According to our study of 2,283 people, 96 percent of respondents say
they have experienced workplace bullying. Eighty-nine percent
of those bullies have been at it for more than a year; 54 percent for more than five years. In some cases, the survey found, bullies have continued in the same job for 30-plus years.
Bullying can’t persist unless there is a complete breakdown in all four systems of
accountability—personal accountability (the victim himself or herself), peer (others who
witness the behavior), supervisory accountability (hierarchical leaders), and formal discipline (HR)—according to our research. It was surprising to see that in many
organizations, not just one, but all four of these systems were terribly weak. As a result, the person most likely to remain in his or her job was the bully. Equally surprising was the
widespread effect of bullying. It was rare that the alleged bully picked on a single target. In fact, 80 percent of respondents said the bully affected five or more people.
So, how do you stop a bully? The study showed that the most effective deterrent is the skillful verbal intervention of the person being targeted. Next most effective is informal peer accountability. While in high-accountability organizations all four must be strong—personal, peer, boss and formal discipline—the study showed that the first breakdown is in personal accountability. When individuals and peers who experience or see bullying say nothing, the bully gets emboldened. And the more who join in the silence, the more evidence the bully has that the behavior is sustainable.
Here are five tips for how to confront your workplace bully.
1. Reverse your thinking. Most of us suffer in silence because all we consider are the risks of speaking up. Those who speak up and hold others accountable tend to do the opposite. They think first about the risks of NOT speaking up. Changing the order of the risk assessment makes you much more likely to take action.
2. Facts first. Present your information, as if talking to a jury. Stick with the detailed facts. Be specific. Strip out any judgmental or provocative language.
3. Validate concerns. Often the bullying behavior was triggered by some legitimate concern. Be sure to validate that need while demonstrating an unwillingness to tolerate the way it was handled.
4. Share natural consequences. Let them know the consequences of behavior—to you, others, customers, projects, etc.
5. Hold boundaries. Let them know how you expect to be treated in the future. Ask for their commitment. And let them know what your next step will be if there is a