Is Bullying the New Epidemic at School and Work?

by Pamela on October 4, 2010

The Phenomenon of Bullying in the Spotlight After A Rash of Suicides and Violence

We used to be able to spot the bully. Now, the bully can be anyone: a coworker, a boss, a client, a boy, a girl, a mother, a father, a coach, a teacher, a straight A student, the girl next door.

If you’re like me, you’re troubled by the suicide of Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi.

Tyler Clementi was a college freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge last week. While all the facts haven’t come out yet, we do know that his roommate, with the help of a female friend, recorded a private encounter with another man, without his knowledge. There was a video stream on the internet, comments on Facebook, and tweets on Twitter. It was yet another act of complete cruelty and disregard for a fellow human being’s feelings, that seems to be pervasive in our society now. Everything can be caught on tape. And, in this case, it was not only caught, it was seen by many.

How would you feel if you were in Tyler Clementi’s shoes? I know that I would be angry, devastated, and humiliated.

I heard another story this week on the Today Show. A 13 year old boy named Asher Brown was harassed in school because of his height, his lisp, his ears, his love of reading, and because the bullies believed that he was gay. The harassment escalated into physical violence and the bullies pushed him down a flight of stairs. The next day, he shot himself at home in a closet.

According to Asher Brown’s parents, they reached out to the school, to the counselors, the teachers and the coaches, but got nowhere. To be fair, the school denies this. The teen was so upset by the constant bullying that he couldn’t take it anymore and ended his life.

We’ve heard a lot of these sad stories lately. There’s Josie Ratley, who was nearly beaten to death by another teen who was upset over some text messages that Josie sent. Thankfully, she will live, but she suffered brain damage.

In South Hadley, Massachusetts, Phoebe Prince was bullied by so-called mean girls and committed suicide. They called her all kinds of horrible names and constantly harassed her to her face and in the cyber world. Although allegations haven’t been substantiated, sources say that Phoebe Prince was harassed in the presence of a teacher, who did nothing about it. Again, her parents say that they reached out to school officials who did nothing.

Bullying isn’t anything new. There have always been bullies. The methods of bullying are changing and expanding. Cyberbullying is yet another way to torment people, young and old. It’s far reaching and the bully has the ability to humiliate and harass their prey to a much wider audience, sometimes hiding behind anonymity.

Is the phenomenon of bullying more pervasive or are we just hearing about it more?

Let’s look at bullying in the workplace.

It happens all the time, unfortunately. You can be bullied by a superior, a peer, a subordinate, and even by a demanding client. I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t explain why bullies do what they do. Suffice to say it’s about power yet it usually stems from insecurity, which sounds like an oxymoronic statement.

One of my friends (I’ll call her Cathy) is an account executive and is responsible for only one client. She is, in a word, a nightmare. A classic bully. She causes trouble because she can – the customer’s always right. Right? She’s never satisfied with anything that Cathy or her staff does until she has nitpicked them to death. It’s usually something very trivial. Cathy happens to be very strong and doesn’t let this woman get the best of her. But she has people working for her who are younger and just starting out. This client chews them up and spits them out on a regular basis. This costs Cathy valuable time because she has to spend time rebuilding her team’s self esteem! One of her favorite account reps even quit because she couldn’t take the abuse anymore.

You might be asking why Cathy’s firm doesn’t get rid of the client. It’s because the company that the client works for is SO big, that they can’t afford to drop the account, and the bully knows this. That’s their typical M.O.. Most of them do what they do because they know that their target isn’t in a position to fight back.

Bullies like this woman cause so much damage and probably don’t even realize it and most likely wouldn’t change their behavior even if they did realize it. That statement is very ‘un-coach-like,’ and I know from my years in the corporate world that it’s true, so I will say it unabashedly.

Think about your experience in the corporate world. Have you come across bullies? If you own a business, do you have any clients/customers who are bullies?

How do you handle it?

I’d love to hear from you.

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