Sunday 11 December 2016

Bully proof: How to protect yourself from office bullies in the workplace

Aryanne Oade, an experienced chartered psychologist and author says there are numerous effective ways to protect yourself from the intimidating behaviour of a colleague or superior in the workplace

Joy Orpen

Published 01/06/2015 | 02:30

Workplace bullying involves a deliberate attempt to hurt you emotionally, to injure your reputation, or to undermine your self-confidence
Workplace bullying involves a deliberate attempt to hurt you emotionally, to injure your reputation, or to undermine your self-confidence
Bullies are on the lookout for evidence of confusion or vulnerability in those they groom
Chartered psychologist Aryanne Oade has written several books on bullying in the workplace. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

Aryanne Oade, an experienced chartered psychologist and author says there are numerous effective ways to protect yourself from the intimidating behaviour of a colleague or superior in the workplace

  • Go To

Many moons ago, when I still lived in South Africa, I experienced what it is to be bullied. I'm not talking about having a spat with a colleague, or being the butt of the boss's occasional hangover. What I experienced was systematic, relentless, covert bullying. The sort that has you in a cold sweat and leaves you exhausted and stripped of self-esteem. Eventually, I felt so powerless to resolve the problem, that I left the job. None of that might have happened if I'd had access to a book like Aryanne Oade's, Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying. This is a remarkable resource, full of useful advice on a very serious topic.

Home for Aryanne is a small farm in rural Yorkshire. She lives there with a flock of sheep, a cat and a dog, and is clearly very happy with her rural idyll. She is a chartered psychologist, recognised by the British Psychological Society. An area of special interest for her is bullying in the working environment. She has written several books on this and related subjects, and others on coaching and managing complex clients.

While visiting Dublin recently, she explained what bullying looks like. "Workplace bullying involves a deliberate attempt to hurt you emotionally, to injure your reputation, or to undermine your self-confidence," she says. Aryanne says that the bully will begin to "groom [target] you" by catching you off-guard and then performing some action that is intended to offend, such as a whispered insult, or a crude remark while you are serving a customer.

"Generally speaking, you will be in no position to respond or defend yourself. Bullies are on the lookout for evidence of confusion or vulnerability in those they groom," says Aryanne. If they detect weakness in their chosen victim, they may then escalate their attacks by behaving in a variety of harmful ways. These may include giving [unjust] negative feedback, misrepresenting the true facts, or telling blatant lies.

"Many attacks are planned to isolate the target," says Aryanne. The result is that you may feel uncertain how to deal with confusing and unpredictable behaviour.

However, she warns, it's crucial you "intervene and act in your highest best interests. You may feel paralysed and disabled in the presence of the person targeting you, so you may avoid situations where you might encounter the bully, because you don't know how to confront them safely.

"You may also fear that if you do confront them, they will retaliate more powerfully." She cautions, "every time you avoid, you give away your power."

She says feelings of powerlessness are highly toxic. "They result in you forming faulty beliefs about yourself, including the belief you are helpless. But, hear this: you may not yet know how to protect yourself from workplace bullying, but you can learn how to do so," Aryanne explains. "Personal power refers to your right to choose how you will behave. It is your right to choose what you think, and what values you act in accordance with. Everyone can learn how to use their power more effectively."

She presents us with very real case studies and then offers solutions and remedies. Aryanne mentions a woman (who gave permission to be cited in this article) who came to her when a close friend of this woman's turned on her in the workplace.

"That campaign was so clever she [the actual bully] persuaded their superiors, that she was the one being bullied," says Aryanne.

"My client was absolutely devastated. I helped her detoxify from the experience, to process the trauma, to understand the internal changes she had gone through, and to choose to think about herself in a way that would enhance her sense of well-being.

"Somebody who has been seriously impacted might think they will never be able to set foot in a workplace again. But I would say to them that, that conclusion is based on [the experience of] trauma, rather than facts," she says.

"Even people who feel like that, can detoxify and go on to find inner resources they never knew they had. I help them replace self-destructive thinking with life-giving thoughts about themselves."

Bullies are on the lookout for evidence of confusion or vulnerability in those they groom
Bullies are on the lookout for evidence of confusion or vulnerability in those they groom

Aryanne suggests practical ways in which you can reclaim your power, and one such way is to actively challenge the tormentor.

"Bullies are on the lookout for evidence of confusion, or vulnerability in those they groom," she says.

And although they may use cunning to set you on edge, untruths to disarm you, and misinformation to confuse those around you, Aryanne says, you need to rise above the challenge, and call on the bully to answer for his or her claims, in other words, "creating consequences for the bully".

"It's better to disagree and risk an argument, rather than remain silent and risk being bullied," she says.

"Call the person's bluff and ask him or her to justify his/her criticisms. Ask the person to write them down. Using a different behaviour at the time of an attack will create a different outcome.

"Putting the issues back to the bully is about truth and responsibility, not revenge and counter-attack."

Aryanne says bullying may cause self-defeating beliefs, which are intrinsically damaging. These thoughts need to be replaced with positive, life-giving ones. For example, "I don't like aggression and don't want to deal with aggressive people," could be changed to, "I hate aggression, but can combat it perfectly well when I need to." Other actions you can take include replacing the receiver if you are being abused on the phone, or stepping backwards if the bully is too close.

Bullying is such a minefield that some of Aryanne's clients travel to Yorkshire for coaching with her.

"The first thing they need to understand is that no matter how difficult their situation is, they still have choices," she says. "They need to learn the wise exercising of those choices during an attack."

Apart from talking with clients about their experiences, she also uses actors to re-enact what is going on in the workplace. "As well as helping the client to detoxify from their workplace experience, they learn prudent strategies so they can change the bullying dynamic and rediscover their self-esteem."

And while a trip to Yorkshire may be out of reach for most Irish citizens, Aryanne's most worthwhile book certainly isn't.

'Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying' is published by Mint Hall Publishing. Five copies or more can be ordered from minthallpublishing.com; paperback approx ¤30 from Amazon. Contact Aryanne Oade at oadeassociates.com.

Sunday Indo Life Magazine

Read More

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in Life