By Israel (Izzy) C. Kalman, MS, NCSP

Most of the concern with bullying is regarding that experienced by children in school. However, many adults – maybe even you – suffer from it, too, including at the workplace. So here is a chance to make life better for yourself or other adults you know.

It would be fantastic if we could leave our homes, where there is a decent chance our spouse routinely disrespects us, and our children constantly defy us and fight with each other, and commute to our place of work, where everyone always greets us with a smile, and treats us with fairness and respect regardless of any pressure they may be experiencing. If the work environment were so pleasant, we might not even bother coming home. Unfortunately, human beings are not angels and when they share an environment, hostilities often develop. Thus, there is a fair possibility that at least one person at work, even if your workplace is a school, has been making you miserable, despite your efforts to stop them.

Concern with workplace bullying has followed on the heels of school bullying. Some reports have indicated that as many as 50% of employees suffer from it. Bullying hurts the company’s bottom line. It can easily lead to depression. On rare occasions it’s led to suicide and/or murder. In the attempt to protect people from each other, state legislatures have been passing workplace anti-bullying laws. That means that if you don’t like the way someone at work is treating you, you can sue your employer.

If you have been looking forward to anti-bullying laws as your salvation, you are likely to be disappointed. If laws could turn us into saints for fear of punishment by the government, every government would have created Utopia long ago. Try filing a lawsuit against your company because you feel bullied at work. See how happy you become when the company unleashes all its power to make you look like the bad guy!

What, then, should you do if people at work are making you miserable? You should go to the legal authorities only as a last resort, and only if a clearly definable crime is being committed against you. Otherwise, the best thing is to solve the problem on your own. You may think it’s hard, but it’s easier than what you’re doing now.

The solution to bullying has been known for thousands of years. It’s called the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you want to be treated. You may think you understand it, but you probably don’t. The message is radical. It means that you need to love your enemies. It means you should to be nice to people even when they are mean to you.

It’s easy to be nice to people when they’re treating you like a friend. The trick is being nice to them when they’re treating you like an enemy. This doesn’t mean that you have to give them everything they want or let them abuse you. We sometimes need to say no to our friends and to set firm boundaries.

To turn your workplace experience around, you need to change your attitudes. Here is simple blueprint.

  1. Stop blaming others for your misery and take responsibility for solving the problem. You can’t expect them to be the ones who initiate change.
  2. Forget all the nasty stuff you’ve been hearing about “bullies.” No one is perfect. If you think of others as bullies, you are prejudiced against them. Do you expect them to want to be nice to you when you think of them as evil? If they are mad at you or hate you, you can be certain that from their point of view you are the bad guy.
  3. Once in a blue moon, exploding in anger will make people respect you and leave you alone. But when it works, you only have to do it once. If you find yourself getting angry often, you are accomplishing the opposite of what you want. So, refuse to give others the power to get you angry. Even if they’re angry with you, stay calm. You’ll end up the winner and they’ll feel like fools.
  4. If you defend yourself when people criticize you, you’re treating them like enemies. And you lose, because the defensive position is the weaker one. Instead, tell yourself criticism is their way of trying to help you improve. Even if they’re wrong, show them you appreciate what they are telling you. If a colleague says, “You dress like a loser,” don’t respond, “There’s nothing wrong with the way I dress!” A sincere, “I’ve always admired your fashion sense,” will create a win/win situation.
  5. Don’t attack coworkers, even if they attack you first. If you retaliate, they’ll retaliate. The hostilities may never end. Don’t retaliate and the attacks will probably stop.
  6. Don’t be a doormat. If people offend you, let them know. But do it like a friend. Our natural tendency is to get angry when people hurt us. But then they get angry back, as though they’re your victim. But if you just let them know sincerely how they offended you, without anger, they will probably end up feeling remorseful and apologizing.
  7. Are the people who are making you miserable angry with you? If so, it’s because they feel you hurt them in some way. So, ask them sincerely how you hurt them, and when they tell you, apologize. They’ll admire your courage, and might even follow up with an apology for the way they’ve been treating you.
  8. If you’re having a problem with someone, talk to them directly. They will like and respect you much more than if you complain to the higher-ups.
  9. You can’t always do what people want. If someone makes a request of you that you can’t fulfill, or even if you just don’t want to, don’t just say “no” or they’ll be mad at you. Preface it with, “I wish I could, but I can’t,” and give a plausible reason. Instead of answering your boss, “I’m not working a minute past five!” say, “I wish I could work longer today, but dinner with my family is the super-glue that keeps us together.”
  10. If someone confronts you with a nasty rumor or an unreasonable accusation, don’t defend yourself. Make them defend themselves by asking, “Why would you believe something like that?” Now they are on the defensive, and should quickly leave you alone. However, if the accusation or rumor is true or easily verifiable, it is better to acknowledge it maturely. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. People will admire you for acknowledging what you did wrong and forgive you for your human fallibility.

By following these guidelines, you’ll see that you are the solution to your workplace bullying problem. Good luck, and may you quickly stop feeling like a victim!

Israel (Izzy) C. Kalman has been a school psychologist and psychotherapist for four decades. He is the lead author of the Be Strong Resilience Program.

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