Transforming Talk at Work | September 2014


Dear reader,

The topic of bullying has been on my mind a lot lately. Starting in the schoolyard and continuing into the boardroom, bullying is a sneaky and insidious problem. Results in an article published by the journal Work & Stress indicate that people’s work suffers when they even witness unpleasant emotional encounters between others. Simply observing bullying behavior can produce lasting damage to a person’s state of mind and productivity. That’s a big deal.

My daughter starts kindergarten this year. You can imagine that my thoughts about bullying are only magnified as I reflect on this latest milestone. Sadly, she has already felt the pain of hurtful words from little friends. Last year during preschool, I overheard some girls in her class who had already turned five say, “She can’t play with us because she’s four and we’re five, right?”

Was this example bullying? Probably not. Was it hurtful? Definitely. This story leads me to an important and valuable question. When it comes to bullying, where is the line and how do you know when someone has crossed it?

Schools are getting more and more clear about their definitions of bullying. In the workplace, no such luck. I hear from people on a regular basis about intimidating, oppressive or exclusionary behavior that goes on in their office. But, when is it bullying? This is an issue worth ironing out. The clearer we become on what workplace bullying is and what behaviors to watch for, the more we can hold ourselves and others accountable for word and deed. And, let’s face it; our productivity and well-being depend on it.

The next time you suspect behavior has crossed the line into bullying, ask yourself the following questions and reverse engineer bullying accountability in the workplace.


Reverse Engineer: Bullying Accountability – When Has It Crossed the Line?

1. Does the person put you down and/or make you look foolish in front of others?
2. Does the person spread rumors or lies about you, especially ones that call your competence into question?
3. Does the person routinely blame and criticize you?
4. Does the person leave you out of meetings or distribution of information you need to know to do your job?
5. Are any of the above behaviors consistent? A “one-off” incident of bad behavior is just that. Consistent bad behavior directed at you crosses the line and is bullying.


Digest This: Workplace Bullying in the News

What Workplace Bullying Looks Like in 2014 – And How to Intervene(Forbes)
David Maxfield, author and researcher of all things corporate culture, talks bullying trends and covers four types of accountability aimed at halting bad behavior before it gains momentum. His prevailing message: if you see something, say something. As Maxfield puts it, “Silence is permission.”

Diagnose and Eliminate Workplace Bullying (Harvard Business Review)
Baron Hanson, turnaround strategist and principal of RedBaron Consulting, developed the acronym “CAPE” to promote heroic and empowered action that squarely addresses bullying in today’s workplace. When you don your CAPE you Confront, Analyze, Present and Expose bullies for the good of the organization.

5 Secrets of a Jerk-Free Workplace (Entrepreneur)
A fresh take on successful workplace accountability, a “no jerk” rule and “CEE-IT” values have helped the three startup companies highlighted in this article attract and keep talent that drives their business forward.


My Treat:

Children’s Book Tackles Bullying

Anyone who has spent time reading to small children in the last decade will quickly recognize the little llama who triumphs over universal children’s struggles (being afraid of the dark, starting a new school, and sharing to name a few). Anna Dewdney has written countless books that offer gentle guidance for kids, steering them towards acknowledgement and resolution within the safety and comfort of storytelling.

In Llama Llama and the Bully Goat, Dewdney confronts the topic of bullying. She touches on emotions that we all feel during tense confrontations – confusion, hesitation, fear. Llama Llama’s story reminds every reader to reach out for help, give voice to their experience, and remember that everyone has something to learn. Children’s books often hold great wisdom, and this one deserves a prominent place on the shelves of children and adults alike. Enjoy!


Until next time,

Janel Anderson, PhD
Workplace Communication Expert and CEO of Working Conversations

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