If you’re being bullied at work, you shouldn’t suffer in silence.
Here, Gene Reynolds offers agents and managers alike some strong advice on dealing with the problem.
Bullying in the contact centre
I have been in my fair share of environments where staff were nervous about speaking out, where people were afraid of questioning processes or where agents were threatened with ‘the sack’ on a regular basis.
In fact, I used to work in an environment like that myself. The funny thing is that I didn’t even know it was happening until I was out of the company. In hindsight, I experienced all of the tell-tale signs of bullying.
But in the same way that my experience has helped me identify very quickly a bad working environment, career bullies are also incredibly good at covering their tracks.
The reality is that knowing who the bullies are is not immediately obvious if you are on the outside looking in.
(related (keywords: staff bullying, improve behaviour, stress)
What is bullying?
Bullying is commonly defined as an intentional and habitual pattern of offensive and threatening behaviour to others. I use the word ‘habitual’ intentionally, as the bully is this way because of serious self-confidence problems within themselves. They’ve therefore learned this behaviour to compensate for their own confidence and esteem issues.
It’s important to note that bullying is rarely used as a method to get things done by a superior. Rather, it is a method to gain an emotional ‘upper hand’ and to bring fear and vulnerability to the recipient.
It’s more about control for the bully, and ‘control’ can be ‘enforced’ in many ways, such as comments made in front of others, rumour-mongering and through the sending of unpleasant e-mails.
Other forms of bullying behaviour are:
- Distortion of truth and reality
- The ability to be charming in public. In other words, the ability to be two-faced
- The blaming of others for errors
- An inability or no desire to hear ‘the other side of the story’
- An inability or no desire to understand or get another point of view
- Taking credit for other people’s work
Usually, the targets of bullies are simply those people who threaten the bully the most. This could take the form of a competent or popular subordinate. And, sadly, in the majority of cases, the bully is always a superior or your line manager.
How do you know if you are being bullied?
As I said earlier, I didn’t even know I was being bullied until I was out of the organisation. I constantly doubted my abilities and my confidence in doing the job.
Some other tell-tale signs are:
- You feel strained
- You find yourself walking on eggshells
- You are quieter than usual
- You go out of your way to avoid the bully
- You are afraid to open your mouth in front of this person
- You pretend to get along with this person
- You choose your words carefully when around this person
- You find yourself making more errors on the job
If you think you’re being bullied, not all of these symptoms will necessarily have manifested themselves all in one go. However, you need to be mindful of them, and the fact that one bullying trait might lead to others if you continue not to confront the problem.
What can you do about it?
Fortunately, the law has established very good precedents around bullying in the workplace, placing responsibility squarely on the company’s HR department. True, depending on the company’s culture, the company might close ranks and acrimoniously force you out. This has happened before and there have been many high profile cases where plaintiffs have won hundreds of thousands of pounds as a result.
That said, in many cases, all that is needed is a frank discussion between yourself and the bully. Doing this will indicate that you have far more confidence in yourself than the bully gave you credit for – bullies after all look for non-confrontational victims.
If a one-to-one conversation fails, consider the following actions:
- Tell someone you trust in the business about the bully
- Keep a journal of events and how they have affected you. Also save all e-mails and correspondence
- Confront the bully with a witness, making it clear that if the problem persists, you will need to address it with the company’s HR department
- Use clear comments when responding to a bully such as: “Calling me names instead of addressing the problem is unacceptable” or “If you are so angry that you cannot communicate in a calm manner, then let’s wait and discuss this at another time”.
Remember: the worst thing you can do is to do nothing. Continuous bullying can sometimes lead to variants of post traumatic stress disorder or other psychological illnesses. It is vital to talk to people about this and to share a common understanding.
What happens next?
Don’t forget that the law and most HR departments are on your side. The single thing that can shut down a bully is to demonstrate that you are more confident than them. Remember, you are not alone and there are many others who can help.
Absolutely no one should be bullied at work. I hope that some of these suggestions will give you the courage to take action.
Gene Reynolds is a consultant at Corporate Communications (Europe)