We’ve seen it countless times: Workplace bullies claiming to be the victims of workplace bullying. And the smartest aggressors often are experts at doing this.
There is no foolproof method to prevent bullies from alleging victim status, but at the very least we don’t want to help them make their case. Here is some advice toward that end:
Don’t retaliate or act impulsively
I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat it in this context: Being bullied at work sometimes leads targets to retaliate or act impulsively, saying or doing things they’d like to take back. It’s a natural response, but resist doing so with all your might. Otherwise, it may provide a reason for the bully to say she’s being victimized.
Don’t mob the bully
The bully may be engaging in horrible mistreatment of you and maybe others, but trying to organize a mob to go after him may lead to excesses that validate his claims of martyrdom. While it can be very helpful to document abuses visited upon multiple co-workers and to act in concert carefully and strategically, being perceived as an organized mob can undermine efforts to stop the behaviors or remove the bully. It’s also the wrong thing to do.
Don’t vent online
Consider the risks of posting specifics about your own bullying situation in public places such as Facebook, particularly when it comes to naming names. Repeatedly doing so, especially in angry, emotional tones, heightens the possibility that the aggressor may find out and claim that he’s the victim of an online vendetta.
The risks of direct confrontation
I’ve written before about the hazards of directly confronting workplace aggressors, Here’s how and why some of them apply here:
First, bullying targets usually (and understandably) are not in the best frame of mind when dealing directly with their abuser. People in these circumstances are more likely to say or do something that could fuel the bully’s claim of victimhood.
Second, if there’s no third party to observe the conversation, it’s the target’s word against the bully’s as to what transpired. Especially if the bully is a boss who has mastered the art of “kiss up, kick down,” management is more likely to believe his allegation that he was the actual “victim” of the encounter.
Third, when bullying is covert or indirect, it’s doubly hard to confront the tormenter, who often will deny there’s any such behavior going on and may even act like she was wrongfully accused. The conversation may trigger the target’s anger and frustration and lead to behaviors that will be turned against her. (This dynamic also may relate to the bullying tactic of “gaslighting” that I wrote about last December.)
Document, document, document
As many readers know, some bullying situations require attention to detail merely to understand. Time lines and sequences of events matter. Maintain a chronology of everything that happens. Save e-mails, notes, and any other physical evidence, while taking care not to obtain anything in a manner that could lead to discipline or worse.
Easier said than done
Yup, it’s easier for me to give this advice than for someone in a bad work situation to follow it. Nevertheless, if you’re being treated horribly at work, it’s especially important to keep your wits about you. This includes taking steps to help ensure that your tormenter(s) cannot claim victim status at your expense.
Although I’m not in a position right now to provide individual counseling or coaching, the Need Help? section of this blog contains other resources for bullying targets, their families, and their friends.
Clip art: Mersea Island Judo Club