Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why 'grin and bear it' doesn't apply to workplace bullying

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QUESTION: I work with someone who is actively intimidating toward me (but not my other colleagues). I've reported it to the head of my organization but nothing has been done. How can I handle her behavior?

ANSWER: Continue to raise the issue and look for ways to ensure your safety and well-being.

THE INNER GAME: Before you try to ease the situation, take a clear look at it. Are you in actual physical danger? If so, step into a position of safety to assess your options. You may need to consider legal action, which is a matter outside my expertise.

In a relationship this negative, it is worthwhile to reflect on the experiences to see if it can be turned around. Has your relationship with her always been fraught? If not, think about what may have changed. Also, given that her behavior is not more widespread, reflect on the reasons she may have targeted you.

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  • Looking at the overall culture, consider whether the bullying seems like an anomaly or your organization enables the behavior. Do you know if any steps have been taken by management? Also, consider whether you feel supported by your other co-workers.

    Finally, think about whether you can imagine an outcome in which you can co-exist without anxiety or if you are at an "it's her or me" place.

    THE OUTER GAME: As a first step, re-engage your leadership about your concerns. Bring documentation of the incidents and be sure you get a chance to go through them. It's very important for your emotional well-being that you feel listened to, heard and understood. It also will tell you a lot about the organization if it is dismissive. However, the organization may just be uncomfortable with the conflict and it may hope the problem will go away on its own. Because it hasn't, you'll need to advocate for yourself. Note that an attorney would be able to tell you whether this rises to the level of a "hostile work environment" based on the specifics of your experience.

    If you're comfortable with the organization's perspective, see what can be done to make a plan for improving the situation. If it values both of you, engaging a professional for mediation may be an option.

    Then you get to decide. Is this an organization you want to be part of? If not, begin planning an employment change. Determine your goals and begin to reach out to your network to find new opportunities.

    It is also important to take care of yourself in other ways during this high-stress time. Reach out to friends and find ways to enjoy yourself. Maintain healthy habits in terms of nutrition and exercise so that you maximize your resilience. Have the perspective that you are not going to let this one negative part of life define you.

    THE LAST WORD: Don't accept the unacceptable; continue to push for a positive environment.



    Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes. Submit questions or comments about this column at or email her at


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