I had been warned about the workplace bully in the interview process, although I didn’t fully realize it at that moment. However, about seven days into a new job, I knew exactly why one executive asked me the questions he asked and shared the stories he shared about the office dynamics. It was my first experience with workplace bullying.
Initially, I thought it was a situation I could resolve by better understanding this person’s strengths and personality type. And that certainly provided helpful insights. But no matter what I did, what I said, or how I adjusted my work and communication styles to better mesh with the bully’s styles, nothing seemed to make a difference.
I talked with human resources multiple times, and I spoke with my executives daily. I even started documenting what was happening to me and others around me so we could establish a pattern of behavior. Ultimately, I realized the company culture was toxic, and I wasn’t going to change it. It needed to change from the top down. And I used it as my opportunity to pursue another career path.
A couple years later, I had the privilege of supporting two authors who were experts on relational aggression and female bullying. They identified the three roles in any bullying situation: the bully, the target, and the bystander.
As I became familiar with this topic, I had to admit that I’ve been all three of these roles at various times throughout my life. I am the oldest of four girls in my family. I’ve bullied my sisters. I’ve been bullied by my sisters. And I’ve been a bystander to my sisters bullying each other. We didn’t do it all of the time. And we weren’t doing it intentionally in many cases – especially as little kids. As I thought about this more, I could see these three roles were part of multiple experiences I had throughout elementary school, high school, and college also.
As adults, I’ve found these same roles present themselves frequently in family dynamics, office situations, and even social engagements. I try to keep a heightened awareness of it so I’m not behaving as the bully or allowing myself to be bullied. I also know that I need to speak up when I’m a bystander instead of ignoring it or minimizing it.
As we address this sensitive topic and other office conflicts this week on our Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages, I hope it inspires each of you to self-assess and ask yourself how you can avoid being relationally aggressive.
What do you know about relational aggression? How have you been relationally aggressive in the past – maybe even without realizing it? What can you do to recognize these behaviors more quickly – both in yourself and in others – so you can respond more productively when difficult situations arise? To help you, we’ve pulled together some resources about relational aggression and workplace bullying in this week’s feature article.
My encounter with workplace bullying was one of the most stressful experiences of my career. But it was also one of the most educational opportunities of my life. And it has made me more aware of my own words and actions, and the impact they have on others. I am thankful for that.
Supporting your administrative success,
P.S. Is your professional portfolio online for the world to see? On Thursday, August 30, I’m presenting a free webinar in partnership with Executive Leadership Support Forum. The session will help you position yourself as the “go-to” person within your company and profession by developing a digital portfolio that will demonstrate just how talented an admin you are! Register here!