The 10th of October is Mental Health Day!
Thus now is an ideal time to consider the issue of bullying.
Anti-bullying campaigns are everywhere these days. And rightly so! Bullying has a significant negative impact on mental health and numerous other aspects of life. However the anti-bullying programs appear to be lacking in effectiveness, as bullying is still a major issue for our society.
Part of this relates to issues around the commonly used definition of bullying which makes it relatively easy for ‘bullies’ to get away with their actions. I suspect the intention behind the issues is to protect people from inaccurately being accused. It is more effective to discuss what you can do when accused of being a ‘bully’ and you genuinely are not one?
The Australian Human Rights Commission (2017) states:
‘Bullying is when people repeatedly and intentionally use words or actions against someone or a group of people to cause distress and risk to their wellbeing. These actions are usually done by people who have more influence or power over someone else, or who want to make someone else fell less powerful or helpless.’
The major issue with the definition when it states to intentionally…cause distress and risk to their wellbeing. This is purely because individuals say ‘I didn’t intend to distress them or risk their wellbeing’ ‘I did not intent to bully’.
As a result, too often, they get away with inappropriate behavior. Individuals involve rarely intend to be a ‘bully’. They don’t want the label. And often there is no intent to ‘do harm or risk wellbeing’, simply because the idea may not have cross their minds. They are not thinking about the other at all.
What they are thinking of and do intend is to ‘have their own way’. The do intend to use fear to gain control over others. They do intend to use their, actual or perceived, position of power to ensure what they want is achieved. They may intend to ‘get back’ at the perceived injustice that someone ‘would not go along with their wishes’ or ‘made them look bad’, for having done a perceived wrong. These are the intentions of a ‘bully’. These intentions result in the intimidating and coercive behaviors that cause the distress and risk to wellbeing.
Another, more useful, definition of Bullying is:
‘the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. The behaviour is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power, which distinguishes bullying from conflict (Juvonen, J. Graham, S., 2014).
Fully fledged bullies, while denying they are bullies, know they are doing the wrong thing. Their timing and sneakiness indicates this. They behave differently in front of others, especially those they perceive as having more power than themselves. They hide and actively deny their actions. Yet they believe they have the right to do as they do.
At the same time it does happen that people feel they are being bullied, treated inappropriately, when it is genuinely not intended. Yet regardless of the intention when it is experienced as bullying the same negative impact can occur and it is important to deal constructively with the incident. These situations maybe because:
The accused has poor relationship or communication skills or
The target’s individual perspective
Resulting in misunderstandings.
This reality highlights the need to remember that ‘Bullying usually is a relationship issue and thus relationship solutions are recommended’ (National Centre Against Bullying, 2017). At the same time there is a limit to the potential effectiveness of relationship solutions.
If there is no mutuality in the relationship discussing the issue in the relationship is not likely to work. Too often it only makes things worse for cooperative individuals. Someone who believes they have rights of dominance may ‘go along’ with the ‘orders’ from the higher power, but they are also likely to find another way to achieve their intention. This escalates rather than resolves the issue. In such cases further protective action is required on behalf of the ‘other’ or ‘target’. These situations are not the focus of this article.
Today we look at when there is no intention of bullying, or harm, or force and there is respectful mutuality in the relationship. In these situations the way to respond to accusations of bullying is very simple: Listen and then ADDE value.
You need to Listen to the accusation and accept that is the others experience, despite your intention. Respond to their experience.
Apologise this lets the other now you didn’t mean for them to experience what they did. This action also reminds you that you have made a mistake and need to take corrective action, even if it was only to increase awareness of the others perspective.
Demonstrate your good will by reassuring the other. This includes: addressing their concerns; explaining your intention; where appropriate explain the policies and procedures you are following; and ask for and carry out suitable actions to repair the harm. It may take time to build or rebuild trust.
Discuss the situation until both parties are clear and comfortable with the intention of the communication and relationship.
Enhance your skills in order to prevent a similar situation occurring again. It is very important to follow through. Where required, ensure skill development occurs.
If you have been accused of being a ‘bully’ first be honest with yourself, do you think you have the right to dictate to others? Or perhaps you have a right to ‘get even’? Do you treat those you perceive as having more power than yourself differently to those who you perceive to have less power than yourself? If neither of these is the case and your intention is for a mutually respectful relationship, an appropriate response to an accusation of bullying is to Listen and ADDE value.
Australian Human Rights Commission NA What is bullying? https://www.humanrights.gov.au/what-bullying-violence-harassment-and-bullying-fact-sheet accessed 8th October 2017
Juvonen, J.; Graham, S. (2014). “Bullying in Schools: The Power of Bullies and the Plight of Victims”. Annual Review of Psychology. Annual Reviews. 65: 159–85. PMID 23937767. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115030. Via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullying
National Centre Against Bullying Definition of Bullying https://www.ncab.org.au/bullying-advice/bullying-for-parents/definition-of-bullying/ accessed 8th October 2017