Bullies Are Everywhere: Work, Home and Among Friends

bullies, workplace, fear

Bullies Are Everywhere

I dealt with my first real bully at the age of 10 years old. Angela (not her real name) was horrible to me in Mrs. Frazier’s 4th grade class. She did things like hide my pencils, not include me in games during recess and took every opportunity to make me feel miserable. She tripped me on several occasions on the way to the classroom with my entire class laughing at my fall and the fact I ripped my favorite jeans. It was Mean Girls circa 1980. I absolutely hated 4th grade.

My mom tried her best to console me, and I spent many nights practicing one liners and comebacks with her and my younger sister. The plan was to stand up to my bully on my own and in my own way. I did, but it didn’t really change her behavior, but I believe it was a good exercise for me as I learned how to handle, manage and deal with bullies.

The situation really came to a head when she asked me for my school picture. The trading of school pictures were reserved for only your best and closest friends. I was excited and hoped this might mean our relationship was improving. I wrote a nice note on the back of my school photo hoping with all hope that this meant the bullying, the badgering and the name calling would stop. It ended later that day with her ripping up my picture in the hallway to our classroom and her launching in my face. I cried hot, wet tears and made a desperate phone call to my mom.

Bullies are everywhere. They are in our workplaces. They are in our professional networks and adult circles. Sadly the bullying doesn’t stop in our teenage years. They continue into adulthood.

The rise of the internet has launched a new layer to bullying with now it happening online either visible or invisible to the outside world. People are spewing hate, anger and hurting others for one reason or another. I’m not a psychologist, but I think when we encounter a bully or bullying behavior we all want to diagnosis and understand the intentions maybe to fix them, stand up or out the bully.

How to Deal with a Workplace Bully

In my adult life, I’ve been bullied. I’ve had to deal with a workplace bully. I’ve been made fun of. Blogs have been written about me. Angry tweets have been tweeted. Threats of physical harm to me and my family have occurred. Angry blog comments have been posted filled with insults and rumors have been spread. I was made fun of, and people worked to make me feel small, unqualified and just a flat out joke. I cried. I cried ridiculous amounts. And after I wiped away those tears, I made a decision I won’t let that bully, hater or just angry internet troll take away my confidence, self-respect, life and love. I am the only one who can judge me.

Bullying is personal and only you will need to decide how to best handle your bully. You might decide need to stand up to your bully either by confronting him or her; taking legal action, involving HR at your workplace, doing nothing or showing that bully you are unstoppable, and their actions, words or gossip won’t keep you from being you.

In my own experience as a child and as an adult, I choose to show that bully I am unstoppable, removed their power and focused on things that matter like my family, my work, my friends and my happiness.

How you deal with a workplace bullying isn’t just to take a stand against one incident of bullying but all incidents of bullying. You need to end the gossip and don’t participate or incite the negativity. It’s not just one action. Bullying is ongoing. It’s continuous. It’s ruthless, and we need to stand up to the bullying when it happens especially in those everyday situations when we are a witness. We don’t need to just stand on our mountain tops and shout the bullying wherever it happens including the workplace should stop. We need to stop the bullying in the moment of our friends, peers, colleagues and strangers.

The Secret Lives of Bullies

A few years ago, my mom was at the teller line at a bank and came face to face with Angela, my childhood bully. Angela was kind and soft spoken. While she made her deposit she apologized to my mom. She told her that she felt bad the way that she treated me. She asked my mom to tell me that she was sorry for her behavior. She told her that it wasn’t an excuse for her actions, but that her step dad was beating and abusing her at home. And because of that she took it out in school to me.

Sadly, there is no Federal anti-bullying law. Although 49 states have anti-bullying legislation, bullying itself is not illegal. However, things like libel, slander, physical or domestic abuse, stalking and intimidation can be a part of a bully’s tactics. These are against the law.

I’m not here to discount bullying. I know it is very real. I’m not here to tell you what happened or did not or who said what to who. Bullying is very personal. It’s not yours or ours as an outside party to judge unless it directly involves you like a child, parent or spouse or you witness that bullying first hand. You can support putting an end to bullying. You don’t have to take sides. Leave these things to school administrators, your workplace’s HR representative, policy or attorney. I won’t subscribe to the mob mentality. We shouldn’t work to end bullying with bullying ourselves.

The only way we can beat bullies is to rise above, lift your head up, do the work and take a stand against bullying behaviors. We don’t always know the whole story. We probably aren’t getting the complete picture of full story. The choice is up to you. If you are the victim of being bullied the choice is up to you. It’s either this alone or some sort of legal action, which I don’t agree or disagree with. Each situation and circumstance of bullying is different whether at work, among colleagues or from other acquaintances. If you witness bullying behavior, you need to step up and stop the behavior when it is happening.

I will not let any bully control me, my actions or my life. They aren’t worth that to me.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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