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Steps to take if you are being bullied

Are you being bullied by a co-worker, customer, client, visitor, or worse supervisor or member of management?

Bullying can have a devastating psychological and physical effect on victims. Bullying can destroy one's confidence and interfere with the victim's ability to do his or her job. Its effect can even have a detrimental impact on the victim's personal life.

You are employed to perform the duties of your job.

Performing your work tasks does not and should not mean putting up with bullying.

Here are some general tips to take if you find yourself being bullied at work:

1. Begin with adopting a healthy personal mindset which anticipates and expects you will be treated with respect and dignity by all.

A healthy point-of-view like this leaves little room for being the subject of taunting, cruel jokes, nasty behavior, and other unacceptable bullying conduct.

Remind yourself that you are a competent, capable professional. This is how you should carry yourself at all times. This point-of-view in and of itself goes a long way in not being the target of bullies in the first place.

2. If you find you are being bullied, stop and take a minute or two before reacting. Breathe deeply. Maintain your composure.

Do not take any "knee-jerk" reactions that could accelerate the situation or even land you in hot water, such as yelling at the bully or bullying back.

Then if and only if you feel comfortable: Go up to the bully, look the bully in the eyes and tell the person clearly and directly that you want the bullying to STOP. Don't laugh or joke or underplay the seriousness of the situation. Be cool, calm and collected and all business.

After you've told the bully what your expectations are regarding future behavior, end the conversation and walk away.

Afterwards, document everything using the WHO WHAT WHERE WHEN method: WHO has bullied you, WHAT happened, WHERE did it happen, WHEN did it happen?

3. Victims occasionally "suffer in silence" which is something that carries consequences with it. Don't be embarrassed to seek healthy support.

Talk to a family member, therapist, trusted friend or someone outside of the workplace regarding what's going on.

Sometimes victims go inwards because they feel embarrassed about the bullying. If you feel like this, remind yourself that you have absolutely nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. The person who should feel ashamed and embarrassed is the bully.

Standing up for yourself in these ways is self-empowering. It is something we should all get in the habit of doing. Remind yourself you have not done anything wrong, it's the bully who has the problem which is why he or she is bullying in the first place.

4. If you do not feel safe or comfortable in speaking with the bully directly or if you have addressed the problem with the bully but you find that the bullying has not stopped, report what has happened to an authority figure. Be sure to refer to your employee handbook for details regarding who you should direct your concerns to.

More often than not, you will likely find this means going to your supervisor, a human resources official, or if you are a bargaining unit member perhaps to a union official (check your collective bargaining agreement for details).

If it is the supervisor who is bullying you, consult with your employee handbook to determine who you should direct your complaint about your supervisor to.

If there is no written policy or procedure advising you to go to a specific person when a supervisor is the bully, then speak with your supervisor's boss or to a human resources official.

During this meeting be prepared to: (1) Explain what happened and how it makes you feel (i.e. describe the negative impact the bullying has had on you), (2) describe how you spoke with the bully regarding the unacceptable conduct, (3) bring evidence of the bullying such as emails the bully may have written, and (4) relate how the bullying behavior has not stopped despite your efforts.

Following this meeting, document the conversation and send a confirming email. Thank the person for their time, reiterate what was stated during the conference and your understanding of whatever follow-up action the authority figure has advised he or she will do now.

5. If the bullying STILL continues even after these efforts, follow-up with the person you complained to. Document that conversation as well.

6. If there still has been no change in behavior and you are continuing to feel victimized, go up the ladder and repeat what was done in Step 4 above.

Now is the time to address the bullying with the next person in the chain of command, such as your supervisor's boss or the head of the department or the vice president of human resources. As always, document the meeting.

7. Finally, if even after taking all these steps the bullying still continues, it is time to look outside the organization for assistance.

If the conduct is based on your protected class status, such as race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, or age, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Another option for you is to speak with an attorney.

If you do not know of an attorney, then contact your local legal aid department or the bar association in your area.

Lawyers specializing in employment law can help victims of bullying by providing advice on what actions can be taken and possibly pursue legal claims on the victim's behalf against employers who allow bullying to occur.

If you feel your personal safety is at risk, do not hesitate to consult with law enforcement.

Depending on the facts and circumstances, the bullying might constitute criminal conduct. Even if it does not, your local police agency will be able to share information on how to be safe and stay safe with you.

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