1

This is an issue I'm struggling with for several months, and it's bullying. The bully is a colleague working on the same project as me who calls my name with a certain suffix, and he is very well aware that the suffix is offending to me a lot. I don't want to go to lengths to explain why he is well aware. I'll explain if needed. I suspect the root cause of his behavior might be jealousy/envy. The bully is older than me but he is not a manager, the bully is just a coworker.

Not intending to go to details, but the offending suffix is generally used to call women, and if used to call men, it hints a slur, specially with some intonations.

The bullying is affecting my professional performance by provoking anger in me, eventually leading to being angry at other innocent people. But today the bully repeated his behavior, and I cannot take it any more.

I tried to find a general resolution by taking steps to avoid the bully:

  1. I changed my desk for the 1st time: my desk was previously next to the bully
  2. I changed my desk for the 2nd time to avoid being stalked by the bully
  3. I blocked the bully on Google Hangout, to avoid messages by the bully
  4. I blocked the bully cell phone number, to avoid his occasional bullying
  5. I stopped talking to bully and avoided all interactions
  6. I blocked all communication ways, but he finally got a way for bullying on Slack, but there is no way to block someone on Slack, because of Slack policies
  7. I opened an issue on our issue tracker. Well, it's a software job with a Git repository. I opened an issue on self-hosted GitHub titled impulse control in workplace without directly pointing out the bullying. But investigating some causes which negatively affect professional performance like: personal causes, environmental causes, social/cultural causes and possible prevention methods. The opened issues was more like a memo investigating workplace deficiencies in general
  8. There are some colleagues who use the suffix when calling other colleagues with no intention, but there is a difference between a bully and a colleague who behaves friendly in good faith
  9. I think others got aware of me avoiding the bully. So they know there is a problem, but they don't know what the problem is specifically

For several months, right after bullying got serious, I'm having many anger impulses at work. During these months, the anger impulse affected my professional behavior with other colleagues including my manager. But I kept it a secret and tried to find a general resolution by opening the Git issue (mentioned on item 7 on above list) which covers a broader field than just bullying.

I'm having a hard time dealing with the hidden layers of interpersonal communications, more popular in some cultures. It negatively affects my performance significantly. For example, the last bully message was sent to me on Slack today, and I'm mentally paralyzed til now which is more than 2 hours later.

Can anybody help me with figuring out which next step is the most suitable course of action?

Here's what I'm currently considering:

  1. Talk to my manager about the bully

    1.1. Asking my manager to remove the bully off of Slack by administrative tools

    1.2. Asking my manager to change the project I'm working on

  2. Ignore the bully

    2.1. It is hard for me to ignore, since a lot of anger is coming up inside me whenever a bullying occurs

    2.2. My performance would be negatively affected

    2.3. My health would be negatively affected due to huge amounts of stress and pressure by each case of bullying

  3. Talk directly to the bully and ask him to stop

    3.1. I just don't want to see the bullies face, let alone talk to the bully

    3.2. I'm afraid my talk to the bully would cause the situation to escalate further

  4. Right now, the plan I have in mind is to open a GitHub issue titled bullying at workplace and link to this post and attach the screenshot of most recent bullying message. I'm not sure if it's the best step, but I need to take action immediately. I'm mentally paralyzed by the most recent bullying and I cannot focus.

Which next step seems more appropriate? Or are there any other possible solutions which I'm missing?

migrated from interpersonal.stackexchange.com Sep 3 at 12:00

This question came from our site for people looking to improve their interpersonal communication skills.

  • 3
    A major problem here is you don't want to go into any details of the offending which we might enable us to assist, yet you go into a huge amount of detail with stuff that is useless in terms of framing an answer – Kilisi Sep 3 at 12:21
  • 5
    Specifically, if the suffix is a slur or if it attacks you for having a disability, it's much more serious than someone calling someone named John "Jonboy". – Studoku Sep 3 at 12:22
  • 2
    @Studoku Not intending to go to details, but the suffix is generally used to call women, and if used to call men, it hints a slur, specially with some intonations. – user3405291 Sep 3 at 13:25
  • 5
    Have you ever asked this person to not use that suffix? Do they ever use it with other people? – Kat Sep 3 at 16:58
  • 5
    @user3405291 I really would like to know how you can be sure the other worker is well aware that this bothers you. The comment suggests that you've only really let him know through subtle behaviour, but some people really miss cues like that. You seem to assert he's bullying and well aware of it; but given the lack of provided context and that you haven't directly told him, I'm somewhat unclear how you would know that. – JMac Sep 3 at 17:34
25

First up you have my sympathies bullying is unpleasant to experience whether it is at work, school or anywhere!

Talk to my manager about the bully

This is the most appropriate course of action IMO - the bully's actions are affecting your work performance and this is literally part of the job of a manger is to stop this sort of thing happening. That said if you can bring suggested solutions to your manager then all the better:

Asking my manager to remove the bully off of Slack by administrative tools

Tricky - if they have legitimate need for Slack in doing their job it might be causing negative effects elsewhere in the business to ban them from it. That said I've seen this done to great effect in the past where an employee was abusing IM and were removed from it.

Ignore the bully

Obviously if you could do this it would mean that there wasn't any problem - but that's easier said than done. There's no fault attached to you for not being able to ignore their taunts. Equally you probably can't just completely ignore them if your work requires some interactions.

It is hard for me to ignore, since a lot of anger is coming up inside me whenever a bullying occurs

With all the kindness in the world I absolutely understand what you're experiencing, and you aren't wrong to feel anger, we aren't responsible for what we feel, however there comes a certain amount of responsibility to how we act on those feelings.

I'm having many anger impulses at work. During these months, the anger impulse affected my professional behavior with other colleagues including my manager.

It's not okay to take that unresolved anger out on others - especially those who are completely innocent in the situation. I'm hesitant to sound as though I'm an armchair psychiatrist here but your post suggests that you are struggling to find healthy ways to deal with your anger. And this may be an area you'd benefit from getting some help in. This is another reason to approach the issue with your manager - right now your manager is unaware of why you have randomly acted p#ssed off with them recently, and it's probably harming your professional reputation.

My health would be negatively affected due to huge amounts of stress and pressure by each case of bullying

This, and the above point about anger is why I think it needs escalating and addressing properly - and sooner rather than later. If it's causing these sorts of effects already I think this needs decisively addressing.

Talk directly to the bully and ask him to stop

Like #2 if you can do this then it can be effective - but, honestly, it sounds as if you are past the point where you could do this without it just making the situation worse (such as having your anger boil over) and I think you're correct to fear the potential for escalation in this case.

the plan I have in mind is to open a GitHub issue titled bullying at workplace and link to this post and attach the screenshot of most recent bullying message.

Hard NO - this won't get you anywhere, it's horrendously unprofessional, a misuse of the company bug-tracking system and it's going to come off super passive-aggressive. Just no.

I reiterate what I said earlier - go see your manager for a private one-on-one meeting sooner rather than later and, as calmly as you can lay out the facts, possibly with the suggestions that you mentioned in #1 as possible solutions. If your manager won't do anything then this is one of those situations where I'd be documenting everything I could (e-mails, slack logs etc etc) and taking it to HR - they might not be your friend but behavior like this going on in the workplace is detrimental to the business in lost productivity if nothing else.

Good luck!

  • Thanks. I'm going to talk to my manager regarding Slack removal or project change. – user3405291 Sep 3 at 13:07
  • 6
    @user3405291 Why not talk to your manager about the offending behaviour, how it makes you feel and how it affects your work, and asking your manager to come up with a solution rather than focusing on proxy subjects that merely hint at the real problem? – spender Sep 3 at 16:45
  • 1
    Just wanted to add for this point; "It is hard for me to ignore, since a lot of anger is coming up inside me whenever a bullying occurs" as your anger is an intrapersonal issue you are dealing with rather than strictly work related finding support for it outside of work resources may be best. This could be taking up a relaxation program such as meditation or talking to a therapist or something else. – BKlassen Sep 3 at 17:24
  • 2
    I don't think this is a good answer since OP has stated they've never told the "bully" to stop or even that they have a problem with the behavior. The very first thing the manager is likely to ask is if they've done anything to deal with it themselves, and if OP says "I've acted annoyed and done everything I can to avoid them", they're not likely to get a favorable response from their manager. Even if OP is correct and this is purposeful bullying, giving the bully plausible deniability will only help the bully. They need to start with clearly telling the person to stop calling them that. – Kat Sep 3 at 21:04
  • @BKlassen I tried meditation. I sought help by listening to the audio-book of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. At one chapter it is asked I am in a situation at work that is unpleasant. I have tried to surrender to it, but I find it impossible. A lot of resistance keeps coming up. and the answer by Eckhart is If you can’t surrender, take action immediately. Speak up or do something to bring about a change in situation-or remove yourself from it. Take responsibility for your life. ... to get the idea, the whole chapter should be studied. – user3405291 Sep 4 at 4:40
15

Bullying is very tricky thing to deal with, but it can be dealt with.

It may not feel this way at the moment, but you have a quite a bit of control over the situation and the bully can only affect you to the extend that you give him the power to do so.

In almost all cases, the most effective way to deal with bullying is to address the specific behavior directly when it's happening. In this case all you need to do is to say

Please don't call me that. My name is XXX

That's it.

Say this consistently every time to the bully. Regardless of the context and the situation, in the middle of a meeting, in front of the CEO or a client, in the hallway or in the loo. Doesn't matter: just say this sentence IMMEDIATELY when the bully addresses you wrongly as an automatic response.

Of course, that's not easy to do, but you can train yourself to say it. Practice it alone in front of the mirror, practice it front of a few friends. Practice it in your head while commuting. Make sure you can deliver it at any moment without having to think about it.

In many case, this will simply make the bully stop. Your response shows the bully that you are not easily intimidated and that you are willing to call him out on it in public. Bullies don't like that.

If it doesn't stop: keep a detailed written record of the instances: exact time, location, circumstances and potential witnesses. Tough it out a little longer so that you have 4-5 documented instances. Then tell your manager about and inform him that you will involve HR. In most cases HR's first reaction would be to sweep it under the rug and portrait this as a miscommunication or misunderstanding. That's where your documentation comes in: You have

  1. Clearly stated to the bully that the specific behavior is unacceptable
  2. You have stated to the bully what specifically needs to change
  3. You have a well documented record that the behavior has continued and you have witnesses to back you up.

Bullying is illegal in many jurisdictions and this list screams "legal liability" or "potential lawsuit and bad press" to HR, so they can't ignore it. They also can't push it back to you, since you already have done the "HR textbook steps" and documented them.

There is very high chance, that HR will have a spirited heart to heart with the bully and make this go away.

  • Thanks. I sent a message to the bully like: Please don't call me that. My name is *** – user3405291 Sep 3 at 13:05
  • I'll try to follow the rest your answer. – user3405291 Sep 3 at 13:10
  • 8
    The key is that you NEED TO SAY IT OUT LOUD directly to his face, when it happens. Best is in front of other people. Messages and e-mails won't work here and are more likely to encourage the bully, because he gets what he wants. – Hilmar Sep 3 at 14:59
  • 6
    Saying it out loud and in person is not necessarily the approach to go. The point of saying it is to either get them to stop (great if they do it but unlikely) and more importantly to document that fact that you have asked the bully to stop, which will be necessary before you escalate to management or HR. Doing this in writing is at least as good, and possibly more useful, than doing it in person, which can often be very difficult for more introverted people. – DJClayworth Sep 3 at 15:34
  • I've been to multiple training classes on the subject and that is the number one thing they would ask you to do. Chances are many HR people (in the US) will probably tell the OP to exactly that and not really engage unless he/she does it. – Hilmar Sep 3 at 18:24
7

I kinda had the same situation as you were in. It was a guy who continously had to pick on me, whilst I always kept my chill and never mistreated him or other colleagues. I pointed out that I did not like him mistreating me, but somehow he did not care and continued doing so.

What I eventually did, was step up to my manager and explained the situation, with another colleague confirming what I told him. He said he'd take care of it. The next day, he asked me to come to his office and there was the other colleague (the 'bully') sitting there too. I had the luck that my manager was firm and told the other colleague that this kind of behaviour was unacceptable and told him that 'repeating in this behaviour would result in him getting fired'. This sounds weird, but this gave me power over him. He knew that if I would step up to my manager once again, he could pack his stuff and leave. The 'bullying' stopped immediately and never had any problems with him anymore.

My suggestion is that you should talk to your manager. Have a colleague come with you (as you said, people are noticing the misbehaviour, so I guess someone can confirm your situation), and tell him your story and that you'd appreciate him/her having a talk with the person bullying you, because the whole situation affects your work (and I can understand your personal life, too). I'd not recommend the way to said by using a GitHub issue or similar. If it comes to the point where your manager gets involved and asks you what you did about it and you tell him about this GitHub issue, the bully might respond in him saying that he never noticed the issue and so having never noticed him bullying you (which of course he is fully aware of, but why would he admit?).

  • 1
    It should not be luck. This is what a manager should do, and if they don't then you escalate to HR. – DJClayworth Sep 3 at 15:36
  • 2
    This is the correct way of addressing the issue. Kudoos @Bram – Strader Sep 3 at 15:54
2

First, you need to formally and directly express your opposition of such a suffix being used on you. If the person in question say in verbally, simply state strictly but calmly:

I don't feel comfortable being called that way, you can call me X instead.

Make sure you keep note about the occurrence as detail as possible in writing (time, place, exact conversation/words), and if the person in question repeat the behavior again, repeat the same activity for one more time.

And if the person use the terms in internal messenger or emails, it's even easier. Just send the sentence I quoted above, and make sure you keep the record (keep the screenshot or text log inside somewhere that can't be easily deleted by someone else).

Now if there's a third occurrence, stop responding or any interaction with the person in question right away. Setup a meeting with your direct Manager and HR, specifically state it's about a serious problem of workplace harassment. Present them the record you hold and let them deal with the situation, they are getting paid specifically for dealing with situation like this.

9 out of 10 that will be the end of your troubles. And if the person in question still keeping the harassment or using some different abusive way in retaliation, simply repeat the steps above until he/she's out of job.

And under rare circumstances that your manager and HR decided to turn a blind eye on the situation, you should consult a local lawyer specified at workplace harassment with all the records you hold, meanwhile it's a good idea to start doing job hunting. In this case it is your employer who failed to protect you from workplace harassment. You should get rid of such employer ASAP, and you deserve compensation for what you've been experienced.

  • Thanks for your help. I appreciate. – user3405291 Sep 3 at 14:02
1

I think the other answers here are pretty good and I generally agree with them. If you are lucky and have a good manager, your situation will hopefully play out the way @Bram describes. Unfortunately, I have worked with toxic coworkers before, and an inexperienced manager + HR may do something very foolish: they will try to pin the blame on both of you! They will call a talk session to hash it out, your bully will likely say something like: "Oh my! I had no idea this bothered you. I was just trying to be friendly!" They will promise to do better, and then they will resume bullying as soon as the meeting is over, because they know that the company does not know how to handle the situation, and thus, they have the power and leverage.

If this happens, all is not lost, at least not if your company is big enough to switch teams. At this point, you simply need to shop around for another team. Look for openings elsewhere in the company, and go talk to the hiring manager. When the other manager asks why you are looking to switch, make it clear that there is a toxic coworker on your team, you gave everyone a chance to remedy the situation, and nothing actually changed. Eventually, your manager will find out that you are asking around for transfers, which is a bad look for them. They will realize that they have mishandled your situation and figure out how to fix it, or they will lose standing in the management chain because one of their employees is so fed up with how they manage their team that they are willing to change teams. In fact, one could argue that you have a kind of moral obligation to take this route, because both the manager and the bully either affect other employees too, or will in the future.

Now, it might happen that there are no teams you can realistically transfer to, or even worse, that other managers are just as bad as your manager, and also have/tolerate toxic workers on their teams. In this case, it is time to jump ship entirely, since you know that the HR department is at least partly incompetent. This will be a wake-up for an even bigger circle of folks, because now you are voting with your feet against the entire management organization, including HR. Note that you don't need to actually get an offer from anyone else. You just need to be open that you are shopping around. Many people will warn you that this will get you fired, and for some teams/managers/companies, that is true. You want to get fired from those companies! For smarter companies, the cost of hiring and training someone is sufficiently large that they would rather try to retain you than fire you, especially if they understand that the only reason you are considering leaving is because they have a rotten apple in their pie and it's making the whole pie stink.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.