The context is important when considering whether behaviour is bullying; justified and well evidenced performance management, making an official complaint or reporting misconduct (when done in good faith and with relevant evidence) is not bullying.
However, it is important to be clear; bullying cannot be passed off as ‘strict’ management practice. Many people find that they are being bullied by someone at a more senior level than them, for example a clerk being bullied by a barrister in their chambers or another member of staff. Inadequate people managers may resort to bullying tactics due to their inability to motivate and understand the people they work with. They may even seek positions of authority which enable them to bully without question or consequence. They may use the excuse that they are doing it for the person’s own good and/or it is simply ‘strong/robust people management style’.
Tim Field was a UK anti-bullying activist and expert in the understanding and tackling of bullying in the workplace. His personal experience of being bullied and becoming physically and mentally unwell as a result led him to create the excellent resources on www.bullyonline.org, which you may find helpful if you feel that you are being bullied.
However, bullies are not always in a position of hierarchical authority. Power works both ways and the bully may be a subordinate. In this instance bullying may be about the more junior person making false claims against their senior, spreading rumours or encouraging others who may have an unsubstantiated grievance against the person.
Harassment also includes sexual harassment, which could be something as basic as lewd comments in the clerks’ room on a regular basis. The Bar Council provides support on any sexual harassment issue at the Bar. Please see the following page: http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/supporting-the-bar/equality-and-diversity/sexual-harassment/
Bullying is not defined in employment law which this can make it more difficult to define, especially as it is often a slow process of undermining or belittling behaviour which may go unnoticed by others. The list above gives you a sense of what is meant by bullying and may come in one or more than one of these characteristics.
Bullying is obvious when it is in the school playground. As adults, bullying is often more insidious, particularly in the workplace. It is possible for the person being bullied not to realise what is going on for some time. They may ignore the signs because they are convinced they cannot possibly be a victim of this destructive behaviour. Feeling shame and guilt about being bullied is perfectly natural and understandable. It is not unusual for those experiencing bullying to blame themselves and justify the bullying with some personal flaw; ‘I’ve never been assertive. If I was better able to stand up for myself this wouldn’t happen’, ‘I need to be stronger’.
Bullies can often appear charming, erudite, articulate and socially adept. They are often well educated and highly intelligent. This type of bully appears within the definition of sociopath. A sociopath – a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behaviour.
Research demonstrates that they frequently seek positions of power in business and industry. The predatory nature of these individuals means that they derive pleasure from belittling, confusing and humiliating their victims. Confronting the bullying behaviour of these people is usually fruitless because assertiveness and ‘calling out’ the bullying will be met with incredulity, flat denial and further manipulation.
This is in stark contrast to the non-sociopathic bully who when confronted is genuinely surprised, shocked and upset that their behaviour has had detrimental effects. In this case, perpetrators may be motivated to change and if so may be deeply apologetic.
To establish what is really going on and take next steps, follow this advice:
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