Overcoming Workplace Bullying

Imagine this: You’re in the middle of an important presentation when you notice your manager, and two others, hunched at the end of the long conference room table, their shoulders bouncing, their faces hidden in the palms of their hands. They are laughing.  You pause long enough for silence to fill the room, and they stop, shhing the laughter. Your eyes circle the room, and no one else appears to have noticed, so you change the slide and begin speaking, your thick French-African accent pouring into the room. Although you spent weeks rehearsing, you stammer over your words, lost in your accent and the American pronunciation of your well-prepared speech.

They start snickering again. They are obviously laughing at you.

Walking past the same group later that day, your manager stops you.

"Word of advice for the future. Drop your accent and speak proper English! I mean, you did good for a woman, but you talk funny. No one will take you seriously talking like that,” he said.

“Thank you,” you said, as almost a question.

“You’re welcome,” he said, poorly mimicking your accent. Your coworkers explode in a roar of laughter that echoes in your head, haunting you while you’re refreshing your lipstick in the ladies room, driving home that evening, and tossing and turning in bed later that night.

Dressing the next day, you consider going to Human Resources about his offensive comments, but you’re new to the company, one of the few persons of color, a woman, and you don’t want to bring any more attention to yourself. You decide to bite the bullet in the name of reaching new heights as a woman of color breaking barriers in corporate America.

If you feel like you’re alone, you’re not. This is more common than you think. According to a 2018 article from the website, The Balance Careers, titled, “How to Deal With a Bully at Work,” 60 million Americans are affected by workplace bullying, 29% of which never speak on it.  Of the 60 million Americans affected, according to the same article, bosses compromise 61% percent of the bullies.

So how do you protect yourself in this situation?

1.    Do not react to the comments. When they upset you, they control how you feel, and therefore, control you. Emotional and irrational reactions empower bullies. They will continue to torment you when they know they’re getting under your skin.

2.    Document each encounter. By keeping a journal of each occurrence, you create a paper trail of evidence that is hard for the bully to refute.

3.    Be assertive and stand firm while being bullied. Respond to them with confidence and authority, especially when they are trying to undermine your abilities. They may deem your silence as weakness.

4.    Speak with your HR representative. Present the evidence you’ve built, and allow HR to initiate a formal investigation.   

5.    Consult with a lawyer. This is an extreme but sometimes necessary option if you aren’t receiving proper support in the workplace, or if the harassment compromises your safety.  

Through this entire process, it's essential that you don’t lose sight of yourself. When you are confident in your person, and aware and accepting of your flaws, there is nothing anyone can tell you to bring you down. Bullying is rooted in misery, jealousy and personal deficiency, and bullies are looking for ways to spread their unhappiness. Bullying starts with you. There is nothing for a bully to prey on when you exemplify the strongest, best version of yourself. Repeat after me: I shall be stronger, better, and brighter than my bully.