Tell Me About It: I have always shaken off the unpleasantness – until now
PROBLEM: I work in the education system and for six years I’ve had the misfortune of working with a bully. I’ve always walked on eggshells around her, and in the past she has shouted at me in front of students, been cold towards me and has implied that my work was lacklustre.
I get along really well with my students and fellow teachers and I have always shaken off the unpleasantness and never even argued with this bully – until now. Last month I felt very agitated by her actions and let my feelings slip to a new member of staff.
Little did I know they were buddies. That evening I was confronted by the bully, who was told I had been talking about her, and I received a verbal bashing, which is nothing new. About a week later, management informed me a complaint had been made against me for making my colleague feel upset and for spreading rumours about her. I took responsibility for my actions and I apologised to her.
The thing is, I have felt victimised by this woman for years and have never opened my mouth until now. I’ve seen her make countless employees cry when she has lashed out at them, and I’ve even heard her make a speech in the staffroom about how much she loves a bit of drama.
One silly mistake and now I’m in trouble and she looks spotless. What’s worse is that included in the report were a lot of lies. She said I was talking about her weight and telling people she was pregnant. This was so untrue. I denied them, but I don’t know how anyone could believe me when she went to the bother of making a report. I feel very depressed about this situation. I love my work and I try my best to please people. It hurts to know somebody can be so cruel to me and get away with it.
ADVICE: I think you need to make a decision about your work situation. You feel victimised and angry, and this current situation has deepened these feelings. If this continues, it would seem likely that you will either crack again and say something you regret, or you might become ill and stressed and need to take time off. Neither of these responses will be good for you and the consequences for you could be lifelong.
Feeling victimised is a very powerless position to be in. And while it has some positives, in that you can illicit sympathy, it will make you feel backed into a corner, where the only option is attack. You have options: decide to work with this woman and help her to become a better colleague, or take a stance and begin to address the situation through bullying and harassment policies at work.
Anyone who has to bully others in order to feel good is insecure and fearful. They are not truly confident. Your colleague added comments to her case against you, and this says a lot about her and her fear of being derided for her appearance and her concern that people are making nasty comments about her behind her back. She covers over her insecurity by attacking first.
Instead of avoiding her, you could take a stance where you see her fear and validate her humanity when she is behaving well. You clearly have more confidence than she does because you were able to take responsibility for your poor judgment in speaking to her friend. This is something that your colleague could learn from you – if you were open to this relationship.
You must stop feeling that she has power to make you feel bad or vulnerable. She only has this power if you give her the right to decide how you feel.
If a situation happens again where you feel put down, then you must address it as a confident and fearless person. First bring the situation up with your colleague in as respectful a manner as you can. If you get a negative response, speak to your line manager. And if there is no informal option left to you, then it is important to use your workplace bullying and harassment policy. It is even possible that your colleague is unaware she is causing difficulties and she may benefit from a wake-up call.
In the first instance, though, you need to regain your sense of self and address your own bitterness, as you have somehow put this colleague in charge of your life at work.