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Workshop report: Combating bullying in the workplace


This is the transcript from the workshop session on bullying held on Tuesday 12 September.

Heather Serdar I'd like to start the chat off by asking a few questions. Have you - or anyone you know - ever been the target of workplace bullying? If so, how was this dealt with? Was the issue addressed by personnel or management or a senior member of staff?

Heather Serdar Hi everyone

Robert Agar-Hutton Hi

Heather Serdar Hi Robert - welcome to the workshop

Robert Agar-Hutton Thanks - I hope there is a good turnout :)

Josephine Clifton hi Heather glad you could make it and hi to Lesley and Robert

Heather Serdar Hi Jo - the 10am meeting hasn't started yet, so I may have to duck out at short notice...

Josephine Clifton Do we wait until the magic hour of 13.00 or do we kick off now?

Heather Serdar I'd say we kick off now - anyone who wants to join in is welcome to

Josephine Clifton Hi Stephanie, thanks for coming

Stephanie Phillips Hi both - glad things are working okay! D'you want to set the ball rolling? I guess there'll be a few more popping in shortly.

Heather Serdar Robert - We haven't met yet. Are you a regular at these workshops or do you have a reason for logging in to this specific one?

Josephine Clifton OK perhaps we start with a couple of open questions about how much people know about bullying and what their experience is

Heather Serdar Hi Stephanie - I had put up a couple of questions earlier on - I can post them again if no one can see them

Stephanie Phillips Yes - good idea!

Robert Agar-Hutton Hi Heather, I am new to the workshop - I teach aggression management but normally make a specific point of ignoring workplace bullying.

Josephine Clifton Robert any reason for that?

Heather Serdar Robert, why do you make a specific point of ignoring workplace bullying?

Josephine Clifton this is going to be interrogation in stereo!

Heather Serdar Hi Lesley - How about you? Any specific reason for logging into this particular workshop?

Robert Agar-Hutton Generally because I am training people to deal with aggression caused by anger and I feel that 'bullying' is - by definition - not caused by anger but by intent to disempower a workmate...

Robert Agar-Hutton The reason I wanted to be here is to see if I am wrong, and to learn more about the topic.

Heather Serdar Robert - that's an interesting point. Have you ever had a delegate ask you about how to deal with bullying?

Josephine Clifton Hi Ann welcome to the workshop

Robert Agar-Hutton Yes - I have

Heather Serdar Hi Ann - I second the welcome. Any specific reasons for logging in to the workshop?

Heather Serdar Hi Robert - what have you told them?

ann ward Hi Everyone - I'm new to this game and just perusing

Stephanie Phillips I've personally had a weird experience - in a previous job, I took over from someone who had tragically died in a road accident. The other two girls in the office were obviously deeply affected, to the point of resenting my appointment. It took a long time to build up trust within the office - I used to get things like withholding of information, veiled criticism etc., and didn't get a lot of support from my immediate managers.

Robert Agar-Hutton Generally that IMO Bullying should not be tolerated and always challenged - easy to say not always easy for people to do

Heather Serdar Hi Stephanie - sounds like a pretty horrible situation. How did you deal with it if you didn't get support from your immediate managers?

Josephine Clifton Stephanie, did you feel bullied or just confused?

Stephanie Phillips It was difficult because it was like treading on egg shells a lot of the time

Robert Agar-Hutton Interesting - I wouldn't have realised that what Stephanie suffered was 'bullying'

Heather Serdar Robert - have you ever made any specific recommendations that the target speak to a personnel manager or supervisor to deal with this issue?

Stephanie Phillips It was really difficult to know whether to confront it (which often made things worse) or ignore it

Heather Serdar Stephanie - was there a personnel officer or union officer you could talk to?

Robert Agar-Hutton Once again generally - I prefer person to person dialogue rather than escalating things to management...

Josephine Clifton Stephanie, did you feel that the managers were ignoring it because they didn't believe it or that they didn't understand?

Stephanie Phillips Well, funnily enough I was working in personnel at the time!!!

Robert Agar-Hutton What would your take be?

Robert Agar-Hutton All together.... Hi Ann :) :) :)

Heather Serdar Robert - the take on your situation or Stephanie's situation or the situation in general?

Stephanie Phillips I think they didn't want to deal with it actually - one of the 'girls' in the office had been there a lot longer than anyone else, and was difficult to deal with anyway

Robert Agar-Hutton Heather - All three please :)

ann ward Does anyone know of any good courses or conferences on computer based training

Josephine Clifton Robert your person to person is one I would go along with in assertiveness, but targets of bullies often are in it so deep, they have lost all confidence in themselves

Robert Agar-Hutton Josephine - Yes I can see the truth in that - what should they do?

Stephanie Phillips That's very true - the one person who was most responsible for withholding info I needed to do my job was the one who'd been there the longest and felt threatened

Josephine Clifton Hello David welcome, have you any experience of this topic?

Josephine Clifton To save time for everyone - I'm usually called Jo!!

Heather Serdar Robert - I think that while your approach is fine (it seems you prefer a person-to-person dialog) I would suggest that you recommend to the target some techniques for dealing with bullying: these might include documenting specific incidents with a view to talking to a personnel or union representative; for Stephanie's situation, a union representative might be useful. In extreme cases, the target might have to seek legal advice

Heather Serdar Hi David - any specific reason for logging in to this workshop?

Stephanie Phillips It's weird because I wouldn't have called that an obvious bullying situation myself, but there were definitely elements of trying to control through manipulation there

Heather Serdar I just got a message that the 10am meeting will start at 1.30 (which usually means a good quarter of an hour later, so I will try to get all my "talking" out of the way and let Jo take over

Robert Agar-Hutton Heather - Your advice seems to indicate that you feel that often the bullying can't be 'fixed' but has to be 'stopped' is that your experience?

David Russell This is just really to see how these workshops work, but do you think that people these days can be victimised if they call in the unions?

Josephine Clifton Hello David.

David graves Hi to everyone - please forgive any typing errors. I'm joining the discussion because I run workshops on bullying and harassment

Josephine Clifton I agree with your feeling about bullying being stopped, but it needs to be prevented by those with power i.e. management

Robert Agar-Hutton Hi David - what's the difference between 'bullying' and 'harassment'?

ann ward I'll just get my coat...

Heather Serdar Robert - interesting point. The only way to "fix" bullying in the specific circumstance would be to get rid of the bully - not the target. The bully will simply find another target later on down the road. The bully has to be identified and made aware of their behaviour and its affect on others. Jo - any thoughts on this?

Josephine Clifton David what is your experience of the incidence of bullying

Josephine Clifton Heather see above

Heather Serdar Hi David - no problem with the typos. Your workshops sound interesting. Do you do them in companies or as part of a larger training solution?

Heather Serdar Ooops - Ann. Sorry - I missed out your question. No, I don't know of any computer-based courses on bullying. I know that Jo attended a conference recently on bullying - where was it exactly, Jo?

Stephanie Phillips (Ann - how about trying any answers on the site? should get some response!)

Josephine Clifton All - from my experience harassment is visible the target knows it's happening, bullying is more hidden, even the target doesn't always know it's happening to them

David graves Bullying often lacks a "hook" in other words the victim often cannot work out why they are feeling the way they are for a long period of time because they are usually competent well liked members of staff. harassment however, has a definite hook people are picked on because of something obvious and specific about themselves i.e. race disablement etc.

Heather Serdar Or the target doesn't know how to define or put their finger on what is happening to them. They may think "X really doesn't like me and makes my life a misery" but may not realise that they are being bullied

Josephine Clifton Ann no I don't know of any, I feel it's a really personal thing and needs the face to face thing

Heather Serdar Hmm, David, I think that race, disablement etc may sometimes be a hook, but I think a more common hook is that the target may be perceived as being an outsider for some reason

Josephine Clifton David you're right, this is how bullies get away with it

Robert Agar-Hutton All - Thanks for the definitions - makes the issue a lot clearer.

David graves Heather, I run workshops in enlightened organisations and am about to start a roadshow of workshops.

Heather Serdar Ann- you might try contacting the MSF Union to see if they are going to have conferences on bullying. Or, failing that, I have read details of conferences in The Guardian (Mondays and Tuesdays are usually good days for this)

Robert Agar-Hutton If there is no 'hook' how do you determine 'bullying' (which I assume we all agree is intended) from 'bad manners' or a 'defective personality'?

Heather Serdar David - you might want to get in touch with Ann, who was just asking about conferences on bullying

Heather Serdar Robert, as a basic working definition - and I'm sure Jo and others will want to jump in to add more, bullying is a systematic attempt by the bully to destroy the self-esteem and self-respect of the target through a variety of means

Josephine Clifton bullying is about power and manipulation and intent to damage - agreed this is not easy to distinguish

Robert Agar-Hutton Heather & Jo - OK.... How can it be recognised?

Heather Serdar Bad manners and defective personalities may be part and parcel of bullying, but they are only part. For me, bullying has to be a systematic approach to demeaning and belittling a target.

Stephanie Phillips I wonder whether it is more common where managers are more hands-off? It would be easier for a bully to thrive where they're not in close contact with someone who could be aware of their behaviour (unless, of course, it's the manager who's doing the bullying)

Heather Serdar Oh boy. Recognising it. Hmm. Does the bully single out a particular person or group of people for systematic criticism and belittling of them and their work

Josephine Clifton the culture of an organisation can be a lot to do with people being 'allowed' to bully. Even if they think it is strong management [ha ha ] they don't tackle it

David graves Being an outsider is just as good a hook as anything else. Robert, this is the million dollar question, but usually there will be some form of "singling out" of an individual

Stephanie Phillips My guess would be that it is more likely in an organisation with a rigid hierarchical structure (thinking back to school days, for example!)

Robert Agar-Hutton Several times I have come into contact with organisations where 'bullying' started at highest management and was virtually the normal way! - The strong survive and the weak suffer and suffer and suffer :(

Heather Serdar Stephanie - good question. I don't know if it's necessarily more common where managers are hands off, but I would say that an organisation where management don't care - or don't seem to care what is happening - would be a good place for the seeds of bullying to start. When I was writing the book, I spoke to a woman who worked for the constabulary (sp?) and was so badly bullied that several years later she couldn't bring herself to talk about it. I would say that there was definitely hands-on management in her workplace, but I would also say that there was a culture there that promoted the culture of power

Robert Agar-Hutton David - Is this 'bullying' or does it become 'prejudice' - and does the difference matter in terms of dealing with it?

Josephine Clifton Robert very true. my husband suffered from a serial bully and one of the targets has now taken the place of the bully!!

Robert Agar-Hutton Jo - I suppose if the bully is successful there will be others who emulate that behaviour :(
Stephanie Phillips Robert - of course, the bullies are actually the weak ones - maybe we should be arguing that the bullies need support (playing a bit of devil's advocate there!)

Robert Agar-Hutton ABSOLUTELY AGREE!

Heather Serdar Stephanie - I think you've made a good point there. I often read that bullying is a problem in very macho work environments like the military and police. These are environments where power - and its use and potential abuse - is paramount. Often the bullies in this situation are people who are used to giving orders and don't realise that there is a fine line between giving orders that must be obeyed for the welfare of an employee or group and bullying.

Robert Agar-Hutton Stephanie - Support for all is I think required - the idea of a 'win win' solution may be trite but it's valid!

Josephine Clifton Robert I think it's also that people take it in unconsciously -sort of learned behaviour.

Heather Serdar Jo - that's sad. But not surprising. I can see how the target would want to work out their anger and frustrations and aggressions by behaving in a way which (what's the word I'm looking for?) gets rid of the bad feeling they have.

Stephanie Phillips Yes, have to agree there! I think bullies need some attention given to them so that they're made aware of the impact of their behaviour.

Robert Agar-Hutton Jo -Yes - I know there are many behaviours that I have picked up over the years and when queried could not remember how or why!

Heather Serdar Stephanie - another good point. Bullying often grows out of weakness. It grows out of fear, too.

Stephanie Phillips NLP for this, anyone?

Josephine Clifton All - the mach environment is a breeding ground but so is the cosy world of the voluntary sector.

Heather Serdar Robert - true. The bully has to be supported, too, as much as that may be an uncomfortable idea. They have to understand that their behaviour is just as destructive for themselves as it is for others. Maybe they need anger management classes...

Robert Agar-Hutton Heather - which of course leads to the idea of empowering individuals to empower the organisation to empower the individual - or at least it does for me :)

David graves Robert it has to said that all forms of prejudice, harassment etc stem from bullying, but it comes down to the "hook" which determines the ease with which it can be recognised. we must also not forget that there is no law in the UK against bullying therefore no reference from which to base what is happening to us, however, there is a lot of legislation to deal with prejudice, harassment etc.

Heather Serdar Stephanie - funny you should mention NLP. My organisation is doing some work with NLP now. I think that it may be one tactic for dealing with bullying, yes.

Josephine Clifton can you explain how NLP can help?

Heather Serdar Jo - true. Henry Kissinger once said that the politics in academics were so academic because the stakes were so small. Also, when people feel they are doing right by doing good, they may not find it easy to accept that other people have ideas and opinions about how to do things.

Robert Agar-Hutton David - good point - do you think there should be law?

Heather Serdar Robert - excellent idea. I think the trick is to empower people healthily.

Stephanie Phillips Heather - can you tell us a bit about your work with NLP?

Heather Serdar Jo - NLP is many things. Among the things that it attempts to do is to get people to change their behavior. If you like, I can send you some info.

David graves Robert, ABSOLUTELY.

Heather Serdar Stephanie - I am working with a client right now (in my life outside of writing about bullying) about how to put his NLP workshop material on the net.

Josephine Clifton Heather thanks alI -also feel that the legislation should mirror good practice rather than be an imposition on life.

Heather Serdar Looks like we lost Ann. I hope she found out that David is giving roadshow workshops on dealing with bullying.

Stephanie Phillips It does sound interesting - can you keep us at TrainingZONE updated?

Robert Agar-Hutton David - I am always wary of legislation - it often seems to entrench and harden attitudes (or drives them underground), also how do you stop false accusations from potentially causing great grief (assuming the law has penalties)?

Heather Serdar Hi Stephanie - was keeping TrainingZone updated meant for me or David :)

Stephanie Phillips I guess there is potential for problems because of the underhand nature of bullying.

Stephanie Phillips For you, Heather, sorry!


Heather Serdar I am for legislation if it defines what bullying is and offers a remedy for people who feel that they are targets of bullying. However, I don't want to see a situation where people take this kind of legislation frivolously and take every single bit of criticism or crabbiness as bullying.

Josephine Clifton Robert - agreed, I think legislation should be a basis for the policies and such rather than a reason for their existence.

Heather Serdar Stephanie - my pleasure. I'll email you and Tim after the workshop to let you know what we're doing.

Stephanie Phillips Thanks!

Robert Agar-Hutton all - Why so few of us here? Is bullying NOT that important or is it TOO important for many to acknowledge?

Heather Serdar Jo, I agree. Legislation should be a basis for policies. It would also provide a way for people to be informed about bad workplace practice.

Stephanie Phillips (Robert - hopefully several hundred will read the transcript of today's session).

Josephine Clifton I think it's a 'dodgy' subject. I get some strange looks when I mention my interest.

Robert Agar-Hutton Stephanie - AMEN SISTER :)

David graves Robert. any legislation on this subject will probably have to define what bullying is not!. I seem to remember similar arguments being mooted about the race relations act

Robert Agar-Hutton David - makes it awfully complex :(
Heather Serdar Robert - I think that most people associate bullying with two things: children and being weak. If they are adults they may not think bullying applies to them; they may also not want to be associated with being weak or being an "outsider". I wonder sometimes if people would rather just accept a bullying situation than accept that they are the target of bullying.

Josephine Clifton Sweden has specific laws on bullying which is called mobbing there.

Heather Serdar David. Interesting idea - defining what bullying is and is not. Would you include examples of bullying in the legislation to define what it is and isn't?

Josephine Clifton Sorry Heather just seen your comment. I think there's a lot of truth there.

Robert Agar-Hutton Heather - Yes the GUILT of the bullied perhaps.... They feel that they must be a bad person because they are bullied ?????

Josephine Clifton Robert AGREED

Stephanie Phillips It's definitely the weakness thing.

Robert Agar-Hutton Jo - Thanks for that - the wonders of the Internet will, I am sure, allow some research...

Josephine Clifton People say to me ' I expect it's my fault...'

Robert Agar-Hutton Jo - I suppose slapping them as you scream "NO IT'S NOT" is out of the question! :)

Stephanie Phillips Robert - reckon that would be assault!!!!! All - we usually wind these things up at about this time. Anything you'd like to finish off with - or, indeed, continue with?

Josephine Clifton Believe me I've thought about it. We seem to be coming to 13.45 should we wrap up now.

Stephanie Phillips It has been a very good session, by the way!

Heather Serdar Robert. Oh boy. That's a sensitive question. I used to work in Cairo, where I was the only European on a project (funnily enough, it was a human rights project...) and I was bullied by an Egyptian colleague. There's the outsider part for you, David. It was horrible to accept to myself that I was being bullied - I felt that it was because I was weak or somehow inadequate. I wasn't - the inadequate person was the person who bullied me. Oh - and the word I was looking for earlier was "catharsis"

David graves Robert, yes but the problem is too important too life shattering not to try. yes I would include examples in the legislation. my e-mail is [email protected]

Robert Agar-Hutton All - Excellent session - THANKS!

Robert Agar-Hutton David - email me at [email protected]

Heather Serdar Hi everyone - thanks to all who participated. Please feel to contact me after this session if you want to continue the discussion. My email is [email protected]

Stephanie Phillips Great - thanks again to all for participating so actively!

Heather Serdar Bye - the meeting calls...

Robert Agar-Hutton BYE

Stephanie Phillips bye

Josephine Clifton To all - thanks for your comments and interest my address for further discussion is DevonAssociates Bye

David graves All the outsider is anyone who is different.

Josephine Clifton David different from the bully not the outside world.

David graves Bye and thanks.

David graves Josephine I would like to discuss that further.

Josephine Clifton Ok David let me have your email thanks.

David graves [email protected]

Josephine Clifton Hi Jennifer.

Josephine Clifton the workshop is closed , but am willing to talk on email [email protected]


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