And what can you do about it?
Bullying is a natural behaviour. You learn it when you are a baby. It’s how you survive. As a baby you do not have much available to you as far as language goes. All you can do is cry when you are unhappy and smile and look cute when you are happy.
When you cry you get attention and someone often comes along and fixes the problem for you. If you are hungry you get food. If you need changing, you get changed. So pretty quickly you learn that crying works. And that’s fine when you are that young and don’t have any other language to help you.
But it is bullying.
As you grow older your parents start to teach you words like “Please” and “Thank you”. They start withholding things till you say “Please” and “Thank you”. So, if your parents are good at helping you to learn more mature behaviours, you start to learn more advanced negotiation skills.
You get told off for snatching things, where as earlier your parents were just pleased that you had the motor skills and your eyesight worked.
You get told not to take other children’s toys without asking. You get told to say; “Timothy, may I play with your bricks, please?” instead of just snatching them for yourself.
It’s a gradual process, but if your parents persevere, you end up with manners and understanding and regard for your fellow human beings.
Not everyone learns
Unfortunately not every child receives the benefits of these skills. There are some parents, and I’m sure you have met them, who simply allow their darling children to snatch the toys of other children and to hit them without fear of punishment.
They don’t explain to their children how they are supposed to behave and make little attempt to enforce rules. I have seen those children. It breaks my heart.
Schools need to help too
Some children get helped to behave properly by teachers in their schools. I remember seeing a boy in the year above me, Geoff, being told off for bullying a smaller child. I don’t think he ever did it again. I remember being shocked that he was told off. I must have been about five and Geoff, six. He looked quite shocked too. In fact, he may even have started to cry.
Even if the schools are good, some people slip through the net
You have met them and so have I. Adults who bully others. They bully children and they bully their colleagues. Some even bully their own managers. Most of them do it because it’s how they have always behaved and, just like Geoff. But unlike Geoff, no one has ever helped them.
So they carry on through their working lives, ruining the lives of others.
As people who bully get older, they can become very manipulative and so they behave very nicely to those above them and very badly to those they perceive as being below. Some managers seem to be completely unaware that people can behave like this and are completely hoodwinked by it.
The manager does not want to do anything
In a particularly bad case I worked on, a manager was bullying a woman who worked for him. She was a complete wreck. Her life was in tatters and she could hardly bear to come to work.
Though I had been asked to help her for ‘stress’, I felt I should speak to the HR department and let them know what the real problem was. I stuck to the facts and explained what seemed to have been going on.
They said they could not take any action because the man’s manager didn’t want to tackle it.
I was appalled. I met the very same manager on a workshop I was running a few months’ later. During the role-plays his behaviour was so poor that two of the other participants came to talk to me about him. He seemed to be completely incapable of following simple instructions and simply asking an individual in the role-play what he or she had achieved against an objective.
How could he learn?
He really needed some help, but no one had the guts to give him what he needed and tackle it.
We all have a responsibility to help people both who are being bullied and who are doing the bullying. Unless we do this, people will simply carry on behaving in the same way for the rest of their lives. As far as they are concerned, what they are doing works. It works for them and they don’t really think anyone else.
Helping bullies to improve
These people need to learn new negotiation skills, just like children who don’t know how to say “Please” and “Thank you”. They also need to take responsibility for their actions. Most bullies blame others for problems and failures.
I once heard a senior manager explain to his entire department who he was going to blame if the department failed to meet the goals he had set. This seemed to be his idea of how to motivate them. He was one of the worst bullies I have ever come across.
Learning how to take responsibility
Unless you take responsibility for yourself and your actions, you will never make progress. People who bully need to learn how to do this. And we need to help them to do it.
A first step with bullying
A first step is to ask them what they understand their responsibilities are in the situation. Be prepared for a long wait. Often they won’t even understand the question.
However, this can often be a good place to start.
Clear standards of behaviour
Another key is to set very clear standards of behaviour and explain exactly how you expect people to behave in specific situations.
We all need to tackle bullying
It’s really not that hard. You just have to do it. We all do. If you stand by and allow someone else to be bullied you are just as guilty as the bully. We all have to stand up to it, realise our responsibilities, and help.
Nancy Slessenger – www.vinehouse.co.uk