The bully at work: He might sit right next to you, breathing down your neck as you read this, or she might be the person who conducts your performance review. It is easy to spot the snarling, curled lip spite of a bully because we daily dodge them during our commute as they shoulder us out the way. We have been ducking and diving out of their way since the school playground.
However, unlike the school playground bully from our past, or the shoulder-shover on the train this morning, there is no escape from the work bully. We can hold our breath for a train journey, but to face a work bully for the entire day, every working day, can sometimes be more than we can endure. Changing jobs is drastic, and sometimes not even an option, especially in this fragile economy. We have all heard the statistics about lost work days due to stress, anxiety and depression. So what can we do to withstand this? If we cannot change what is happening to us, perhaps we can look at ways to strengthen our resolve. To befriend the bully from within.
As I am an integrative psychotherapist, I work with clients to find the approach that suits them. You might find one or more of the following approaches might be useful to befriend the bully from within –
Karpman’s drama triangle (Transactional Analysis)
Bullying can be an act of overt or passive aggression. In addition, as situations are often fluid, we adopt different roles in response to different circumstances. As a result, the ‘bully’ label is often not fixed. Only the honest amongst us can admit that we all have the potential to become a bully at certain points in our lives. Just as any one of us can adopt the role of ‘victim’ or ‘rescuer’.
A concept from Transactional Analysis is Karpman’s drama triangle: In social situations we can sometimes adopt one of the following roles: Persecutor, Victim or Rescuer. If one person is leaning in one direction (for example, they are becoming a Victim), that can often make others appear as if they are adopting one of the other roles (they are becoming the Persecutor or the Rescuer). As a result, people perceive each other in terms of these contrasting roles, without recognising that we have elements of each in all of us.
By adopting one of these roles, there is often a payoff. If we become the Victim, for example, we might be protected by a Rescuer in our life. We do not have to go to the effort of rescuing ourselves. If we adopt the role of Persecutor, we do not have to accept the pain of recognising that we all have vulnerabilities. Our tendency to adopt one of these roles can often be subconscious, so it is hard to challenge this alone, but the more we recognise that these roles exist, the more likely we are to challenge this, and avoid viewing a situation in such a simplistic way as consisting of a Persecutor (or ‘bully’), a Victim and a Rescuer.
To view the ‘bully’ as a whole person, rather than simply the Persecutor –
‘Pain’ Management (Mindfulness; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
To befriend the bully, we need to learn how to tolerate the discomfort. I have worked with clients who have been living with a physical condition which causes them chronic pain, and together we have tried out the following suggestions that you might like to try to manage the ‘pain’ this bully causes you –
Whether it is the person who is perceived to be the ‘bully’, or the person perceived to be the ‘victim’, either party may feel that the situation has arisen because either party has an issue with assertiveness. No one is assertive all the time, so to assess how assertive you are in a situation, ask yourself: ‘How much do I act on other people’s wishes at the cost of my own?’ If you are frequently doing this, and it is causing you difficulties in your life, you may need to consider working on your assertiveness.
Assertiveness includes the ability to ask for something but also the ability to say no. Consider the following points when you think about times you have asked the work bully for something, or when you have had to say no to him –
Chris Warren-Dickins BACP Registered Counsellor
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