I could hear the giggling and not so quiet whispering across the room. A few words escaped their circle, “stupid”, “ugly”, “can’t play”, “should quit” and finally, my name. Of course they were talking about me. They were, after all, volleyball players. I was new to the school and new to the game of volleyball. My Dad thought it would be a good idea for me to join a sport. He thought it would help me make friends. All it had done was teach me the volleyball team was made up of a bunch of mean girls who were more interested in makeup than being athletes. It certainly didn’t do me any favors that most of them struggled to keep their grades up to be eligible to play while I got A’s. Did they really not know I was in the classroom or did they just not care if I heard them being hateful?
Emotional Bullying, clinically called relational aggression, is the act of attacking someone’s feelings and the relationships they have will other people. Typical outlets for emotional bullying are gossip, rumors and outright lies. Emotional bullying happens in in person, on Facebook, via text or email. And if you think only teenage girls engage in such behavior, think again. There is evidence of it as early as in grade school and it is rampant in the workforce. Tearing other people down rather than building yourself up can be the go to method for leveling the playing field. And unfortunately, it works. When we hear negative information about someone we don’t know or know only in passing from someone we trust, we believe them. Rather than taking the time to gather our own information we take the easy shortcut and just go with what we hear. Not very fair, but it is what we do.
What can we as coaches, leaders, managers or parents do about bullying behavior? Turns out, we have more control than we think.
One – Don’t engage in bullying ourselves. I know you are thinking, of course I don’t bully! And because you are here reading this post, maybe you are self-aware enough that you don’t. However, double check. Are you ever guilty of pushing your weight around to get your way rather than talking something through like you should? Do you talk and laugh with your friends and ignore people you don’t know as well? Do you find the shortcomings of others great fun to share “just for the laugh”? You may think of those types of behaviors like you do white lies. “I’m not really hurting anyone.” In fact you are and as an authority figure you are setting an example.
Two – Don’t allow bullying to take place in your hearing. When you hear someone say something mean, be hateful or tear other people down and you say nothing, silence is agreement. I am not saying you need to get into a verbal fray about every bullying statement you hear. But simply saying “That isn’t a very nice thing to say” or “I don’t agree with that” will make it clear you are not in support of what is going on.
Three – Be compassionate and teach others compassion. It really isn’t that hard to be nice. Check-in with people. Ask how they are doing. If you hurt someone’s feelings apologize. I’m pretty sure most mothers still teach this stuff. Use it.
Four – Gather your own information on people. Don’t take the shortcut and go with whatever you hear. Find out for yourself. If it turns out the person really is a jerk you can be confident that you learned it firsthand rather than through hearsay.
Five – Enforce the rule that if someone has a problem with someone else they need to have a conversation about it. I am not saying as the boss or the coach you should never get involved in situations. But don’t get drawn into every disagreement. Have the parties try to work it out themselves. You are not responsible for having all the answers all the time.
Six – Listen. You will hear the rumblings of bullying on your team. All you have to do is pay attention. Don’t ignore ‘little’ things until they are big. Address gossip, rumors and other forms of emotional bullying right away.
What is your experience with emotional bullies? Share your story with us.
Next week: Is your chain of command working?
Did you miss last week about avoiding the volcano method to conflict management? Read it here.