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Bullying by Leaving You Out: What to Do?

Nov 8, 2007
What would you have done in the following circumstance? Here's a scenario a client of mine told me about. She wasn't happy with the way she'd handled it and wanted my input.

Beverly's Dilemna - Everyone in the office, from the boss down was taking "shots" at Beverly. The supervisor, Joan, regularly denied her requests for lunch breaks when she wanted them. Instead she would make Beverly go after everyone else took theirs. She was so intimidated that she never left the office for lunch anymore. She ate at her desk to avoid the critical "face" and words from Joan. None of the other workers were required to check in or out with Joan.

Along with this, Joan nit-picked at Beverly's performance on the job, often complaining to the other workers about her. Beverly was as competent as anyone else, and made mistakes just like the others, yet Joan gossiped about her.

The Stage Was Set - So the boss made it clear to everyone Beverly was less of a person than everyone else, with questionable judgement. Her attitude set the stage for other bullies there to step up and bully her as well. Debbie was a bully known for her Jeckle and Hyde, one minute she's your best friend, the next, she's ripping you apart-type of bully.

Debbie Bullies By Excluding - So Debbie stepped in to bully Beverly one lunch time. There were six women with desks adjacent to each other. Debbie and Beverly were among them.

Debbie wanted to order lunch out, so she proceeded to quietly take orders from everyone except Beverly. Beverly kept her head down, as if she was looking through her files for something. She felt shocked and hurt Debbie would go to these lengths to exclude her.

Debbie quietly collected money from the other women and Beverly pretended not to notice.You could have heard a pin drop.

When lunch arrived, Beverly left to heat up the lunch she brought from home. She didn't want to suffer further humiliation by watching the others eat. The rest of the afternoon, she had a painful, sour stomach.

What Would You Have Done? Would you have known what to do, and then been able to do it?

Here are some ideas:

1) First, her boss has no business gossiping to Beverly's coworkers about her. At any hint of it, she needs to ask her boss not to do this. She can ask her boss to come directly to her with any grievances about her. It gives her boss a chance to air what's on her mind, and gives Beverly an opportunity to explain herself. In private. She has the right to ask for that.

2) Beverly needs to politely, calmly ask her boss why she's the only one who has to report to her about her lunch schedule. No one else does. Why the discrepancy?

3) And last, but not least, when the group tries to exclude her next time, she needs to speak up and show that she notices, and makes a decision about whether or not she wants to join the activity. She doesn't let them exclude her. For example, next time something like this happens, she might say, "Oh, you're taking orders for take-out. I'd order, but I brought my lunch today." And be as uninvolved as she can possibly muster. Or, "I see you're taking orders for lunch. Could I order too?" Or, "Great! I was wondering what I was going to eat for lunch today. I'd like to order too."

The downside of piping up like this is it may cause some eye rolling to try to further discourage her. But between the two options a) of hurting from some eye rolling, and b) hurting from the bully being successful at excluding her, the first one is by far, less traumatic. It also plants in the bully's mind that she didn't get away with her malicious trick that time. And may not the next time either. It gets her thinking.

Sometimes in a bullying situation, there's no perfect answer. But there are often better ways than others to handle it.
About the Author
Stop Workplace Bullying. Discover How to Speak Up to Save Your Job and Your Dignity. Visit www.BullyBlaster.com and sign up for a free Stop the Bullies newsletter.
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