How do you Stop Bullying in the Workplace?

How do you stop Bullying in the Workplace?

Bullying is stubbornly still prevalent in the workplace and business life. Although organisations know how damaging it is, many employ policies and procedures that are fair, right and logical but those approaches are clearly not working.

Why not stop doing what we currently do to tackle the workplace bully and look at the problem, and just ask why?

If you ask “why?” we believe the answer to its failure is blindingly obvious; the victims of bullying are in a state of “Learned Helplessness” that renders them incapable of taking positive action or doing anything logical or constructive.

Yet HR professionals and practitioners don’t know or ignore this fact. They produce, and quite rightly, policies relating to informal and formal processes on how to deal with the bully, which are legal, logical and essential. However, a person suffering from the overwhelming negative psychological impact of bullying is in no state to deal with such procedures. Lists of different types of bullying are widely identified that include aggressive, passive and cyber bullies. Symptoms of bullying are explored and psychologists can label different types of conditions. However, although this is all very interesting to a lot of people, it’s not very helpful for the victim.

The same applies to the logical advice given by trainers or guidelines found on different web sites for victims. These includes your rights, your responsibilities and some practical tips such as how you should react, do not make jokes, learn self-defence, through to how to avoid or outsmart the bully. These and many more are valuable in themselves and all have their place but, they very seldom work.

So why does this information, sound advice and methods have very little impact on victims?

The answer is simple. It’s called the Knowing – Doing Gap. Giving people knowledge inevitably fails to transfer into behavioural change. We have all been on training courses that may have contained useful knowledge but we soon return to our old habits back in the workplace. Donald Kirkpatrick of training evaluation fame admitted in a book in 2005 that there is a ‘devastating disconnect between learning and behaviour’. In other words learning is learning and not doing. Doing takes a ‘can do’ mind with a purpose, something that a victim of bullying has lost.

If the average worker fails to change his or her behaviours and take action on topics such as leadership, change, performance or stress, how can we expect someone who is in a state of “Learned Helplessness” to change their beliefs, attitude and behaviour? “Learned Helplessness” results when a perceived absence of control over a situation occurs such as when being bullied. This leads to people behaving in a helpless manner as they become incapable of taking action. This condition is linked to depression, anxiety, shyness and isolation. It stops rational thought and personal drive and determination. It saps people’s energy.

Depending on the type of bullying it may be linked to other known states including the Stockholm syndrome, which was named after a hostage situation, where victims develop strong emotional ties with the perpetrators. They develop a belonging need even though they are being abused. Domestic violence follows this pattern and occurs where one partner in a relationship tries to dominate and control the other. Common sense and logic to remove oneself from these situations completely disappears.

There is a common feature in all these conditions – Control

And the good news is that people can transport themselves out of “Learned Helplessness” by rediscovering a sense of personal control. This has to be done slowly and with support but once they demonstrate to themselves that they can take control, their confidence starts to return and the process speeds up. So instead of giving knowledge and information, the victim of bullying needs a guardian angel, whether internal or external to the organisation, and can lead then guide them out of the depths of despair.

Victims must also change their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours and become strong enough to face the bully. Once they start the bully may initially back down however, the bully will strike back when you least expect. This is why a guardian angel is essential.Bully Victim and Guardian Angel

The Guardian Angel needs to be someone who is Mind Fit. People that are Mind Fit have a sense of their own personal power and of being in personal control. They are mentally tough, have the drive and determination to succeed and the ability to build relationships. They must care and be ethically sound.

Our process for tackling the workplace bully uses the Mind Fit Map (shown on the right) as a template from which to develop awareness and understanding of where people are on the map and from which to build the strength and determination needed to overcome the bully.

Only the victim and the bully knows

We do not presume to know what a person is suffering or how the bully is behaving. The process is ‘inside-out’ and victims discover how their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours keep them in a helpless state where a sense of being out of control rules. With support, they soon learn that by making small changes they give themselves a sense of being in control. Those changes must be owned by them and not imposed by someone else.

Working in partnership with an organisation we develop guardian angels that have the personal strengths to work with victims and take on the bullies, professionally. We also work with victims and provide external support if required.

Bullying in the workplace happens to us

Even in our programmes we’re not immune to being the subject of difficult behaviours. On one course the leader said  “There were those in the team who deliberately set out to hi-jack the Mind Fit programme, but they too, converted themselves very early in the process. You had to see it to believe it…”


Who works with the bully? We do that too.


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