what you wanted to say at the time comes to you in the middle of a meeting or a workplace gathering. If it's weighing on your mind, it's likely weighing on the minds of others. They want to confront a bully, just as much as you do.

 

Don’t lambaste, but don’t soft-pedal

Whatever you do, don't try to soft-pedal a situation when strong words are warranted. And while there’s no need to lambaste a person (even a workplace bully) who made an outrageous comment, it's really important that the person knows your workplace won't tolerate offensive language.

 

Be prepared to stand alone

Bullies only thrive because others won’t speak up for them. Since most employees are conflict averse, you may find others unwilling to join you. You'll have to decide if it's worth it for you to stand alone. Perhaps ask yourself if things will get better or worse when you do, or don’t confront the workplace bully.

 

We have so many protections in law and at work, you would think correcting bullying behaviour would be easy. But for some reason it's not. Here are some reasons that prevent people from dealing with a bully:

 

✔︎  Being conflict-averse

✔︎  Fear of losing a job or future opportunities

✔︎  Fear of retaliation of other kinds

✔︎  Being ostracized by colleagues

✔︎  Not knowing the proper approach

✔︎  Not knowing exactly what to say

✔︎  Concern that conflict will escalate

✔︎  Not being supported by others

 

HERE’S WHAT PEOPLE CAN EXPECT FROM OTHERS IN THE WORKPLACE

 

Our Own Behaviour

This might seem obvious, or ridiculous to be coaching bullies, but there may be parts of our behaviour that is intimidating & we're not aware of it, or we ignore the consequences.

 

Don't be a bully

✔︎  Listen to feedback

✔︎  Be more patient

✔︎  Find better ways to communicate

✔︎  Change aggressive into assertive

 

But if you are a bully who isn't interested in modifying your ways, because after all, it's about power & intimidation, then you need to consider other consequences. Our courts & tribunals are especially now saying, if you cause harm, you're going to pay. Bullies don't always get caught, but there's more vigilance these days about workplace safety (in various forms).

 

Bullies get caught

✔︎  People might band together

✔︎  The employer could pay

✔︎  You could pay

✔︎  You could be disciplined

✔︎  You could lose your job

 

When We Want To Deal With a Bully

There are many approaches for dealing with bullies or who just find weird ways to interact with people at work. While it is easy to fight back in the same manner, withdraw, or get back at the person through passive aggressive approaches, these rarely work and often make your situation worse.

 

Stand up for yourself. It's not your fault & you aren't the problem

✔︎  Do something

✔︎  Get a thicker skin (not your fault)

✔︎  Don’t worry about the bully

✔︎  Work out a plan

 

Don't Cave-in

✔︎  Even when it seems easier to quit

✔︎  We don’t want to rock the boat, but it’s already shaking

✔︎  Don’t fall into saying s/he’s “not that bad” when s/he is

✔︎  Remember that you're only demanding your rights

 

Techniques when there’s room to move with the workplace bully

✔︎  Find agreement, such as “I agree. I made a mistake.”

✔︎  Ask for clarification, such as “you’re saying this work wasn’t done properly. Can you give me more details”.

✔︎  Take the high road by pointing out you can resolve a problem without names

✔︎  Thank them for their openness, such as, “thanks for telling me what’s bothering you”

✔︎  Disengage by moving on, such as, “what would you like me to do?”

✔︎  Give the person the benefit of the doubt, such as “I’m sure you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings when you said…did you?”

✔︎  Slow the conversation down – if you slow down, the other person will often follow

 

Techniques when there’s no room to move with the workplace bully

✔︎  Stop everything. “Let me stop you right there. I will continue this conversation when you calm down and we can discuss this civilly.”

✔︎  Bring in the family. “I’d like you to talk to me like I was someone you cared about. You can still be upset/angry, but you can’t call me names.”

✔︎  Ask for respect. “I always treat you in a respectful manner. I’d like the same.”

✔︎  Time out. “I can see you’re upset and I think you need a bit of space. We can talk when you’re in a better frame of mind.”

✔︎  Talk to the hand. You don’t have to say that, just put up your hand(s) to convey that you won’t put up with those comments.

 

Getting Support From Others

Getting Support

✔︎  Colleagues

✔︎  Friends & family

✔︎  Union reps

✔︎  Employer reps

✔︎  Employee assistance programs

 

What to expect from management in dealing with workplace bullying?

✔︎  Don't expect someone in management to take your side right away - or ever. They have to make sure all sides are considered.

✔︎  Perhaps the bully has already sullied your name to his/her boss and others.

✔︎  People might perceive that you're a whiner - and maybe that's the way it has come across in the past.

✔︎  Hence, be ready to deal with skepticism & be prepared to defend yourself…alone. If you make a compelling case, you’ll be supported.

 

What to expect from your Union (if you’re in a union)?

✔︎  Your Union is expected to be your advocate (that's why you pay dues).

✔︎  But if the bully is a Union member, that can cause a conflict. Some Union reps ensure no conflict, but that's not always easy.

✔︎  But in the adversarial nature of labour relations, many times Union people will want to show a unified front at the expense of the individual member.

✔︎  Hence, you need to make sure your rights are being addressed.

✔︎  The adversarial process might lead to more formality if the bully is the boss. If you feel this could be resolved informally, you will have to assert yourself and ask for some flexibility from your Union rep.

 

All this information about workplace bullying is designed to help an employee who may be dealing with a bully, or a manager or supervisor who is looking to resolve a workplace bully issue.  If you want more information on how to educate your employees about these issues and how to deal with them, click here to learn about Canada’s more comprehensive training manual, where you do the training in-house.

 

© STEPHEN HAMMOND - HARASSMENT SOLUTIONS INC.   
 
CONTACT

We have so many protections in law and at work, you would think correcting bullying behaviour would be easy. But for some reason it's not. Here are some reasons that prevent people from dealing with a bully:

 

✔︎  Being conflict-averse

✔︎  Fear of losing a job or future opportunities

✔︎  Fear of retaliation of other kinds

✔︎  Being ostracized by colleagues

✔︎  Not knowing the proper approach

✔︎  Not knowing exactly what to say

✔︎  Concern that conflict will escalate

✔︎  Not being supported by others

 

HERE’S WHAT PEOPLE CAN EXPECT FROM OTHERS IN THE WORKPLACE

 

Our Own Behaviour

This might seem obvious, or ridiculous to be coaching bullies, but there may be parts of our behaviour that is intimidating & we're not aware of it, or we ignore the consequences.

 

Don't be a bully

✔︎  Listen to feedback

✔︎  Be more patient

✔︎  Find better ways to communicate

✔︎  Change aggressive into assertive

 

But if you are a bully who isn't interested in modifying your ways, because after all, it's about power & intimidation, then you need to consider other consequences. Our courts & tribunals are especially now saying, if you cause harm, you're going to pay. Bullies don't always get caught, but there's more vigilance these days about workplace safety (in various forms).

 

Bullies get caught

✔︎  People might band together

✔︎  The employer could pay

✔︎  You could pay

✔︎  You could be disciplined

✔︎  You could lose your job

 

When We Want To Deal With a Bully

There are many approaches for dealing with bullies or who just find weird ways to interact with people at work. While it is easy to fight back in the same manner, withdraw, or get back at the person through passive aggressive approaches, these rarely work and often make your situation worse.

 

Stand up for yourself. It's not your fault & you aren't the problem

✔︎  Do something

✔︎  Get a thicker skin (not your fault)

✔︎  Don’t worry about the bully

✔︎  Work out a plan

 

Don't Cave-in

✔︎  Even when it seems easier to quit

✔︎  We don’t want to rock the boat, but it’s already shaking

✔︎  Don’t fall into saying s/he’s “not that bad” when s/he is

✔︎  Remember that you're only demanding your rights

 

Techniques when there’s room to move with the workplace bully

✔︎  Find agreement, such as “I agree. I made a mistake.”

✔︎  Ask for clarification, such as “you’re saying this work wasn’t done properly. Can you give me more details”.

✔︎  Take the high road by pointing out you can resolve a problem without names

✔︎  Thank them for their openness, such as, “thanks for telling me what’s bothering you”

✔︎  Disengage by moving on, such as, “what would you like me to do?”

✔︎  Give the person the benefit of the doubt, such as “I’m sure you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings when you said…did you?”

✔︎  Slow the conversation down – if you slow down, the other person will often follow

 

Techniques when there’s no room to move with the workplace bully

✔︎  Stop everything. “Let me stop you right there. I will continue this conversation when you calm down and we can discuss this civilly.”

✔︎  Bring in the family. “I’d like you to talk to me like I was someone you cared about. You can still be upset/angry, but you can’t call me names.”

✔︎  Ask for respect. “I always treat you in a respectful manner. I’d like the same.”

✔︎  Time out. “I can see you’re upset and I think you need a bit of space. We can talk when you’re in a better frame of mind.”

✔︎  Talk to the hand. You don’t have to say that, just put up your hand(s) to convey that you won’t put up with those comments.

 

Getting Support From Others

Getting Support

✔︎  Colleagues

✔︎  Friends & family

✔︎  Union reps

✔︎  Employer reps

✔︎  Employee assistance programs

 

What to expect from management in dealing with workplace bullying?

✔︎  Don't expect someone in management to take your side right away - or ever. They have to make sure all sides are considered.

✔︎  Perhaps the bully has already sullied your name to his/her boss and others.

✔︎  People might perceive that you're a whiner - and maybe that's the way it has come across in the past.

✔︎  Hence, be ready to deal with skepticism & be prepared to defend yourself…alone. If you make a compelling case, you’ll be supported.

 

What to expect from your Union (if you’re in a union)?

✔︎  Your Union is expected to be your advocate (that's why you pay dues).

✔︎  But if the bully is a Union member, that can cause a conflict. Some Union reps ensure no conflict, but that's not always easy.

✔︎  But in the adversarial nature of labour relations, many times Union people will want to show a unified front at the expense of the individual member.

✔︎  Hence, you need to make sure your rights are being addressed.

✔︎  The adversarial process might lead to more formality if the bully is the boss. If you feel this could be resolved informally, you will have to assert yourself and ask for some flexibility from your Union rep.

 

All this information about workplace bullying is designed to help an employee who may be dealing with a bully, or a manager or supervisor who is looking to resolve a workplace bully issue.  If you want more information on how to educate your employees about these issues and how to deal with them, click here to learn about Canada’s more comprehensive training manual, where you do the training in-house.

 

© STEPHEN HAMMOND  |  HARASSMENT SOLUTIONS INC.

 CONTACT