How to recognise bullying behaviour at work & have the confidence to speak up

Workplace Sexism And Bullying. Unhappy Victimized Businesswoman Standing While Her Male Colleagues Whispering Behind Her Back Standing In Modern Office

We’ve all had a boss who has been overly-demanding and rude or we’ve faced conflict with our colleagues.

But when does this behaviour become bullying? Psychologist and member of SmileDirectClub’s Confidence Council, Dr Linda Papadopoulos, reveals how to recognise bullying behaviour at work and explains how to gather the confidence to speak up.

How to recognise bullying

Bullying is something which happens over time. We can all have a bad day and snap at our colleagues without meaning to cause harm and we should give people the benefit of the doubt at first. But if we are on the receiving end of a repeated pattern of behaviour, or worse, we speak up and say we don’t like what’s happened but we’re ignored, this is bullying.

Confidently speak up sooner rather than later 

The minute you feel something isn’t right, it probably isn’t. Bullies love to push boundaries so the sooner you say something, the better it will be for you. You’ll be asserting early on that it’s not OK to speak to you in a way which makes you feel uncomfortable and this establishes boundaries. It can of course be quite scary to speak up but it is incredibly empowering once you’ve done it.

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How to challenge the bully

Firstly, recognise if the bully is looking for an audience. If they are putting you down in front of others and looking for your colleagues to join in, push back and ask them not to say these things or address their tone if it’s bothering you.

If you have a list of niggles you are unhappy about, it’s completely appropriate to ask to speak to the person in private for a few minutes.

I suggest an approach which uses both of these tactics, using one still works but they are not mutually exclusive, they serve different functions. With the first approach, you’re firmly pushing back on the bully. With the second approach in private, you’re clearly asking for something to stop. You’re trying to end it because it’s making you miserable so the more ways you can tackle the problem, the better. And it’s more likely to be resolved quickly.

What to say 

Be clear that you are asking for a certain behaviour to stop. That’s the most important message to convey and also explain why you don’t like it.

Who do bullies target?

Bullying is very opportunistic, perhaps the bully is threatened by you and may be using it to get ahead, or they feel they can get away with certain behaviours. Bullies may have been bullied themselves and feel the only way they can assert control over their life is to bully others.

It’s helpful to reframe the situation and think about where we can reassert control over it to help us feel empowered. It’s not very helpful to wonder why someone is targeting you and conclude you can’t do anything about it.

What are the effects of workplace bullying?

It can be horrible to endure because it can dramatically reduce a person’s quality of life very quickly. Bullying increases anxiety and simple tasks which used to feel easy, suddenly become harder. Bullying means we probably won’t want to go to work and we’ll start to dread it. If we feel there’s something wrong with us because we’re being bullied and we internalise those feelings, we can start to have trouble eating or sleeping.

Five tips to confidently address workplace bullying

1) Realise you’re entitled to feel safe in your place of work. Feeling safe, happy and productive is beneficial for everyone and feeling safe is the minimum of what we should expect while at work.

2) Define what the problem is and be clear. Bullying can suddenly sneak up on us so think about how long it has been happening and ask yourself exactly what it is you want to stop. It’s really important to communicate this. The clearer you are, the better.

3) Don’t just call out the bully, tell them what you specifically want.  Ask for whatever is bothering you to stop but also tell the bully what you want to happen instead. For example, maybe you’d like them to be more polite to you or to include you in work events.

4) Address bullying when it happens. If you address the situation as it happens, you remove the chance for the bully to say they can’t remember anything about the situation and it’ll be easier for them in future to catch themselves before the same pattern of behaviour re-emerges.

5) What effect have your actions had? Once you’ve spoken up, you’ll need to assess the impact. If things have changed, then great but if not, it’s time to speak to a line manager or a mentor who can help put an end to the situation for good.

Dr. Linda PapadopoulosAbout the author

Dr. Linda Papadopoulos is one of the most well-known and respected psychologists working in the UK today.

Her 17 year career as a research scientist and practicing psychologist has led to her work being published in some of the most well-regarded academic journals and given rise to a high profile media-career. Her observations regarding the psychology behind news and current events are syndicated by the press and discussed by television and radio networks both in Britain and in the USA.

She has a prolific academic publication record and has published widely in peer reviewed academic journals in the fields of Psychodermatology, Body Image, Counselling and Medical Psychology. Her books and research articles in the field of Psychodermatology exploring the link between the skin and the psyche are considered seminal in the field.

She has written several academic and self-help books many of which have been translated into numerous languages and her edited text in Psychodermatology, published by Cambridge University Press, has been commended by dermatologists and therapists alike. Dr. Linda still actively supervises research and is often invited to give specialist lectures at Universities and Medical Schools both in the UK and throughout the world.

Founder and director of the successful Programme in Counselling Psychology at the London Metropolitan University, Dr. Linda was appointed Reader in Psychology in 2001 – a great distinction at such a young age. In addition to her academic research she was recently asked by the British Government to conduct a review on the sexualisation of young people and its link to domestic violence which was published in 2010. The publication of the review received positive attention from politicians, stake-holders and the media.

Dr. Linda is a Chartered Counselling and Health Psychologist and an Associate Fellow of the BPS. She has worked in various treatment settings both privately, with her own practice and in the National Health Service. During her 14 years as a Chartered Psychologist, she has gained extensive experience in the counselling of individuals, couples and families. She was recently included in the Top 20 therapists in London by the Evening Standard newspaper and was awarded the Madame Figaro Women of the Year Award in 2008 in the field of academia.

As well as her clinical and academic work Dr. Linda is often enlisted to consult with large corporations who want to utilize her research and academic background to effectively conduct studies and analyze quantitative and qualitative data. Her analysis provides major brands such as Dior, Speedo, and Renault with valuable insight on topics such as consumer behaviour. The results of her research are often included in written material for general circulation and press releases. Similarly, Dr. Linda’s experience as a behavioral scientist has also been used to help brands understand consumer behaviour issues behind their ideas and to help develop and execute research plans for PR and marketing campaigns. Her research background combined with her role as a well-known social commentator and psychologist are integral to Dr. Linda’s ability to communicate complex scientific ideas and concepts in an interesting and engaging way.

Over the past decade Dr. Linda has become one of the most well recognized faces on British TV. She is a regular commentator on psychological issues in broadcast, radio and print media. She was part of the original Channel 4 team on the reality TV phenomenon “Big Brother” and went on to host the Channel 5 shows “Doctor Doctor” and “Double Cross”. She has fronted factual segments on ITV’s This Morning, BBC’s The One Show and has also provided professional psychological commentary for numerous British television and radio programs such as Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff, BBC Breakfast, and ITV’s LK Today. Her expert opinions are also regularly featured on news programmes including, CNN, Sky News, ITN news and BBC24. Dr. Linda has also appeared on American TV shows such as “The Early Show” on CBS, CNN and VH-1’s “Celebrity Fit Club”.

With a prolific and distinguished career that she loves and which keeps her very busy Dr. Linda values her free time with her husband and their young daughter. As a psychologist and as a mother Dr Linda is passionate that young women develop a healthy self-esteem and body image. Her philosophy is that feeling good about yourself, your passions and achievements inevitably leads to looking good and most importantly liking who you see in the mirror…

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