Caroline Cranshaw: How to deal with workplace bullies ...

Photo / Getty

Photo / Getty

You'd think that bullies would stop being a problem once you leave school, but some people never stop acting like a big jerk. They may not be stealing your lunch money any longer, but bullies can still put you down, harass you, and sabotage your work. The problem with adult bullies is they have normally become much better at hiding what they do, and know how to push your buttons, without their supervisor noticing. Even worse, they may be your supervisor.

Bullying is aggressive, recurring behaviour. The purpose of bullying is to cause emotional, physical or psychological harm. Here are three main types of bullying as defined by Bully Free NZ:

Physical Bullying

This involves hurting someone, or damaging or stealing their belongings. It includes:

  • hitting, kicking, pinching, spitting, biting
  • tripping, shoving or intimidating another person
  • mean or rude hand gestures
  • touching another person when they don't want you to
  • being made afraid of being hurt
  • stealing or damaging possessions

Verbal Bullying

This involves saying or writing mean things. It includes:

  • name calling/taunting
  • teasing someone or being sarcastic in a hurtful way
  • offensive comments, insults or jokes about someone and their family because of their race, culture, religion, disability or sexuality
  • mean comments about someone's body or physical characteristics such as their weight or height
  • inappropriate sexual comments
  • threatening to cause harm

Social Bullying/Cyberbullying

This involves hurting someone's relationships or reputation. It includes:

  • ignoring or leaving someone out on purpose
  • posting offensive or cruel comments
  • spreading rumours about someone
  • destroying relationships and friendships
  • embarrassing or harassing someone in public or online
  • sharing information, images or videos that will have a harmful effect on the other person
  • telling lies or stories about someone to shame them and make others not like them

If any of these types of hurtful behaviours happen only once, or result from a conflict between two or more people, they are not bullying. The behaviours alone don't define bullying. Bullying is when these things happen (or could potentially happen) repeatedly. It’s important to address harmful behaviour straight away so it doesn’t turn into bullying.

Many bullies fit the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental disorder in which people have an exaggerated sense of importance, an extreme need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. People with NPD tend to spend an excessive amount of time on their appearance or thinking about achieving power and success. However, behind their façade of total confidence is an incredibly delicate self-worth that is easily wounded by criticism. The behaviour usually begins in adolescence and takes place in social interactions. To give you an example, there is a certain American politician who shows all the signs of NPD and is a massive bully through social media.

One of the problems with bullies is that they often start out with more power since they may be bigger, stronger, or in a position of authority compared to the person they are bullying. However, they are not invincible. Bullies are only as powerful as you allow them to be.

Here are some tips for understanding, and dealing with bullies, no matter how old you are.

Be Confident And Stand Your Ground. Bullies lose their power if you don’t bow down to them. Deep down, they doubt that they are worthy of your respect. They will admire you more for speaking with self-assurance and confidence. So when they attack, don’t be aggressive back. Instead, disarm them with your strong, confident and don’t mess with me manner. Tell them what they are doing is not okay and to stop it now. On average, a bully takes less than seven seconds to decide whether you're going to be his next target or not. And how they decide you are someone they can bully is based on how you hold yourself and whether or not you project confidence.

Borrow Someone’s Confidence To Increase Your Own. Think of someone who has the confidence you desire. It can be someone you know. It can someone famous you admire. Imagine stepping into their body and feeling how you would feel if you had their confidence. How would you walk, talk and hold yourself if you were that person? This gives your subconscious mind instructions on how to be confident. Visualising yourself as a confident person helps to reprogram the subconscious into believing you are confident.

Or even make up an alter ego that’s confident and doesn’t take any crap. Think of Ali G/Sacha Baron Cohen, Ziggy Stardust/David Bowie, Sasha Fierce/Beyoncé, Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, Superman/Clark Kent, Batman/Bruce Wayne, Slim Shady/Eminem.

Use Humour To Defend Yourself. Using humour can be a great deflector. I was bullied as a child and my mother’s group of gay friends coached me on comebacks I could use when I was being bullied. It worked unbelievably well and helped boost my confidence. Every stand-up comedian I know started out using humour as a self-defence from bullying. Youtube has lots of videos on good comebacks for dealing with bullies. Narcissists worry about what other people think so humour is a great way to get under their skin and get them to leave you alone.

Tell Everyone What The Bully Is Doing. You are only as sick as your secrets and people get away with what you let them. If someone is hurting you, you need to tell your family and any authorities. If they don’t listen or help you, tell even more people. I have saved myself and quite a few others from terrible people by telling the truth candidly and repeatedly until some listened to me. Someone will eventually help you. If the abuse is coming through the internet, report them through whatever media they contacted you on. Never be afraid to tell the police or authorities, they are there to help you.

Don’t Bicker With Them. It’s easy to fall into the pattern by arguing or fighting — but that’s exactly what they want. If they do continue to harass you, promise yourself that you will not engage with them. Remember this a toxic person and limit their contact, or if possible, stop communicating with them completely.

Block And Report Them. Technology can make ending contact more difficult, but you can make yourself almost invisible to certain people. If someone is abusing you online, or through the phone, block them straight away. Blocking their email and other lines of communication may be necessary.

If all else fails or if you are in danger remember this: ‘crazy always wins.’ When I was five, my father was a manager at a large apartment building. I remember going around with him to collect the rent and there was a very large, scary Hell’s Angel (a biker gang member) who didn’t like paying his rent money on time. He told my dad to F off and started yelling at my father aggressively. My 5’9 father started screaming back and popped the buttons off his shirt, ripping it open, demanding he get him his money.

The man was so taken aback that he instantly starting trying to calm him down, saying “Hey man, your daughter is here, chill out! Hang on, I’ll go get your money.” And handed over the cash. I was horrified and I remember him turning to me and saying. “Remember, baby girl. Crazy always wins. People will stay away if they think your bat sh*t crazy.” Many indigenous warrior dances know the power of this energy and it’s always breath-taking.

Remember that the bully is always hurting or they maybe a sociopath or psychopath. You don't hurt other people when you love yourself and are mentally sound,  unless in self-defence. The more we detest ourselves, the more we want to see others suffer.

In the esteemed words of Michael J. Fox, “One's dignity may be assaulted, vandalised and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.”

Bullying can be a crime in some circumstances.

Crimes Act - If physical harm is caused through bullying this may be a criminal offence and covered under the Crimes Act no matter what the age of the offender. This should be reported to the police.

Digital Communications Act - If bullying is occurring through digital channels in, or out, of school or the workplace, then the Harmful Digital Communications Act might apply.

Harmful digital communication and cyberbullying includes:

  • sending or publishing threatening or offensive material
  • spreading damaging rumours
  • sending or publishing sensitive personal information such as embarrassing photos and videos.

Digital communication is defined widely in the Act to include any form of electronic message such as texts, photos, pictures, recordings etc. It’s now illegal to send messages and post material online that deliberately causes a victim serious emotional distress.

The offence – causing harm by posting digital communication – is punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment or a maximum fine of $50,000 for individuals and a fine of up to $200,000 for companies.

Employment Relations Act - Providing a safe workplace for employees is an implied obligation in all employment agreements. If an employer breaches this obligation by failing to manage bullying, and creating an unsafe workplace, an employee may raise a personal grievance. Report any workplace bullying to your manager, HR or to the Employment Relations Authority. You have 90 days from when the bullying took place to file a personal grievance.

Here are some websites with more information:

Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, founder and trainer at the New Zealand Integrative Hypnotherapy Training Institute and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at nzhypnotherapy.co.nz. Listen to Caroline's new podcast WTF Stories & Advice.