Enduring abuse from an office bully can be physically and emotionally damaging, scientists find. Turns out that targets face just as big a challenge when trying to explain their plight to others, particularly managers who could nip the bullying in the bud.
Scientists who have studied the bully phenomenon say it's important to tell your story, for one because disclosure of a traumatic or distressing incident aids in emotional recovery.
Plus, to fuel any change around the office, a bully victim needs to relay the often "undercover" incidents with those who can make workplace changes.
Sarah Tracy, director of the Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University, analyzed narratives told by bully victims and developed eight tactics that make for a story that human resources managers will take seriously.
1: Be rational
Targets who expressed events in a linear fashion were most likely to be taken seriously.
- Write out the story ahead of time, starting with the critical incident, followed by a narrative that pinpoints three to five bullying episodes.
- Practice telling the story to a friend.
- Bring an outline of the story into the meeting.
2: Express emotions appropriately
Overly distraught statements could signal that the target is crazy and emotional problems are the cause, rather than the result, of bullying.
- Envision yourself as a journalist talking about another person.
- When you practice telling the story, focus on using a calm voice and confident body language.
- Pause and take breaths while telling the story to manage emotions.
- Create a vivid image of the abuse without becoming too distraught.
- Don't cry, shake or raise your voice.
3: Provide consistent details
Tell and re-tell your story with vivid details that are consistent.
- If possible, document the details of abuse as they occur.
- If no record exists, sit down with a calendar and piece together your memories of each incident.
- Ask co-workers who witnessed the bullying to recount their memories.
4: Offer a plausible story
- Reference published studies that verify workplace bullying.
- Use familiar metaphors, such as being scolded like a child, to describe your experiences.
- Don't dwell on outrageous events, even though they are true, that others likely won't believe.
5: Be relevant
The only relevant details are those associated with the bully's behavior and somewhat the target's behavior.
- Focus on the bully's actions.
- Discuss your case with other targeted employees so you can provide a united front.
- Encourage supervisors to talk to other employees who have been bullied.
- Avoid talking about extraneous or exaggerated details.
6: Emphasize your own competence
The fact that you are a competent employee will strengthen the case that the bullying is not your fault.
- Highlight career successes.
- Detail efforts made to end the abuse.
- Explain how workplace performance is hindered by the bully's behavior.
- Do not agree with the bully's negative characterization of you.
7: Show consideration for others' perspectives
Credible bully victims demonstrate they had attempted to understand and even tried to have sympathy for the abuser.
- Acknowledge that the bully may not realize the negative impacts of his or her actions.
- Indicate that you realize the events you describe may be hard to believe.
- Explain the negative effects of the bullying on others and the workplace as a whole.
8: Be specific
Using lots of vague pronouns, such as "we," "they," and "he/she," can muddle the story and hamper concrete changes.
- Use specific, concrete language.
- Identify the bully and explain that person's behavior clearly.
- Offer specific dates, times and names.
- Ask if the listener has questions or needs clarification.
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Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.