Experiences of “Mean Girls and Adult Bullying” …What Can we Do?
Over the past few decades, I have had the privilege of working alongside our educational system coaching (and teaching) leadership principles to the senior leaders in our educational institutions from New York City to the Rio Grande Valley. It has been an amazing experience that has tremendously enriched my life and fulfilled my professional career. I am impressed with several school systems’ ZERO TOLERANCE of bullying in schools, but it is impossible not to realize that bullying is not limited to children. Bullying is alive and well in our adult circles – professional and personal. Chances are each of us have experienced bullying at least once in our workplace, if not in our social circles. To be clear, let’s identify what we mean by bullying:
- The behavior toward another individual is deliberate. It is pre-meditated with the bully’s intention being to hurt someone – in some way.
- The behavior is repeated – over and over again. It becomes habitual and the ‘accepted’ approach toward the other person. The behavior may change in how it manifests – yet, the behavior is indeed consciously calculated and intentional.
- The power between the individual and the bully is imbalanced – real or imagined. There is a perceived difference in power, status, strength, societal or political position, etc. between the bully and the victim – and the bully leverages that to their benefit.
With that as our baseline, how ‘bullying behavior’ shows up as an adult may vary from how it manifested as children. Physical bullying (hitting, pushing, slapping) is far more prevalent when we are younger, than as adults. However, other forms of bullying such as name-calling, divisive gossip, exclusion and deliberately getting others to hurt, exclude or ‘gang up’ on others, and cyber bullying via Facebook, and other social media mechanisms is much more widespread and common than many may realize. The epidemic of “Mean Girls” is alive and well.
As a team leader and leadership coach, I hear examples of this on a regular basis. Many of my clients have shared that team members are blocking them on Facebook or other social media channels or withholding critical information they need to do their jobs. This also cripples their ability to become a part of the team and/or to foster esprit de corps. Others have stated how peers and team members have spoken half-truths about them and continue to proliferate these fibs and rumors to that individual’s demise and ongoing exclusion. Still others have ‘voted individuals off the island’ due to a simple difference in opinion, a different choice made, or just to assume a superior position than the bully’s victim.
Bullying in the workplace (and in life) can be completely disruptive, not to mention hurtful. It is typically driven by the perpetrators’ need to control the targeted individual. This can be driven by jealously, insecurity, unbridled ambition, or an imagined sense of superiority. Bullying can show up by a set of acts by commission – actually DOING things to others; yet it can also manifest by acts of omission – which can be someone withholding resources from others or simply not being loyal and standing by the victim, to others. And in the worst of all cases, the bully involves others to gang up on the victim, and those that ‘cave’ and do not stand tall to support the victim are in many cases the greatest bullies of all. Over the course of my adult life and career, I have been the victim of both types of bullying. It is no fun and can completely derail your self-confidence and have you questioning your every thought, word, and deed – which is, of course, what the bully wants.
So, what can we do about this reality? Bullies and/or ‘mean girls’ must experience negative consequences for harming others. Senior leaders need to call out that negative behavior, and certainly not reward it. Only Senior Leaders can reverse the trend; and if they actually support it – then the team and organization can become toxic. I have actually had a leader support the bully’s behavior, and that can be extremely disheartening. However, what I believe whole heartedly is this: the truth will ALWAYS reveal itself over time.
A few thoughts for consideration:
- Always take the high road. As our father always taught my sister and me, ‘if you see it, so does everyone else’. So, let the bully reveal their true behaviors – over time, even if they are the best actors in the world, their passive aggressive, manipulative, and mean behaviors will be revealed.
- We need to try to do our best to LIVE the Golden Rule. Yes, trust me when I say this can be hard when folks have been ugly and divisive relative to you and your work. Yet, again, as my parents would say – at least you can sleep well at night knowing you are living YOUR life with integrity and purity of intention.
- Take care of your health during these stressful times. When folks are mean to us, if we internalize this, it will most certainly show up in our bodies. Thus, we need to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. Eat well. Exercise every day at least 30 minutes. Consider Yoga or medication to help lower your blood pressure.
- Finally, we need keep these ‘evil doers’ in our prayers. It is impossible to harbor ill will against someone when we pray for them – of this I am 100% certain.