Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 11;   March 17, 2004: When You're the Target of a Bully

When You're the Target of a Bully

by

Workplace bullies are probably the organization's most expensive employees. They reduce the effectiveness not only of their targets, but also of bystanders and of the organization as a whole. What can you do if you become a target?

Thomas was now officially rattled. He thought, 'He knows I hate the name "Tommy".' So he blanked PowerPoint, walked around to Warren's side of the conference table, and said, "Look. For the nth time, my name is Thomas. Not Tommy."

Warren looked up at Thomas from a frightened-looking slouch. "Sure…Thomas? I'm so sorry," he whined with fake sincerity. "I'm sorry if I got you so upset. I'll try to remember. Thomas. Got it."

A target with darts in it

A target with a dart in it. The term target, as applied in the context of bullying, is more apt than might first appear. Many bullies know how to choose targets who are particularly vulnerable to the tactics at which the bully is most adept. Uncanny accuracy is typical.

Warren is clever, and Thomas has just blundered into a trap. Warren had been sniping at Thomas all through the presentation. It wasn't just Warren's use of "Tommy" — there was much more to it. But to some of the others in the room, Thomas now appears to be the bully, and Warren the victim — instead of the reverse.

This tactic, which I call "reversing the victim," is just one of the many available to workplace bullies. By subtly attacking their targets, often in public but out of the awareness of others, bullies can maneuver their targets into "losing it," and then the target seems to others to be the attacker, while the attacker appears to be the victim.

Even if the target retains self-control, and seeks support, witnesses, or advice, the lack of evidence to support charges of abuse can make the target seem "overly sensitive" or "paranoid."

Workplace bullies use aggression to reduce their targets' effectiveness as employees. Often, the motive is political — increased status, political power, or resources — but some bullies attack from compulsion, or for other less rational motives.

What can you do if you become the target of a bully?

Accept that you must defend yourself
Most targets "Reversing the victim"
is just one of many
tactics available to
workplace bullies
are either naïve about attack tactics, or unwilling to mount a counteroffensive. Until you commit to an effective offense, you'll remain a target.
Distinguish the mob from its leader
Bullies recruit allies easily, especially from among those who are relieved that they aren't targets themselves. Be clear in your own mind who the bully really is.
Keep a journal
Record every incident, with as much detail as possible, including time, location, witnesses, and what was said or done. Photos and recordings are helpful.
Don't retaliate in kind; don't run away
Your attacker knows this battlefield better than you do, and has the initiative as well. You'd probably lose in a frontal counterattack. Running away probably won't help either — bullies are everywhere.
File formal complaints
When you've accumulated overwhelming evidence of abuse, exploit your organization's grievance procedures. Escalate to the max. This will make clear to your attacker that continued attacks will be costly. Legal counsel can also be helpful — you might be able to use the law in your counterattack.

Accept that wishing or waiting won't help. Once you're targeted, the safe life you thought you had is over. Go to top Top  Next issue: Intimidation Tactics: Touching  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just USD 9.99. Order Now!

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More articles on Workplace Bullying:

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Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or "Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that we use them without thinking. Here's Part II of a series exploring some of these clichés.
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See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
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