Women can be big bullies, too, but only if people accept their behavior.

By Beate Chelette

The phenomenon of bullying is a big topic in the news these days and it is having a devastating impact on kids at school, as well as women (and men) in the workplace.

To me bullying is the zit on the forehead. When we are stressed, don’t take care of ourselves, we can get a zit. We can either treat the zit with a topical solution or address it where it originates. Should we focus on nothing other than an outward sign of something being wrong on the inside? Unless you take in the proper food and get exercise, zits will keep popping up because you’re not addressing the root cause of them.

Bullying is similar but the problem goes much deeper. Let’s examine this situation. We can solve the problem in one of these two ways. If someone bullies you and you walk up to them and ask them, “Stop bullying me.” Does that really work? Of course not. There has to be a more effective way other than putting a topical solution on the bully and say “go away now.”

Society will propose laws if we don’t have a common consensus on how to solve an issue. We passed a law against bullying, which immediately established a great divide (in contrary to a common denominator). On one side we have people who are enforcing the law and on the other side people who are breaking the law. Personally, I doubt that this will address bullying because it is still not being adequately addressed. By the time the bully bullies and the audience watches, the behavior has already happened. We need to catch it much sooner. We need to focus on eliminating it at the very root.

I’ve thought about where bullying comes from. It comes from being hurt and misunderstood. You may have heard this before. Everything is ruled by either fear or love. If it’s not one, then it’s the other. A bully would never admit it, but fear and hurt drive their behavior. When you are in distress you can fight or flee. Maybe you think that your only recourse it seems is to fight back—and hurt someone else.

Let me give you an example. When I was working at the image licensing giant Corbis, I was a Senior Director—the boss. After a couple of weeks I noticed that every time I went to the bathroom my team had left for lunch. And then it dawned on me; they’re doing this on purpose. That way, if I ever brought it up, they could say that they didn’t “know” where I was when they were thinking about going out for lunch. How is that for a classic non-verbal aggression example? Do you think I was hurt and felt like I needed to be tougher on them? You bet. What I should have done is addressed the issue. But I did not know how to handle a situation like that back then and I eventually left the company.

I had no idea it was this bad in the corporate world, that amongst many other things people conspire about how to successfully eliminate certain people from lunch plans for whatever reason. Here’s good advice on all sorts of workplace issues. http://goo.gl/SMrP7

A man I chatted with at my favorite bar actually gave me some useful insight about this exclusion problem. I told him about the story and how I was being excluded from lunch, and he knew exactly what I was talking about. I asked him how he handles this? His answer, “Well, I’m the guy in the group, and when my co-workers want me to side with them against the new girl, I say, I like the new girl. I actually think she’s smart and she’s got some good ideas. But we can’t even hear her ideas because no one is listening to her.”

What happens then? “I take my lunch and I have it in my car outside the building,” he explained. Wow! I was shocked. Look at how uncomfortable this behavior makes other people, to the point that they can’t stand being around it.

The women in the example above chose to focus on what they didn’t like because they felt threatened by the new co-worker. This is why the workplace atmosphere is becoming toxic. What should these women have focused on? How about the opportunity of learning what someone who thinks differently can and will bring to the table?

Going farther, that leads to a discussion of leadership and in my next article, I’ll talk about female leadership.

But for now I want to hear from you. What are your examples of when you are encountering bullies?

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