Bullying – An Unacceptable Truth

Not too long ago a former colleague (let’s call her Davina) rang me while driving home from work one night. Davina called me regularly on her way home during our 12-month working relationship. However, on this particular evening Davina sounded different. Her voice was weaker than usual, she was almost whispering. She was speaking as if she was telling me a secret or apologising for something she wasn’t proud off.

That night Davina confided in me that she had just been verbally threatened and stood-over by a very prominent Sales Exec in our company. Davina is in her late thirties and has worked her way up to middle management within the IT services sector. I was so angry that this could happen in a company that I had chosen to work for. A company that (still) heavily promotes itself as a company that truly cares about it’s people.

I’ve worked in IT nearly all my life and it has been a great career for me. I’ve also spent much of that time working for a number of Consulting businesses – small boutique ones, medium sized expanding ones and enormous worldwide ones. They all have one thing in common – they have a culture that they have consciously created. The culture of an organisation is very important to me and therefore I take it very seriously when someone exhibits traits at odds with the culture I wanted to be associated with. But I digress, back to Davina…

Davina and I spent much of the next 48 hours discussing the bullying incident. As I said before, it would be a massive understatement to say I was very angry, but (get this), Davina was almost apologising for the situation and even told me that it wasn’t the first time the Sales Exec had bullied her!! I spoke to Carla in our HR department (on Davina’s behalf) regarding the process for formally complaining about bullying. I spoke to Shahid, my own Manager and to the COO of our company – all as a precursor to Davina making a formal complaint. I needed to know how I could support Davina to the best of my ability. Guess what? Davina never made that formal complaint!! Instead, less than 8 weeks later she resigned!!

I couldn’t convince her to file a formal complaint. I didn’t want to convince her to stay. I felt powerless. I was a Senior Consultant with this internationally renowned organisation. I spoke to many senior people inside the company about the incident. They all supported me (and Davina) – at least to our faces. However, nothing formal happened to the Sales Exec and I neither heard nor read anything about the incident. In fact I learned later (after I’d left the company) that the Sales Exec got a promotion and a great big bonus that year. It was as if the other Execs all closed ranks and washed the incident away. Needless to say, I also left the company soon after this incident – how could I stay any longer in a company that tolerated such acts?

Unfortunately, bullying seems an acceptable action in many parts of our society today. We see it every day in the press, on television, online – in fact all forms of media seem very adept at providing a forum for bullies. We also see it in the playground and classroom, on the sports field and even in places of worship.

Why do people find in necessary to bully? Why is one persons wishes/beliefs more valid than another – to the point that they need to use tactics that reduce another to tears, or much worse, suicide? I wrote last year about why Test Analysts no longer want to become Test Managers and this is one of the reasons – Test Managers regularly get bullied into making decisions they don’t want to make. I know too many Test Managers who have gone on stress leave due to bullying and undermining. We have to change behaviours so that people feel safe to disagree with each other without fear of reprisals or vendettas (sub-forms of bullying in my book).

Unfortunately, I was bullied several times when I was a kid. If they were people I was going to have to spend more time with (at my school) I stood up to them and they never bothered me again. If they were people I had never met before (a random attack) I just turned the other cheek and walked away. Bullies get their power from our weaknesses and if we refuse to show weakness they have no power.

Personally, it’s been a long time since someone tried to bully or intimidate me, but that is probably because I developed a protective skin early in my life and refused to allow anyone through it. Not everyone is capable of this and these are the ones we need to support and protect the most. No one deserves to be bullied. No one deserves to be intimidated or stood over. No one has the right to impose their will forcefully on another.

I’m still incredibly angry more than two years after this incident. I despise inequality in all aspects of our lives and I despise those who use tactics like these to gain an advantage over others.

NOTE: This is a 100% true story, with only the identity of the people involved obscured to protect Davina and her family. There are many people that were witness to the weeks that followed the bullying, some of them can be proud of their part, others should be ashamed that they were so weak as to watch such an injustice play out.

Dateline: Melbourne; Tuesday January 28, 2014

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5 thoughts on “Bullying – An Unacceptable Truth

  1. Great article Colin. It reflects a very true experience.

    I had recent experiences in both India and Japan where test professionals have approached me with similar bullying issues. In both cases I was able to intercede on their behalf due to my seniority – and fortunately I am in a company which listens and responds with the full strength of a mature HR dept. But the fact that it still occurs is both a worry and frustrating.

    My view is that this type of behavior is intolerable – and if identified should be assumed to NOT be an isolated incidence.

    • Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for your support. I have to say my time with IBM mirrors your views. While I saw many managers under stress the level of support was excellent. There is a two-fold challenge for Consultants in that they can be bullied both within their own organisation but also from within the client’s organisation.

      There is not enough discussion on this topic at all levels within our society today.

      Cheers
      Colin

  2. I’ve seen it happen. The fear of being a victim twice keeps the victim quiet. Depending on the HR department’s loyalty to the company or the employee. In all my years I have only seen one incident of a senior executive walked out due to this type of complaint. The executive had been doing it for years until one brave person finally spoke up.

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