Most people I talk to believe the best resolution for a bullying situation is that one or more employees leave the organisation. In our practice, we see bullying allegations as potential development opportunities for all parties.
In the past eight years, our counselors have seen countless alleged bullies and their teams. The referral is often after investigations have found ‘no finding’. We typically find that the individuals in these circumstances have utilised all possible strategies and best intentions until they feel they have nothing left to offer to rebuild the working relationship.
In many circumstances they will indicate doubt about the mental health of others, and use this belief to attribute blame. Contrary to popular perceptions and expectations, we’ve met very few psychopaths. They are very rare, as are bullying allegations that can be attributed to personality disorders.
There is much in the bullying literature about the effect of perceived bullying on the victims.
- Highly vulnerable state of many individuals who present believing they have been bullied.
- Both victims and bullies believe they had no intention ‘to do the wrong thing’ and don’t like who they’ve become in the situation.
- Do not know what to do to change their situation.
It may be surprising, but bullies, like victims, frequently, describe their current behaviour as ‘walking on eggshells’. They are being told they are doing something seriously wrong and are often highly distressed by this, but for the majority this ‘does not make sense’.
They will say to us, ‘why can’t someone just tell me at the time that I’ve done something out of line?’ Or, ‘what’s wrong with them that they can’t speak up?’ But of course the victims refuse to put their name to any event or exchange for fear of retribution.
We’ve noticed that there are regularly occurring beliefs in teams affected by bullying.
- A strongly held and frequently erroneous belief that a staff member’s views are the only ‘right’ view.
- Both victims and bullies may hold the belief that no improvement in interrelationships can be made and the blame lies with others.
- Being ‘protected’ from feedback allows feelings of intimidation, hopelessness and impasse to flourish.
Once individuals take responsibility for their effect on others, we can then progress to work with them on what drives their behaviour, devise strategies to manage such drivers as feelings of hopelessness, high anxiety, perfectionism, and a range of habitual but often not functional behaviours.
Timing for the point at which the individuals’ strategies come together is crucial, as is early success. These can form stepping-stones to future positive interactions. One client who believed himself to be a victim said he had learnt from these small steps that he could stop putting up the ‘white flag’ and trying a few ‘green flags’.